People | 20 QUESTIONS

Klaus Petersen: A robotics CEO with business sense

by Verena Dauerer

Contributing Writer

Name: Klaus Petersen
Age: 42
Nationality: German
Occupation: CEO of LP-Research Inc. in Tokyo; lp-research.com
Likes: Good vibes, finding problems and (hopefully) solving them
Dislikes: Taxis and cars that get in my way when I’m cycling

1. Why do you find robots so interesting? As a child in the 1980s, my parents bought me a “Donald Duck” comic book about computers and programming. A part of that book was about robotics. One robot shown there was a piano-playing robot exhibited at Expo ’85 in Tsukuba, Ibaraki Prefecture. I still remember these pictures.

2. What inspired you to pursue a doctorate in robotics from Waseda University? When I was living in China, in my late 20s, I visited Fudan University in Shanghai and was introduced to its research on a humanoid robot. This caused my childhood interest in robotics to resurface. I was lucky to get accepted to the laboratory of professor Atsuo Takanishi. As it turned out, my task was to work on the successor of the piano playing robot WABOT-2 at Expo ’85.

3. Did you teach robots anything cool? The purpose was to improve the way robots collaborate with humans. This is a very wide research field, but the exemplary situation I chose for my studies was musical interaction, i.e. how humans could play together with a robot in a band.

4. Do you keep one at home? Yes, a really perfect one!

5. Now you’re the co-founder and CEO of LP-Research Inc. What does your company do? Our core technology is a thing called “sensor fusion”: We combine the strengths of different data sources (e.g. gyroscopes, accelerometers, cameras) to give situational understanding to a machine. For example our technology allows vacuum cleaning robots to perceive a user’s living room and navigate through it.

6. What prompted you and your colleagues to found your own company? Zhuohua Lin, Huei Ee Yap and I all graduated from Takanishi’s laboratory. It was less of a specific decision to form a company and more the fascination of setting out to create novel technology.

7. Where are your sensors used? Our technology is currently being used in robotics, aerospace, entertainment, medical and automotive applications.

8. Can you tell us a bit more about the global sensor business? As the world gets more and more digitized, sensors will play an even greater role to generate data that the digital infrastructure can consume and analyze. The so-called internet of things or artificial intelligence relies on that.

9. What do you like about your job? The job of managing a company is not far from being an engineer: The company is like a machine. My purpose is to tune all the bolts and screws to keep the wheels turning.

10. What’s tedious? In many cases, the more tedious a task superficially seems to be, the more important a task is. Therefore, I would avoid attributing “tedious” as a negative adjective to a task.

11. Do you have a business philosophy? I would like to follow the principles Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard describes in his book, “Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman.” A company’s purpose is not only to create profit, it is to create the best products in a sustainable manner in order to perfectly serve its customers, and at the same time provide a great work environment to its employees.

12. What challenges did you and your team face in Japan business-wise? As a small company, it’s not easy to fit in with Japanese business culture, which is deeply rooted in established corporate and personal relationships. Eventually we had to face the reality that even though our company is in Japan and is a Japanese legal entity, we cannot rely on the local market but must do most of our business outside of Japan.

13. How could this be overcome? We need to hire more Japanese staff.

14. What do you usually do on your commute? I ride my bicycle to work, which is a good opportunity to listen to an audiobook or podcast, such as a Chinese learning podcast. No one can hear me practicing sentences with terrible pronunciation.

15. What do you do in your free time? I like outdoor sports, so it is wonderful to have the mountains close by for skiing or snowboarding; also, the ocean is around the corner to go surfing. If I can’t sleep, there are plenty of bars and clubs.

16. You have a daily CrossFit regimen. What do you draw from it? Usually I go before work for about an hour. Especially in the early morning it can feel quite painful to get the body going, but the coaches are great and doing training together with like-minded people is always a pleasure.

17. What’s your favorite surf spot? My favorite spot is Wada, Chiba Prefecture. It was introduced to me by my good friend Ryan Peter John, owner of AVGVST International Co., a planning and management company in Tokyo.

18. How do you defy everyone’s expectations? Some people don’t expect me to be a good businessman. The other night, a friend approached me asking, “Klaus, I know you head the company, but who is taking care of business matters?” Over the years, I have gravitated more and more from being a pure engineer to spending most of my days as a salesman and business developer. And I’m loving it!

19. Do you have any bad habits you’d like to get rid of in 2020? Same as last year, I would like to avoid my habit of always being late.

20. What’s your dream? I dream of changing the world in a good way by growing our company into a gentle technology giant.

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