With its network of tubes and petri dishes, Hitachi Ltd.'s latest gizmo may look more like a mini laboratory inside a refrigerator than the growth engine the technology company envisages.

Its cabinet-sized stem cell incubator, unveiled in a research center last month, promises to use a technique pioneered by Nobel Prize winner Shinya Yamanaka to speed new eye and heart treatments — as well as catapult Tokyo-based Hitachi into the regenerative medicine business. It is one of the latest innovations for a company that has as many patents as General Electric Co. and Siemens AG combined, and which plans to beef up research to spur investor returns that have lagged overseas rivals the past year.

Hitachi, which reports first-quarter earnings Friday, plans to boost expenditure on research and development by about 5 percent to ¥350 billion ($3.3 billion) in the year ending March 31, pushing R&D spending as a proportion of revenue to a five-year high. The company added about 100 research jobs last financial year to support expansions in areas spanning robotics and artificial intelligence to automated driving technology and railways.