Fighting robots don't just exist in the cinema. Engineers and inventors, driven by nostalgia and the desire to make childhood dreams come true, are creating the first incredible mecha capable of walking, which cost between 1 and 2 million dollars. These personal passions raise fascinating questions: could giant robots one day emerge from the playful dimension to take on a concrete role? And how can we regulate these hi-tech giants in the future to guarantee safety and efficiency, while limiting their environmental impact?
Kuratas, the Japanese precursor
One of the first mecha in history is Curate, a 4 meter tall robot costing 1.3 million dollars, created in 2012 by Japanese engineer Kogoro Kurata. He wanted to realize his childhood dream of piloting a robot that looked like it came straight out of an anime. Kuratas weighs 4 tons and mounts water-based “missiles” and BB machine guns that fire, as the demonstration video of the robot shows, when the pilot smiles. It can be controlled either by a live pilot inside, equipped with handheld controllers to move the robot's limbs in real time, or remotely through an app.
After the success of Kuratas and the participation in some shows, Suidobashi Heavy Industries has for the moment distanced itself from projects on giant robots, turning to other businesses. However, Kuratas' legacy remains: he inspired a new generation of engineers to try their hand at creating real mecha.
Archax, the Japanese mecha worth 2.7 million
In 2023, Japan's Tsumabe Industries unveiled Archax, a 4.5 meter electric giant priced at 2.7 million dollars. I told you about it last October in this article. Archax weighs 3.5 tons and features a vehicle mode that allows a maximum speed of 10 km/h. Its upper limbs are equipped with articulated fingers capable of lifting objects up to 15 kg. It can accommodate a pilot in the cockpit equipped with joystick control.
Production will be limited to 5 examples in as many years. Archax is a candidate as a possible attraction in amusement parks: visitors could climb aboard the cockpit to experience the thrill of driving a giant bipedal robot.
Mechahex, 4 meter hi-tech mecha spider
Other engineers like the Hacksmith Industries team took inspiration from arachnids, with their Mechahex: a 4 meter high mechanical spider, the result of 18 months of work. The project was created to demonstrate the technical feasibility of merging multiple recycled industrial excavators.
Mechahex walked satisfactorily before one of his long legs gave out from overuse. This shows how stability and structural resistance in bipedal robots are still difficult engineering obstacles to solve.
METHOD-2, the Korean giant with an uncertain future
Among the most ambitious projects it stands out METHOD-2, a 4-meter, $166 million Korean bipod robot developed by Hankook Mirae and unveiled to the public in 2017. METHOD-2 is controlled by replicating the movements of the pilot's upper limbs inside. However, it requires the help of ceiling cables for support and energy supply. After the initial reveal there is not much information on tests or possible applications. I don't think we'll see him around.
Prosthesis and mecha-based motorsports
The Canadian company Exosapien Technologies is developing Prosthetics, a racing mecha that aims to create a futuristic sport among these athlete-driven machines. With its 4 meters of height and a power of 150 kW, Prosthesis is among the most high-performance mechas ever built. Its proprietary control system allows you to use both arms and legs to manage its movements. The goal is to create a sports league with obstacle-based competitions.
Governance and ethical questions
Giant robots raise complex technological and regulatory questions. In the future, mechas could exit the recreational field: a possibility that requires preventive governance, especially where these hi-tech giants interact with human beings. Policies are needed for the management of intellectual property, patents and reuse of open source projects between realities academic and commercial. And above all, we need an ethical debate about the creation of machines capable of autonomous use of force on a significant scale.
Dream robots are getting closer and closer to reality. But I preferred them when they were just drawn.