Robot Winter Games on horizon?

Skiing buff hopes his creation inspires more to take to the slopes

It might not be ready for the Olympics, but Masaya Takahashi’s skiing robot can take on the slopes with grace, and he hopes this inspires people to do likewise.

“It should be easy for people to ski if the robot can ski well by using only its hip joint,” Takahashi, 32, a researcher at a Nagoya factory of Sumitomo Light Metal Industries, Ltd., said of his creation during a recent interview.

Robot technology has made remarkable progress in recent years and has finally entered the realm of sports.

Takahashi has been an earnest researcher of skiing theory since he was a student at Kanazawa University, when he devoted himself to the sport.

Against the urging of his professors and a friend, he chose to develop a skiing robot as part of his graduation research.

His first model captured much media attention, and was even featured in a British Broadcasting Corp. program.

“Various ski turns are actually very simple and similar to those of ice skating. Once you learn how to skate, it is easy to develop skiing skills,” said Takahashi, putting his robot through its paces with the help of a radio control unit.

Much to Takahashi’s surprise, his skiing robot inspired further development, as other researchers at Kanazawa University carried on his work. The researchers have already completed a fourth-generation model, a 60-cm-tall robot with 10 joints that more closely resembles a human form.

Gaku Hirasawa, 30, a slalom skier who competed in the 1998 Nagano Olympic Games, helps out with the project.

His moves have been calculated by a special device and will be programmed into the fourth-generation robot, the group said.

“I thought they are doing interesting research. Once the moves of skiers were analyzed, it would be easier for me to train young skiers,” Hirasawa said.

Hurdles remain, however, as the robot does not have ankle joints and thus cannot completely reproduce all natural moves.

Although skiing has become less popular in recent years as more young people turn to snowboarding, Takahashi believes his favorite sport is still No. 1 and he hopes his efforts help bring more people to the slopes.

“The special feeling that you get by skiing is just as fun as breezing along on a motorcycle,” he said.