One-Armed Robot Beats Samurai In Sword Competition

Computerized precision for deadly melee arts

Robot Cuts Open Snap Peas

Robot Cuts Open Snap Peas

Screenshot by author, from YouTube

For thousands of years, nothing on Earth was deadlier with a sword than a human. People have since largely moved on from slicing weapons to firearms and explosives, but the art of swordsmanship remains a squarely human domain. Or at least it did, until researchers in Japan started teaching freakin’ robots how to swing swords.

In April, Japan's Nimiki laboratory gave a robot arm a foam sword, paired it with high-speed mechanical eyes, and taught it how to duel a human. Perhaps teaching a robot how to fight a human isn't the best course of action. Is there another way to show off the finesse and prowess of a machine arm wielding a sharp blade that doesn't involve training it on a human?

Thanks to Yaskawa, a multinational company with roots in Japan that specializes in servos and motors for servos, the answer is yes. For their "Yaskawa Bushido Project", the company joined with Isao Machii, a master of the Iaijutsu sword fighting technique. Side by side, Machii and a Yaskawa Motoman MH24 robot arm completed five challenges, at first slicing their way through flowers, fruit, and peapods. They then rapidly cut a thousand times into practice targets. At the end of that last trial, Machii looks exhausted, but his unfeeling machine counterpart is as ready to go as ever. It's a good thing it can't walk.

Watch the robot swing its sword below: