More Than Meets the Eye

I’ll admit to one thing up front: I’ve seen all the Transformers movies. I still think the first one was the best one, but I’d watch five more, too, if they make them. Until recently, I thought of those movies as fantasies, not even science fiction. While the premise still seems like fantasy, the acintual ability to transform a car to robot (with guns) has been available for some time now.

The first time I saw the movie transformation, I was struck by its complexity. I’m equally struck by the transformation of Kenji Ishida’s car, which does a fair job of converting into a robot. Granted, it’s difficult to replicate the job done through the movie’s CGI, but Ishida’s car/robot is far more believable, with fewer spinning components. For me, watching how all the parts move into place is fascinating, and I can slow-mo the video to satisfy my engineering brain.

Before this, there were other toys produced, like the Transforming Optimus Prime. The biggest problem with that toy though, is that it doesn’t have legs–it rolls along on its tires. Similar toys have the same problem; many of them either don’t transform completely, or they don’t do it on their own.

What’s cool about Ishida’s Transformer is that it uses 22 servo motors, and completes its entire transformation under its own power–and has legs to stand and walk on. The real question is whether or not this is even possible for a full-sized car. After all, what I would want is to buy one of them and be able to transform my car into a robot and go “off road” in the real sense of the word. Also, couldn’t this be great for NASA the next time they go to Mars? If the rover gets stuck in the sand, transform it into a robot and walk out of the crater!

Understandably, there are still elements that have to be perfected. After all, most robots (even the ones that don’t transform from a car or truck) being built today use what’s called quasi-static locomotion (or Zero Moment Point techniques) for walking. This means that no moment in the horizontal direction is present at the point where the foot hits the ground. Basically, if the robot were to stop mid-stride, it would continue to stand. Humans, on the other hand, would fall over. So, robots don’t walk like humans, yet, though that may be changing.

It makes sense, then, that bigger Transformers would roll instead of walk. If one considers the weight of materials and the fact that walking takes more energy than rolling, then an actual car- or truck-sized transformer isn’t very likely, even if it used hydraulics power to facilitate movement. Frankly, it would take a lot of ordinary diesel fuel to move the monster robot. According to an article in How Stuff Works?, weight alone could cause a lot of problems, at least for Optimus Prime: “Since traditional semis frequently exceed 30 tons in weight, the final weight of Prime (with hydraulics components) could easily be in the 35 to 40 ton range. Compare this to the world’s best walking robot, Honda’s ASIMO robot, which has a total weight of 119 pounds and yet can only walk for about 40 minutes (electrically powered) and at a max speed of less than 2 mph.”

At this point, I’d say we’re a bit far from having life-sized Transformers to drive to work, but that doesn’t mean that new technologies and new fuels won’t get us there someday. It’s always nice to have something to look forward to.

Terry Persun writes in many genres, including historical fiction, mainstream, literary, and science fiction/fantasy. He is a Pushcart nominee, and has published technical articles in numerous engineering journals. His novel, “Cathedral of Dreams” is a ForeWord magazine Book of the Year finalist in the science fiction category. His novel “Sweet Song” just won a Silver IPPY Award. His latest novel is, “Revision 7: DNA”, a sci-fi thriller. Terry’s website is: or you can find him on Amazon.

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2 Responses to More Than Meets the Eye

  1. Ellie Ann says:

    The transformations were my favorite part of Transformers. That, and Shia’s humor. I can’t wait until they make a car that can turn into a robot, then you’ll always be able to travel with your best friend.

  2. ak says:

    I’ve watched all the Transformers movies with my son. He L O V E S them! He watches the new cartoon series as well. While it’s not really my “thing”, I really enjoy watching them with him and getting into the action like a ten year old boy. That being said, I cannot wait until my car turns into a super robot that saves the world!

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