Chinese farmer and robot inventor cranks into gear

Fri Jan 9, 2009 4:22am EST
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By Maxim Duncan

BEIJING (Reuters Life!) - Wu Yulu has burned down his house, sprayed himself with battery acid, driven his wife to contemplate divorce and openly admits he loves a few contraptions made from scrap metal more than his own children.

But the self-educated farmer is happy, because the robots he has dedicated his life to creating are finally winning him enough fame and cash to put plowing aside forever.

The unlikely inventor is pulled around the village where he was born by a walking, talking, life-size model which he calls his thirty-second son.

"I'm a rickshaw-pulling robot. Wu Yulu is my Dad, I take him out about town," its rubbery lips proclaim to passers-by, who pay no more attention to the strange vehicle than to the bikes and scooters rattling past it.

His earlier efforts were more humble, the first just a simple walking contraption made of wire and cogs which took its first steps in 1986.

As whimsical as they are ingenious, later creations with bodies made of plastic barrels or cloaked in cloth skirts can pour tea, offer smokers a light for their cigarette or climb walls and shuffle across the ceiling on magnetic feet.

"Since I was young I never smoked, drank or played cards. My only love was to use my brain, especially with machines. I was fascinated by things that moved," Wu told Reuters in a courtyard scattered with cogs, parts and his metal "children."

"You could say I love my robots more dearly than my own sons," says the serious 48-year-old, whose human offspring have long since left home.   Continued...

<p>A combination photo shows two differing approaches to robot design in Asia. (L) Twendy-One, a robot designed to help elderly and disabled people around the house, is put through its paces at Waseda University in Tokyo January 8, 2009. Twendy-one was designed by robotics researchers at Waseda University to have human-sized four-fingered hands cabable of picking up and holding delicate objects without crushing them. (R) Farmer Wu Yulu drives his rickshaw pulled by a his self-made walking robot near his home in a village on the outskirts of Beijing January 8, 2009. This robot is the latest and largest development of hobby inventor Wu, who started to build robots in 1986, using wire, metal, screws and nails found in rubbish sites. REUTERS/Issei Kato / Reinhard Krause</p>