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SoftBank subsidiary aims to become player in robotics operating systems

by Kazuaki Nagata

Staff Writer

Asratec Corp. said Wednesday it has started offering an operating system for use in the manufacture of robots, and plans to sell a microcomputer board to help amateur enthusiasts build robots on their own.

A unit of SoftBank Corp., Asratec’s move shows that its parent company, which recently announced plans to sell humanoid robots to consumers starting next year, sees significant business opportunities in the robotics industry.

“As the world will see more robot development from now on, the number of related businesses will increase . . . We, Asratec, want to focus on the field of OS,” said Wataru Yoshizaki, the company’s chief robot creator, referring to operating systems.

Asratec, founded last year, will provide a robot operating system called V-Sido, that was developed by Yoshizaki and acts like a cerebellum to control physical movements, to other firms that want to create robots.

The V-Sido OS can be applied to robots of various sizes, ranging from a small toy robot to a gigantic one, and enables people to control robots in real time with stable movements to prevent them from falling, said Yoshizaki. He added that he has used V-Sido successfully to control a 4-meter robot called Kuratas.

There are various ways to control robots remotely, through a smartphone for instance, or by synchronizing a human’s body movements with those of a robot.

Asratec said it will support customer firms to help customize the OS based on their needs, and will earn sales from licensing fees.

The firm declined to disclose its sales and other targets for the products.

Yoshizaki said there are few producers that can single-handedly manufacture robots from software to hardware, so the robot industry should have firms specializing in creating particular software or hardware, just like the PC industry, which has firms that specialize in making operating systems, such as Microsoft, and those that make processors, like Intel.

By starting to provide a robot operating system at this stage, SoftBank is apparently looking to get ahead of the curve in the robotics market , which is expected to grow.

Asratec also said it plans to start selling a microcomputer board called V-Sido Connect for less than ¥10,000 to general users by the end of the year.

The microcomputer board offers some of the functions of V-Sido OS and can control motors, so those who wish to make robots by themselves can purchase the board to do so.