Business / Corporate | Regional voices: Chubu

Toyota group firms test out labor-saving prototype products at Gifu shopping mall

Chunichi Shimbun

Major component-makers of the Toyota group have launched an experiment of letting consumers and shop staff try their products under development at a shopping mall in the city of Gifu.

Osaka-based Jtekt Corp. and Aisin Seiki Co., based in Kariya, Aichi Prefecture, introduced products designed to help reduce burdens on shoppers and staff at the Colorful Town Gifu commercial complex. After the experiment, which will run until the end of this month, user feedback will be reflected in the development of next-generation products.

At a Nitori Co. outlet, a furniture and interior shop, a store staffer wore a Power Assist Suit while removing a large cardboard box from a push cart and putting it on a shelf. The suit is a Jtekt-developed wearable device that reduces the strain on the back when lifting heavy objects.

The staff member said he feels much less tired wearing the device, even when carrying something that weighs 30 kilograms all by himself.

Jtekt developed the product by utilizing its technology found in electric power steering motors that reduce the required effort by car drivers when turning the wheel. The wearable suit, which hit the shelves last year and is used mainly at manufacturing plants, is now being used by sales staff at Jms, a car accessories shop in the mall, as well.

However, some of the store officials said it is hard to walk with the equipment on when they are not carrying anything. As a result, Jtekt will aim to make the device more user-friendly by making it smaller and lighter.

The shopping mall has been allowing companies to experiment with their products, which include robots and those using artificial intelligence.

In the mall, shoppers can try out Aisin Seiki’s Ily-Ai, a standing three-wheeled electric scooter that the firm has been developing since 2015. Users can drive the scooter around at a speed of 4 kilometers per hour. When developing the scooter, which also has a shopping cart attached, the firm applied its technology used in electric wheelchairs, which it manufactured until 2018.

In March, the firm held a test ride event in the mall for the scooter and installed a handle so a child can hold on when riding the vehicle with an adult.

Aisin Seiki also plans to make improvements to the scooter by the end of 2022 so that it can automatically return to a charging station by itself after it is left behind by shoppers.

Both firms say they hope the development of such products will help them diversify or grow further in a rapidly evolving automotive industry.

“Product development using our unique technology will become our strength that will lead to new technologies such as transportation services, electrification and automated driving,” said an Aisin Seiki employee.

This section features topics and issues from the Chubu region covered by the Chunichi Shimbun. The original article was published on Aug. 10.

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