May 24, 2024
The Tsubame Archax is the coolest $3 million mecha on Earth

The multimillion-dollar hypercar industry is thriving for the new Tsubame Archax. The world’s ultra-rich have a plethora of absurdly costly, high-performance toys to pick from, such as the Rimac Nevera or the Mercedes-AMG Project One. Some are so severe that aren’t even legal to drive on the street. 

But what does a tech-savvy multibillionaire who prefers anime over racing do with their discretionary fund? 

The Tsubame Archax might be the solution. Simply put, this is a Gundam fan’s dream come true: a 15-foot-tall, $3 million mecha that operates just like the actual thing, save for a few annoying elements like jet boosters, laser swords, and the mental connections explored in several of Gundam’s multiple (and contradictory) realities.

For now, it’s a big toy for the ultra-wealthy, but it’s aiming higher, like lunar exploration. And also robot fights.

Made in Japan

You don’t get any extra points for figuring out where this stuff was produced. I went up close and personal with the $3 million machine and chatted with the people behind it at the Japan Mobility Show. Archax, Tsubame’s first product, is the culmination of four years of research and development. 

And what an outcome that is. Archax looms above the pedestrian supercars and concept machines that dot the Tokyo Big Sight exhibition hall, which is huge by any standard. Tsubame staff take it through a short demo every hour or so, in which it lifts its arms, gestures to the crowd, then transitions from Robot mode to Vehicle mode and back again.

The Archax is, in fact, a Transformer. It can roll out like the Autobots, but don’t confuse it with a VW Beetle or a Kenworth K100. It’s more like morphing between two versions on the same topic in this case.

The Tsubame Archax is the coolest $3 million mecha on Earth

Archax – A quadruped on wheels

The Archax has four legs but does not walk on them. Each has an electric motor and a Yokohama industrial tyre, similar to what you’d find on a forklift. Archax’s four legs are stretched out in Vehicle mode, decreasing the centre of gravity and allowing it to reach a top speed of roughly 6mph. 

However, to wow your friends or scare your neighbours, switch it to Robot mode, and it climbs to its maximum height of 15 feet. 

The change is modest by Optimus Prime standards, but it is nonetheless quite a sight — and sound — to witness. Myriad electric motors whir into action throughout the chassis to elevate the 3.5-ton machine to its full height, a process that takes roughly 15 seconds.

That pales in comparison to the spectacle of the cockpit opening mechanism. The pilot must hold a switch located on the bottom left of the Archax’s chassis from the outside. Four distinct hatches move in unison to enable access to the lone driver’s seat within, in a fluid motion inspired by Gundam robots.

In reality, the Gundam series influenced everything. Akinori Ishii, CTO of Tsubame, is the technical director of the Gundam Global Challenge, which is responsible for the full-size Gundam RX-78F00, which is also based in Yokohama. 

“The designer, he is a young Japanese, inspired by so many animations,” said Ishii. “It’s his original design, but I think the essence came from the Gundam animation.”

Business goals

The concept is the brainchild of CEO Ryo Yoshida, who first revealed the Archax design on Twitter. Ishii messaged him on there and was hired to assist with the project. 

“The first step is focused on the hobbyist and entertainment,” Ishii told me in an interview. However, the corporation has loftier ambitions. After all five Archax units have been sold, Ishii intends to follow in the footsteps of the 2014 Godzilla remake and let them battle.

Tsubame wants to start a robot combat league, but not with enormous mechs bashing each other up like in Robot Jox. “We want to battle with only a few units. Not actual battle, but virtual reality, so in actual reality, with real robots, the fighting is done using virtual reality technology, like a game,” he explained. So imagine actual robots racing around a real battlefield, volleying simulated rockets at each other in the way of Itano Circus. “That is the next step.”

But even that pales in contrast to Ishii’s ultimate goal for the company: space, namely the Moon. Ishii formerly worked as an engineer for Hitachi, a global firm that produces hundreds of construction and excavation tools, many of which are specifically designed for certain jobs. 

“On Earth, there are many specialised machines for special work,” he went on to say. “We can’t have as many machines on a moon base.” In such a case, perhaps a human-like machine would be deployed.”

Archax is ”Down to earth

That’s a long way to go, both physically and symbolically, given that today’s Archax is incapable of doing much of anything helpful. It can lift things in its hands weighing up to 20 kilogrammes (44 pounds), but the large mech isn’t designed for precision labour. The basic controls consist of a pair of joysticks for manipulating the arms and a touch panel where the pilot may activate specific features such as lights and modes.

The Archax’s movement is controlled by a pair of pedals. The one on the right rocks forth and back to control forward and reverse speed. The left pedal bounces back and forth and is used to spin the mech.

Like a Gundam, the cockpit is totally enclosed, with the pilot viewing the environment through footage taken by 26 wide-angle cameras spread about the mech. This footage is then put together on three monitors that surround the pilot.

What are the final controls? Large red emergency stop buttons may be located not just within the cockpit, but also on the legs. Ishii and the rest of the Tsubame crew prioritised safety, with everyone wearing helmets anytime the thing was in motion.

When it moves, it’s certainly a sight to behold, and I’m sure you’re wondering what it’s like to pilot the thing. Unfortunately, I cannot answer that question. “Only the person who purchased the Archax can ride it,” Yoshida said when I requested (again and again) for a ride. That is a touch out of my price range, which is unlikely to alter very soon. 

I asked Ishii if a next-generation Archax would be more cheap. He thought over the question for a few minutes before laughing.