Prototyping in Tokyo at Japan House

Prototyping in Tokyo at Japan House

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In the Christmas edition of Private Eye, there is their annual double page Gnome Christmas Giftmart, featuring such indispensable items as a ‘Solar-powered Trouser-press’, which can only be used outside in daylight hours, a ‘Driverless Suitcase,’ and an HS2 StairLift, which can shave up to 10 seconds off your upstairs journey time. Best of all is the one that states, ‘Can’t afford your own 3-D Printer? Simply print one out with this incredible 3-D Printer Printer. Problem solved.’ In real life, the 3-D printing process is known as ‘Additive Manufacturing’ (AM), and is now used extensively by designers and engineers to produce prototypes, which combine practicality, aesthetics, texture and tactile sensations. Previously, producing prototypes involved cutting, trimming and bending. The exhibition in the Gallery downstairs is displayed on half a dozen or so white undulating tables, on which there are a variety of objects, drawings and videos, covering three main topics, namely AM, Bio-Likeness Robots and Prosthetics, in which are various interpretations of the ‘expanded human body.’ They range from ‘Running Specific Prosthetics’ for the lower limb, utilising Selective Laser Sintering, to a ‘Ready to Crawl’ examples of robots, resembling myriapoda (millipedes, centipedes, etc) where all the parts, apart from the motor, were produced together, including all the inner cogs, outer frame and legs. These, and other innovative designs, are by the world-renowned design engineer and the University of Tokyo Professor Yamanaka Shunji. He replicates protozoa with intricate lightweight skeletons called Radiolaria, Kagemusha, or water bears, which are tiny animals which phylogenetically sit between worms and arthropods in the tree of life, and Tokage, which is a form of lizard.

There is a beautifully-constructed skeletal automaton, or karakuri ningyo, called ‘Archer in a Boat’, which comprises traditional Japanese craftsmanship with ingenious engineering, made out of a number of different woods, including boxwood, cherry, oak, ebony and hinoki (Japanese Cypress), depending on the function and characteristics of the specific part. Although not a working model, there is a video alongside, showing the archer plucking an arrow out of his quiver, notching it to the bow, which he then raises, aims and shoots, immediately selecting another arrow, shades of Legolas in Lord of the Rings. The Clockoid is an extraordinary piece of precision engineering, combining time-eternal and time-dynamic, digital and analogue. It comprises multiple arms rotating in a horizontal plane, with an hour, minute and second hand, measuring the passage of time. When someone approaches the device, the arms seamlessly switch out of the clock mode and point at the would-be predator in a slightly intimidating way, before becoming a clock once again. The presentation and graphics are squeaky clean, although some of the captions are virtually impenetrable, particularly on the subject of Cognitive Sensorimotor Loops and how they can be made to repel external forces.

In the shop upstairs, there is a range of kitchen and tableware, bathroom accessories, stationery, some produced by former students of Professor Yamanaka fashion, and books, all beautifully made, and exquisitely priced. One expects to pay a few hundred pounds for an authentic ‘cutting edge’ Japanese knife, but I was not prepared for the cost of a pair of Ryoun Yamanose spectacles. Admittedly, the rims are made of forged and moulded carbon steel, by hand, rendered black by grazed rapeseed oil, with different elements of bamboo, coated with urethane resin, for the temples and tips. Hand-crafted silver screws and pearl oyster nose pads, bring the cost up to an eye-watering £3,840, with another pair of goggles, that would sit happily on Elton John’s honker, costing a lachrymose £6,000.

Prototyping in Tokyo
Japan House
Kensington High Street
Until 17 March 2019

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