The Tsubame Archax is the coolest $3 million mecha on Earth – and soon, the moon

The multi-million dollar hypercar business is booming. The world’s ultra-rich have dozens and dozens of different outrageously expensive, high-powered toys to choose from, like the Rimac Nevera or the Mercedes-AMG Project One. Some are so extreme that they are not even street legal.

But what should a technologically advanced multi-billionaire who loves anime more than motorsports do with his discretionary fund?

The Tsubame Archax may be the answer. Quite simply, this is a Gundam fan’s dream come true: a $3 million, 15-foot-tall mecha that works just like the real thing — well, minus a few annoying details like jet boosters, laser swords, and the neural interfaces explored in many of Gundam’s different (and conflicting) timelines.

You don’t get any bonus points for guessing where this thing was made. It was at the Japan Mobility Show where I got up close and personal with the $3 million machine and spoke to the team behind it. Yokohama-based Tsubame’s first product, Archax, is the result of four years of research and development.

And what a result it is. In the Tokyo Big Sight exhibition hall, a gargantuan place by any standard, Archax towers over the pedestrian supercars and concept machines dotting the space. About every hour, Tsubame employees run it through a simple demo, where it raises its arms, waves to the crowd and transforms from robot mode to vehicle mode and back again.

Yes, the Archax is a Transformer of sorts. Like the Autobots, it can be rolled out, but you won’t mistake this for a VW Beetle or Kenworth K100. Here it’s more like switching between two variations on the same theme.

The Archax has four legs, but it doesn’t walk on them as such. At the bottom of each tire is an industrial Yokohama tire, the kind you mount on a forklift, each powered by an electric motor. In vehicle mode, Archax’s four legs are spread apart, lowering its center of gravity and allowing a maximum speed of approximately 6 miles per hour.

But to amaze your friends or scare your neighbors, you can convert it into robot mode and it rises to its full height of 4.5 meters.

The transformation is simple by Optimus Prime standards, but still a sight to behold – and to hear. Numerous electric motors throughout the chassis all spring into action to lift the 3.5-ton machine to its full height, a process that takes about 15 seconds.

The Archax is a kind of Transformer

That’s nothing compared to the drama of the cockpit opening mechanism. From the outside, the pilot must press and hold a switch on the bottom left of the Archax’s chassis. Four separate hatches move in sync to provide access to the sole driver’s seat inside, a fluid movement heavily inspired by Gundam robots.

Basically everything is inspired by the Gundam series. Tsubame CTO Akinori Ishii is technical director at the Gundam Global Challenge, the group responsible for the full-size Gundam RX-78F00 – also based in Yokohama.

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

The project as a whole is the brainchild of CEO Ryo Yoshida, who posted early photos of the Archax design on Twitter. Ishii messaged him there and was hired to bring the project to life.

“The first step is aimed at the hobbyist and entertainment,” Ishii told me. But the company has bigger goals than that. After all five Archax units have sold out, Ishii wants to take a cue from the 2014 Godzilla restart and let them fight.

Inspired by the Gundam series

Tsubame wants to create some kind of robot fighting competition, but not where giant mechs beat each other RobotJox-style. “We want to fight with a few units. Not actual fighting, but using virtual reality, so in actual reality using real robots, fighting uses the virtual reality technology, like a game,” he said. So imagine real robots racing across a real battlefield, firing Itano Circus-like volleys of virtual missiles at each other. “That’s the next step.”

But even that is small compared to where Ishii ultimately wants to take the company: space and, more specifically, the moon. Ishii previously worked as an engineer at Hitachi, a global manufacturer that sells hundreds of construction and excavators, many of which are optimized for specific tasks.

“On Earth there are many specialized machines for special work,” he said. “On a moon base we can’t have that many machines. So maybe a humanoid machine is used in such a situation.”

That’s a long way to go, both literally and figuratively, since today’s Archax can’t really do much of anything useful. He can lift objects in his hands, up to about 20 kilograms, but the large mech is not really suitable for precision work. Basic controls consist of a pair of joysticks for controlling the arms, with a touch panel that allows the pilot to switch discrete functions such as lights and modes.

A pair of pedals control the movement of the Archax. The one on the right rocks forward and back to control forward and reverse speed. The pedal on the left rocks back and forth and is used to spin the mech.

Tsubame wants to create some kind of robot fighting competition

The cockpit is fully enclosed, again like a Gundam, with the pilot seeing the world through images captured by 26 wide-angle cameras spread throughout the mech. These images are then stitched together on three displays that surround the pilot.

The final checks? Large red emergency stop buttons, not only in the cockpit but also outside on the legs. Safety is definitely a priority for Ishii and the rest of the Tsubame team, who all wore helmets when the thing was in motion.

It’s a sight to behold when it moves, and I know by now you’re definitely wondering what it’s like to pilot the thing. Unfortunately, that’s a question I can’t answer. “Only the person who bought the Archax can ride it,” Yoshida told me after I (repeatedly) asked for a try. That’s a bit out of my price range, a situation that won’t change anytime soon.

I asked Ishii if a next-generation Archax might be a little more affordable. He thought about the question for a few moments and then laughed.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *