The biannual International Robot Exhibition kicked off Wednesday in Tokyo, showcasing the latest advances in robotics — including technology for use in disaster scenarios and in the nursing-care field.
With a record 446 firms attending the event at Tokyo Big Sight in Koto Ward, numerous robots are on display through Saturday, when the event wraps up. These include the New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization’s (NEDO) disaster prevention robots, which were drawing huge crowds at their demonstrations.
During the demonstrations by NEDO, one of the country’s largest public research organizations, visitors were awed as the HRP-2 Kai life-size humanoid robot walked along on a narrow path and opened a door to check for a fire while another life-size robot, Jaxon, walked and turned a sprinkler valve to extinguish the blaze.
Using robots to probe disaster sites is a challenge the global robot industry is currently working to tackle, said Ryosuke Aya, project coordinator with the robot and machinery system technology department at NEDO, a Kawasaki-based semi-public body in charge of developing new technologies and energy.
Robots would have been indispensable in the aftermath of disasters like the devastating 3/11 earthquake and tsunami — especially in quake-prone Japan — as well as in more recent accidents like tunnel collapses.
When such disasters occur, “there are places where humans can’t physically go,” said Aya. “That’s where robots come in to reduce the risks of disasters.”
The event also highlighted robot tech for nursing care, including remote monitoring systems and exoskeleton suits that aid those with limited mobility.
But while the nursing care tech sector is likely to grow as Japan grays, Hiroshi Kobayashi, director of Innophys Co., a Tokyo-based venture affiliated with Tokyo University of Science, believes the industry remains quite conservative.
Because of this attitude, employing these new technologies will take time at many nursing-care facilities, said Kobayashi, whose firm sells a robotics product called the Muscle Suit that enables wearers to more easily lift heavy objects.
Meanwhile, robots like SoftBank’s emotion-reading Pepper and Sharp’s robot-designed phone RoBoHon, have also been a hit at the venue, with some attendees pointing out that these robots are likely to be a boon for makers. “The market for smart robots will be getting bigger and bigger,” said Taki Sakai, president of Unirbot, the Tokyo-based firm behind Unibo, a small white robot with a liquid-crystal display screen on its head.
The robot can recognize individuals’ faces, chat with them and act as a personal assistant.
The firm is set to go on sale next July for ¥98,000 with a monthly ¥4,500 fee for cloud-based services.