UPDATED December 16, 2011 8:02 a.m.: Mystery solved. See note at the end of the post.
Dayne Barton from TokyoTek reached out to ask if we know who's behind this strange series of videos that are beginning to surface. The videos show people walking around a Tokyo trade show called Bot Expo when all of a sudden a humanoid robot holding a chainsaw goes nuts and attacks the crowd. Watch:
We have no clue of who's behind what is clearly a (deep-pocketed) publicity stunt or viral marketing campaign. But okay: We take the bait. We want to find out more. We just hope this is about some awesome new J. J. Abrams robot show and not a new brand of laundry detergent.
So we need your help. Fire up your Google engine and see what you can uncover about this. If you find out who's behind this or what this is all about, we'll send you an Automaton t-shirt. Post your findings in the comment section below. (To be clear: We are not involved in this campaign or whatever this is, and we do not endorse whatever this turns out to be. We're just curious because it involves robots--killer robots!)
I did some googling myself. Searching for "Miyakki Laboratories," "Hubots," or "Natsuki Shimazu," the name of the company's "chief engineer," didn't turn up anything significant. I tend to think that the people behind this did some research. For instance, this is what "Natsuki Shimazu" says in her "interview" with the "news reporter" in the vid above:
"The Hubot is so much more than a machine, in the sense that it has what we call a genuine sonzaikan, a human presence. The improvements are actually so fast that differences between an actual human being and a Hubot are no longer visible at first glance."
Sonzaikan?! HAH HAH HAH! These guys are good. This is an actual term used by Japanese roboticist Hiroshi Ishiguro and others when discussing ultra-realistic humanoids (see this article I wrote last year and this one by Tim Hornyak).
The only major thing I found was one additional video: a TV commercial for Miyakki Labs, posted on their YouTube channel, showing their new "Hubmax PHD" (seriously) humanoid servant that can fix you breakfast and has a USB port on the back of her neck:
Confused? Me too. What the heck is going on here?!
UPDATE: Case closed. Congratulations to our reader Hawkeye King, who unraveled this mystery by linking the chainsaw robot videos to SVT, a Swedish TV channel. It turns out SVT is producing a drama series called "Äkta Människor" ("Real Humans") about lifelike humanoid robots. Yesterday I got confirmation from SVT that the YouTube videos "are part of our viral campaign for the series." This new series will air in Sweden early next year, but the good news is that an English version is in production. I'm getting in touch with the series creators and will have more details soon. In the mean time, some info that SVT sent me:
Brand new drama series from SVT. Co-produced by Matador Film and directed by Harald Hamrell and Levan Akin. Premieres on SVT1 Sunday January 22.
What happens when robots become so human that they can barely be distinguished from real people? When they can even be our lovers? Real Humans takes place in a parallel world to our own, in which people’s lives have been completely transformed by the new generation of robots -- Hubots.
Leo and Niska lead a group of rogue Hubots who are fighting for their independence. During an escape, Leo’s beloved Mimi disappears and Leo leaves the group to find her. At the same time, the Engman family decides to buy a used Hubot, something that has unexpected consequences for the entire family. Warehouse foreman Roger’s life is falling apart. His wife has left him for her Hubot-lover and all of his human coworkers have been replaced by Hubots. Roger decides to start a resistance movement to fight the threat.
Shine Group have attained the international distribution rights to the series. The Shine-controlled Kudos Film & Television will co-produce an English-language version and handle format rights.
Erico Guizzo is a senior editor at IEEE Spectrum. He has written stories on a wide range of science and technology topics, including Japanese androids, French computer codes, Icelandic video games, American crash-test dummies, and Canadian bacteria. His main area of interest is robotics, and he has written and edited hundreds of articles and videos featuring the latest advances in this field. He is also the cocreator of Spectrum’s critically acclaimed Robots for iPad app. For his robotics coverage, Guizzo has won four Neal Awards and has been a finalist for two National Magazine Awards. An IEEE member, he holds a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from the University of São Paulo, in his native Brazil, and a master’s in science writing from MIT.