From the President
Message from the President upon Assumption of Office
President, the Robotics Society of Japan
TAKANISHI, Atsuo (Waseda Univ.)
(FY2015 and FY2016)
In 2012, the Robotics Society of Japan turned 30, and in the first two years going into its fourth decade, the Society got off to a good start thanks to former President Norio Kodaira’s strong leadership. I have been given the great responsibility of heading the Society for the next two years, and I will do my utmost to ensure that the progress made by the Society not only continues, but speeds up.
The Robotics Society of Japan has consistently pursued the goals of “strengthening the industry-academia collaboration”, “enhancement of the ability to disseminate information and messages on a global scale”, and “contribution to engineering education.” Former President Kodaira also worked toward these goals as part of his efforts to “increase the Society’s social influence.” As president I also will carry on this mission. And to help realize the Society’s goals in a more concrete manner, I propose the following course of action.
This may already be in past Society publications, but I am again reminded of the words of the late Prof. Ichirou Katou, my academic supervisor and second president of the Society (AY1985?1986) in its early years. He said that the Robotics Society of Japan should involve not just robotics engineers and engineering researchers, but people from a broad range of backgrounds and fields, including medical doctors, psychologists, economists, philosophers, novelists, and dramatists.
Over the past 10 years, we have seen a surge in research and development of service robots for assisted living. Out of the need to deal with issues that will arise with the increased presence of robots in society, there are more and more academic conferences, both inside and outside Japan, being held and research papers being published involving experts from a wide range of fields, such as psychology, anthropology, and law. And as if to underscore this trend, there are a growing number of case studies of the societal implementation of robots. As many Society members are probably already aware, recently a telecommunications company has begun online sales of a 120 cm tall, 20-axis anthropomorphic service robot at bargain prices. The units are to be delivered this summer, and apparently users will be able to develop software much like applications for smartphones. This is just one example of the growing pace at which service robots will be implemented in our society.
A plan for a “Specialized Districts for Robot Development and Practical Testing,” which was proposed jointly to the Cabinet Secretariat by Fukuoka Prefecture, the City of Fukuoka, and the City of Kitakyushu, and on which I helped, was approved in 2003. It became possible to conduct experiments in the districts in which robots walk and run on public streets. The nationwide expansion of the plan was approved by the Diet in 2005, making experiments involving mobile robots possible not just in the designated zones, but elsewhere as well. I understand that since then, this system has been employed to conduct a wide variety of experiments involving mobile robots. Those experiments are closely related to the Road Traffic Act, but there has also been much attention recently on surgical robots and flying robots. To implement and commercialize these, we must take into account the Pharmaceutical Affairs Act and Civil Aeronautics Act, respectively.
With such broadening uses and purposes, the convergence of robotics with other areas and fields will surely continue to grow in degree and scope. As a result, there is no doubt that one of the ways in which this Society must contribute to the progress of robotics is to welcome researchers and other people from a broad range of fields. For this reason, I wish to increase membership and improve member service in a way that meets the needs of the diversification of robot-related fields.
My membership number in the Society is three digits long. This means that I have been a member since it was established. The past 30 odd years seem to have flown by. In that period, however, our society has seen countless events and developments of great consequence: Japan’s economic bubble and its bursting, the Great Hanshin-Awaji (Kobe) Earthquake, the IT bubble and its bursting, the 2008 financial crisis, the Great East Japan Earthquake and the ensuing nuclear disaster, just to name some.
For the past two years, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s economic policies―commonly called “Abenomics”―have had great sway over the Japanese economy. The economy was in a slump in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis and the Great East Japan Earthquake, but in the past two years the Nikkei Stock Average has risen by nearly \10,000. In addition, many global Japanese companies, especially in the manufacturing industry, posted record profits across the board in FY2013 and based on earnings forecasts are expected to do so in FY2014 as well. The future of the Japanese economy appears bright, but at the same time, according to the 2014 issue of the Robot Industry Supply and Demand Trends (in Japanese), published by the Japan Robot Association (JARA), orders for industrial robots for manufacturing amounted to about \510 billion. Although the industry appears to be recovering, compared to the roughly \750 billion in 2006, which marked the peak for the past 10 years, the current figure is still just two-thirds of what it was. Furthermore, good performance is a phenomenon largely limited to companies that export overseas that have benefited from government policies that have led to a depreciation of the yen. Companies involved in importing, on the other hand, have actually been hit hard. I often hear economists say that at any time the trend in exchange rates could reverse and the yen could become strong, stock prices could fall sharply, and corporate sector performance could deteriorate.
According to a Cabinet Office report on demographics from last year, in the year 2100 the total population of Japan is expected to have fallen to just under 50 million people, becoming roughly what it was at the end of the Meiji Era. The dramatic decline in birthrates has resulted in a decrease in the working-age population, such that concerns have surfaced over Japan’s very ability to keep functioning as a society. Faced with such evidence, even I, a layman when it comes to economics, feel that it will be nearly impossible to boost domestic demand significantly, and that Japan will have to continue to rely on its export-based economy.
In an attempt to resolve this situation, in September of last year the Abe Cabinet created the Robot Revolution Realization Council as one of its policy councils. The website of the Prime Minister of Japan and His Cabinet gives a proposal resting on the following three pillars to solve the problems noted above: “1. The ‘fundamental strengthening of robots’ capacity to create,’ with Japan as a global center of robot innovation; 2. The ‘utilization and spread of robots (robot showcasing)’ aimed at making Japan the country with the highest rate of utilization of robots in the world, bringing about a society in which robots are everywhere in everyday life in Japan; 3. The ‘creation and spread of a robot revolution with global focus,’ which aims to establish rules and international standards that will promote businesses rooted in the concept of robots interconnecting and autonomously storing and utilizing data, and further expanding into broader fields. In the five years leading up to 2020, we will aim to promote robot projects worth \100 billion.”
For people associated with the Robotics Society of Japan, this is a truly encouraging policy proposal. Let us look for a moment at the automobile manufacturing industry, which forms the core of Japan’s manufacturing industry as a whole. According to a publication on the website of the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association, Inc., the value of production of four-wheeled vehicles in 2013 in Japan was about \17 trillion. In addition to the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association, there is also the Society of Automotive Engineers of Japan, an academic organization of researchers and engineers involved with automotive technologies in general. The membership size of this association speaks to the size of the industry: they have 46,000 members, more than 10 times the Robotics Society of Japan, and these members are the foundation of collaboration between industry and academia.
The robotics industry will not be able to match the scale of the automotive industry any time soon, but I would like this Society to play a part in the academic aspect of promoting the “robot revolution” so that one day robotics may become one of Japan’s core industries on par with automobiles. To that end, I first would like to strengthen cooperation and exchange with JARA even further, and build and promote ties with all sorts of academic and other associations that are in some way connected to the diversity of robot-related fields.
I humbly ask for the cooperation of the Society’s members in putting this course of action into practice.