Friday, August 5, 2011

Gakken Rhino Kit review

Gakken kit - special was officially announced on the Otona no Kagaku site back on July 15, for a July 30th release. Unfortunately, being in Kyushu means that all new books and magazines arrive 2 days later than on the main island. However, even a week later, the website hasn't been updated with the new kit link, and the page for the assembly instructions is still missing. Meaning that as of right now, you can see photos of the mook cover, but nothing on what building the kit is like.

Otona no Kagaku - Mini-Rhinoceros, 3500 yen. The Animaris Rhinoceros is referred to as a "transport-style" beest, and the youtube video shows someone pushing it while a second could be riding inside. It's one of the few of Theo Jansen's beests that isn't wind-powered. But it's also one that actually has a practical purpose. The Rhino-Mini kit is a scaled-down version of the Rhino, measuring about 18 cm x 16 cm x 14 cm (7.1" x 6.3" x 5.5"). It's made of light-weight plastic, but uses 2 small steel rods for holding the assembly together. The kit itself is wind-powered, with a little squirrel cage-style fan on top, but several of the suggested mods include replacing the fan with an electric fan or motor. My thought is that the life-sized version should be propelled by walking on a stairmaster in the main cab.

The only real mechanical difference between the mini-Strandbeest and the mini-Rhino is in the design of the legs. The theory behind the mechanics of the Jansen linkage is the same in both cases. mini-Rhino has over 80 parts, and a recommended assembly time of 90 minutes. It took me a little longer than that because I wanted to remove the flash from the parts with a knife. All the pieces snap together so there's no need for other tools. However, flash could conceivably rub against other moving parts, and I didn't want to run the risk of having to disassemble the thing if it didn't move smoothly (which was the problem I had with kit #30). The plastic is soft enough to be trimmed easily, but it's still not something you want kids to do themselves. The instructions are pretty clear this time, and it's pretty obvious what the order is for snapping the control rods to the crankshaft. Unlike with kit #30, #32the mini-Rhino walks unencumbered, although if you're using a fan to spin the squirrel cage, there is an ideal attack angle involved. There's also a separate drive rod for hand-powering the kit . The finished pieces don't really fit together tightly, so you have to be careful about stripping the gears, or having the squirrel cage fan derail.

If you have some of the previous mooks, then the special mook is a little redundant, even though the material is all new. The first 16 pages are studies of the rhino animaris, the strandebeest and one or two of Theo's latest concepts. This is followed by variations of the Rhino and examples of how the Jansen linkage can be put to use for artificial limbs. The next 8 pages are attempts at making robots based on snakes, tadpoles, lizards, cats and dogs. The Otaku Club section takes a look at Project Skeletonics, a group working on an exoskeleton; and a guy that makes robotic fish (more photos at hayashi). The suggested mods for the mini-rhino are to decorate it with fake barnacles, turn it into a horse-drawn cart, to make a mechanical wind-up crab with two of the legs, and to build an 8-arm cymbal-playing machine. The final article is the study of the movement of fossil creatures, and there's a manga on the life of cockroaches (drawn by former Tezuka assistant and current director of the Suginami Animation Museum, Shinichi Suzuki). There's also a one-page ad for a new "Sound Gadget" series of kits to come out from Gakken this Fall. Scheduled kits include the Udar, and the SX-150 Mark II (no prices, though. I'm assuming that the dedicated sound gadget series will allow Gakken to charge more, as with the premium theremin and the SX-150 synth.)

As always, the mook has a lot of nice pictures and some articles that introduce actual science concepts. However, this one does seem a little rushed, and a little lacking in historical content. At 3500 yen ($42 USD), it's also at the top end of what I consider affordable. The mini-rhino is fun to watch, but just standing there waving a fan at it to make it go gets old fast. The ideal would be to put in a solar-powered motor and a couple switches and allow it to wander around the yard on its own. You can put it out in a parking lot on a windy day and scare the dogs, too, which is always good clean fun. But, I think it is a little lacking in replay value as-is.

Next up, kit #32, the 25 piece "Denshi Block Mini", a scaled-down version of Gakken's regular EX-150 kit. Tentatively scheduled for November, at 3800 yen.

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