SoftBank Corp., the multi-national Japanese telecomm firm, has announced that it’s working on creating a real life Autobot that will transform from a robot into a drivable car by 2017. The initial design will stand 11-feet-tall in its robot mode and will supposedly be able to convert into a car that can drive up to 37 mph. It will pose no threat to Decepticons, in the case of invasion. So what, then, is the practical use for a Transformer?
The model, named J-deite RIDE, is a passion project of designer Kenji Ishida of Brave Robotics, who began his attempt to build a real life transformable when he was 14, which sounds about right. That’s when you don’t imagine how to get robots to, like, perform complex surgeries or put out chemical plant fires or land planes in case a pilot has a heart attack. That’s when you want to figure out how to drive a car that turns into a robot that — well, it’s not really clear what that robot does, other than punch a hole in the top of your garage when it stands up.
A future full of Transformers sounds rad, but we’re going to play spoiler here: Anything this shiny and pointless is going to be the plaything of only the ritzily, ditzily wealthy. Give it 20 years, and the super-rich will be showing off their Transformers just like they brag about their McLaren supercars or massive planes that they can’t even fly. A Transformer will be a luxury good on the order of a jewel-encased watch that weighs so much you can barely lift your wrist.
Transformers will be a dubious commercial item at best. After the fad wears off they’ll wind up on Craigslist and in estate sales. Until then we’ll wait for the headlines, when some billionaire tries to text while driving and instead gets Play-Doh Fun Factory’d when he activates the “transform” function as he tools along at 30 mph.