From the President
Message from the President upon Assuming Office
President, the Robotics Society of Japan
SAWA, Toshihiro (Yaskawa Electric Corporation)
(FY2017 and FY2018)
The Robotics Society of Japan was established in 1983 for the purpose of advancing robotics as an academic field and providing a forum for specialists to present the results of their research and to exchange technologies. Over 4,000 people, the core of whom are researchers and engineers, have been involved with the Society as its members since its inception 36 years ago, and in that time the Society has developed as an incubator for collaboration and creation. During my tenure as Society president, I promise to continue working towards the goals of “strengthening collaboration between industry and academia,” “enhancing the ability to get out information on a global scale,” and “contributing to engineering education” that were pursued by former President Takanishi, and to strive for the further advancement of the Robotics Society of Japan.
In the past few years the field of robotics has been riding on a tailwind, so to speak. For example, Japan’s Robot Strategy, which was announced by the government in January of 2015, sets targets of doubling the market share for industrial robots by 2020, which will put it at \1.2 trillion, and of increasing the non-industrial robot market, which chiefly consists of robots in the service sector, twenty-fold, which will put it also at \1.2 trillion.
In terms of expanding the market for robots in the manufacturing sector, industrial robots have been increasingly utilized, for example, for welding, painting, sealing, and press handling – especially in the automotive industry – due to their ability to achieve superior productivity and quality. Due to the decline in the working-age population, the use of industrial robots will grow in all sorts of industries, most notably the electric and electronic industries, and the three major “supplies” industries (food supplies, cosmetic supplies, and medical supplies). One of the efforts underway to facilitate that process is the development of “Collaborative operation robots” that work with human workers more safely and securely. To this end, new technologies must be developed. In the pharmaceutical industry, life-science experiment robots designed to aid in basic research for drug discovery are already being utilized, taking advantage of the best qualities of such robots, namely their ability to conduct highly accurate experiments with few inconsistencies.
In terms of non-manufacturing industries, in areas such as medical care and nursing, “wearable” robots for rehabilitation and patient-transfer robots have come to be used in hospitals and other care facilities. In the area of healthcare service robotics, more and more facilities have begun to use communication robots expected to stop the progression of dementia. The technology for wearable robots originally made for rehabilitation purposes has been applied to the unloading of “backyard” cargo, thereby helping to mitigate the labor shortage in the service sector.
In the area of infrastructure and disaster-prevention, efforts at “i-Construction.” which aims to take conventional demographic surveys, geospatial surveys, inspections and such and subsume them in the technologies of computer-aided construction, have already begun, but in this respect there is much potential in drones, construction robots, and other robotic technologies that is expected to be realized in the future. In addition, as Japan is a country that frequently experiences natural disasters, robots that help with disaster response are increasingly being adopted at public institutions as a form of risk management.
In the agricultural sector, a strawberry-harvesting robot was given the 2016 Robot Award. It not only replaces human labor, it also represents a business model that delivers strawberries to consumer venues without ever being touched by human hands in order to prevent them from rotting. Through the application of robots, it has become possible to deliver ripe strawberries to far-away places and thereby to add new value. In addition to strawberries, the application of robots has already begun for the harvest of lettuce, tomatoes, and other produce. We can also expect that at farms like these we will see self-driving tractors, drones, etc., as well as human resources being trained to control these machines.
Because Japan is a country that consistently faces problems such as a dwindling population and major natural disasters, there is more than enough demand for robots. This demand cannot be filled just by re-appropriating existing technologies for other purposes. To meet this demand, we must possess a sharp observational eye to accurately ascertain the current needs, as well as the ability to come up with solutions using new technologies and innovative iterations on existing technologies. These issues and the pursuit of their resolution offer opportunities for researchers and engineers to create and develop new things. Robots are systems comprised a lot of components based on different kinds of technologies, and must be useful to society. IoT, AI, and other such novel technologies have the potential―in both manufacturing and non-manufacturing sectors―to build inter-robot networks, resulting in a more fulfilling society in which new goods and services are provided.
Going forward, it is necessary for robotic technologies to be applied to fundamental technologies that encompass, among others, materials, mechanisms, mechanical actions, sensing, intelligence, and networking, to meet the needs of the market. If any one of these is deficient in a particular robotic application, it will doubtlessly be deemed useless. More important than the advent of IoT and AI is that researchers and engineers of robotics network and communicate with one another and the forum to do so in this country is the Robotics Society of Japan. I believe that it is the role of this Society to join theory with practice, and to bring researchers and engineers together. I want the Society to be an organization in which the researchers and engineers in it can refine and improve their work; one that does not simply serve its members, but one that the members create themselves, think about what they can achieve in the Society, and ponder how to make the best use of the it. Upon that, I want the organization to use solutions derived in Japan, which is a country that excels at finding solutions, and deliver them to the broader world.
I ask that you join me in my commitment to strengthening the field of robotics, one of the cutting-edge technologyies nurtured in Japan, and the “Robotics Society of Japan” as an indispensable academic society that helps facilitate it.