Saturday, August 15, 2009


Some people write science fiction, other people are compelled to live it. Such a man is Wu Yulu, a humble Chinese farmer with a primary school education who makes robots.

Okay, maybe the correct word would be automatons, for all you nickpickers out there. They don’t have cybernetic brains, but give the guy a little time . . .

Mostly, these wonderful machines walk. All kinds of doll-like things that march like toys. Charming, like high-tech folk art.

Then there’s the full-size humanoid with a hat, ping-pong eyes, and rubber lips who pulls a rickshaw that two people can ride. It doesn’t go very fast, but it may well be the prototype for a system of taxis that could someday be pulling people around the shopping centers of the world. Besides, it looks like such fun.

So does a car that has six legs instead of wheels. Again, not much speed or maneuverability, but they look wonderful as Wu Yulu drives it. A car that walks like an insect! Could it be the shape of things to come? The cities and highways of tomorrow would be more interesting for it.

Another insectoid can walk up metal walls with electromagnetic feet. Wu Yulu has visions of them someday cleaning the sides of ships. I could see them walking along the outside of spaceships, checking for trouble, making repairs.

His story is like a fairy tale. People make fun of him for making robots when he should have been working on his farm. Now people are buying his creations, like works of art.

I hope that it isn’t just the art world that’s watching. Engineers, inventors, and industry should take a look. There’s something happening at that Chinese farm.

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