Tepia – Fun Science Day Out for Kids in Tokyo
Unavoidable fact of life – kids will ask questions. An awful lot of them, if you have a kid like ours. Solution lies not in answering or explaining, because that will inevitably lead to more questions. It is when you give them something to do through which they can find the answer themselves, their curiosity is satiated. Great men no doubt realized it long back. Result is that most big cities have got one or more science museums, observatories, ocean aquariums etc. Tokyo, being the largest city, has many. We with our pre-teens happened to find ourselves at the ticket counters of most. Yesterday it was no different, another weekend another visit to a science exhibition, only though there was no ticket gate there. Free, newly set up and partly sponsored by industrial houses, TEPIA in Omotesando area is a showcase for companies working in electronics and robotics.
The TEPIA logo is visible right as one steps out of gate number 3 of Gaienmae station, Ginza subway line. Out of the gate, turn right, walk by the side of Meiji Jingu stadium for a few minutes, the entrance is at the right hand side. The exhibit right at the entrance lobby is a huge super-high resolution TV screen by Toshiba. Turn right, you will be facing a magic mirror. The fun starts from here.
Meet Wakamaru, the bright yellow colored highly social extra terrestrial. Loves to talk, loves to take photo with you, and asks you meet him again when you come next. The cute robots continue to meet you as you step into the 2nd floor lab. But right here at 1st floor, there’s enough to keep your young ones engaged. There is a display of little robots, a couple of inches in height, walking around a small circular path, never colliding, and navigating past obstacles placed on the way. Here it is not just about what a robot can do. You must have already been to Miraikan and seen ASIMO. Or been greeted by Pepper at Softbank stores. If not read the relevant articles in this site. But here, the stress is on the social aspect of robotics. How they interact with one another and with us humans. Kind of a preview of Google car era. To help little ones feel at home with these robot peers coming soon.
Moving on, there is an Augmented reality display that offers incredible immersive experience. Engaging enough to get full family sit down on the sofa and start playing! As one waves the little video game controller pointing at the big screen in front, a pack of giggling little extra terrestrials land onto the carpet in front. These little ones wave their hands, jump and roll, kind of filling the whole carpet. Wave your hand, the little guys topple, jump aside, then gets up and makes faces at you! All funny, cutesy, super engaging. You step off the sofa, those guys move about. If those little naughty ones make you tired, just rub the controller pointing at them. A vacuum seemingly sucks them back in. Interaction can scarcely be any better than this! You need to keep some time in your hand for this exhibit as it tends to get crowded pretty soon.
Next there is this small room with an interactive wall. On the wall there is a scenery from a Manga cartoon book. City high rises, or old village. As you stand in front, you enter the scenery. Next a series of instructions tell you a story and you choose to interact with the building, the road, the belongings. Depending on your interaction the plot moves. In a 10 minute interaction a manga cartoon story gets created with you being the central character. Cool, isn’t it?
There are quite a few displays like this, making you part of an interactive happening. Kids love them all. Then there was this workshop on building an electronic circuit. A new entrant after Makey makey, AGIC is the maker of silver ink pens that can be used to directly draw a circuit on paper. Kids were asked to draw a square using a pen given. The square had to have a gap at the top line to house a LED lamp and another gap to house a small battery with two wires. When all connected and securely placed with cello tapes, the bulb starts glowing. So does the faces of the kids! It’s their own created circuit, they get to keep it, after suitably decorating the inside space of the circuit with their imagination. Box of color pens are kept there for that. Learning can be fun, a lot of fun if you are in TEPIA.
And it need not be only electronics. There are some displays that explain human body, some explains natural disasters such as earthquakes and how engineers are coming up with new and new ideas to protect buildings from earthquakes. Surprisingly these are also interactive. For example the exhibit that explains how a layer of air separates an apartment building from its foundation that keeps shaking due to earthquake. Using a law of physics, it shows how easy it is to levitate up a huge heavy installation. How easy? One of us stood on a platform made of two glass plates with a thin layer of liquid in between. As soon as one blew through a pipe leading to the layer in between, the upper layer of the platform lifted up. We so far blew only to blow a bubble or a balloon. Lifting a person up – never thought of it!
In 2nd floor there is a dedicated robotics teaching center. Classes are organized regularly. At off times, one can see and play with creations kept as exhibits. Such as two small one wheeled robots moving about in an arena at the center of the room. Two robots which can be controlled to kick a football and score goals. A snail shaped robot that traces its path slowly around a magnetic strip. Then there are computer terminals one can access to look up a video library full of instructables.
There is a small theater and a restaurant onSecond floor. Helpful for both kids and their parents, after a two hour round of the complex.
Overall, it’s a nice half day outing. Not as big or busy or famous as Miraikan or Sony Explora Science, but good enough to get your kids a welcome dose of science. Only regret from the younger one was that, there was not enough to do such as ride or scale up and hang down from. And from me as dad dragged out of bed on a holiday morning – the bed being shown on the huge TV alas it looked too alluring to be so not true….