I've been having fun trying to imagine the meeting where the Kawasaki Bex was first pitched. "So," I imagine a white-coated scientist saying. "We're famous for motorbikes, and for motorboats. So why not make a motor goat?"
Because that's what this rather unusual-looking robot is. To the best of my knowledge, Bex – or RHP Bex, to give it its full name – is the only rideable robot goat in existence, and while it may sound completely mad it's actually rather clever. And it's not really a goat. It's an Ibex, hence the name.
The RHP at the front of Bex's name stands for Robust Humanoid Platform, and Bex's stablemates are designed to do heavy lifting in places that just aren't safe for humans. Other models can lift heavy weights and grip with enormous strength, or fit into spaces that'd be too tight for an adult.
So why has Kawasaki made a robot Ibex?
Whatever floats your goat
Bex is doing some interesting things here. Its legs mean it can travel on rough terrain that would defeat wheeled or even tracked vehicles, but its feet and its torso also contain wheels that enable it to zoom around on flat surfaces. It's clearly strong enough to carry a human rider, and it can also be fitted with a cargo holder that enables it to carry heavy items too. That makes it a really good possibility for agricultural use, especially in areas where traditional vehicles struggle. And if nothing else it's nice to see a demonstration of robots that aren't going to end up being used for military or police purposes for once.
Kawasaki is big on robot technology for all kinds of uses. Its robot arms are a common sight in factories, but Kawasaki has bigger ideas than that: it wants to make robots for every application and to help solve societal issues. That means robots that can help people with mobility problems, robots that can give ordinary humans superhuman strength, robots to care for and be companions for the elderly, robots to brew beer and robots to help in natural or man-made disasters. And it's no newcomer to the field: Kawasaki's been making robots for more than 50 years now.
I'm fascinated by this. Kawasaki believes that humanoid robots will happily co-exist with us, taking over the tasks that are physically hard or dangerous and generally making the world a better place. While Bex enables me to make lots of puns, the more interesting bot is its sibling, Kaleido: it might just be the firefighter or first responder of the future.