In the semi-rural outskirts of Beijing’s Tongzhou district (itself on the outskirts of Beijing) Wu Yulu has amassed a collection of simple robotic machines through sacrifice and the power of obsession. His journey into the world of invention began as a kid and his curiosity has continued despite his fifth-grade education and mounting debts; an electrical fire burned his family out of their home. By day he repairs electronics and appliances, then trolls scrapyards and metal recycling plants for his creations.
Over the years he has filled his house and yard with a ragtag collection of mechanical rickshaw drivers and eight-legged carts, headless walkers and assorted clunkers; he’s J.F. Sebastian without the corporate funding, hidden away in the dusty backstreets with his robot children. I think it’s awesome that he’s been able to figure out how to construct a working robot without any education but it’s also depressing in a way. Across the sea Japan is the world leader in slick and sophisticated robot maids and dogs, each new model unveiled in the world spotlight and discussed on daytime talk shows. Wu Yulu’s inventions are pieced together with whatever was laying around, no consultations with design firms, no microchips. Although Yulu’s work has garnered significant attention over the years from technology enthusiasts his attempts to capitalize on his talents by selling robot rides at local festivals have resulted in failure. I’m a little torn between his single-minded dedication and the selfishness which causes his wife and two children to suffer. In a just world he would be given a decent place to live and the backing needed to work on his robots full-time but for now it’s the front yard, late hours, scavenged materials and creditors.
Props to io9 for a pleasant Sunday morning viewing.