Robotics

ロボティクス

The Japanese could well be the biggest robot fans – most likely down to their long-standing familiarity with industrial robots. Robots made big leaps in performance, particularly from the 1970s, during the time when Japan’s economy experienced a period of rapid growth

With half the global market share, Japan is still considered the world leader in technology for the machines that build, well, other machines. Particularly notable are the robots that manufacture items like car parts and machinery; instead of being designed as general purpose units, these robots are made for specific operations. They continue to evolve thanks to increasingly advanced and precise manufacturing techniques.

Humanoids are another area of robotics strongly associated with Japan – a field in which designers craft robots that mimic human functions and interactions. It’s through Japan’s pop culture – robots depicted as friends in manga or anime such as Tetsuwan Atom (Astro Boy) and Doraemon – that people have become fond of humanoid robots. This familiarity has led people to feel closer to robots than to simpler machines.

Industrial Robots

One of Japan’s crowning achievements in industrial robotics is the precision technology of Fanuc’s Robodrill – a compact machining centre that is used to manufacture metal shells for smartphones and similar tasks. The increasing compatibility between industrial robots and human operators is another strong point, as represented by Denso’s VS-050S2 arm robot that’s designed with an emphasis on safety and hygiene, so that it can work in close proximity to people.

Assistive Robots

As the country’s over-seventy-five demographic increases, Japan has high hopes for assistive robots. For example, exoskeleton suits for medical and nursing care applications. Cyberdyne’s HAL – that claims to be the world’s first cyborg-type robot – is leading the way as an assistive robot that’s capable of providing assistance to elderly or disabled people by augmenting, restoring, enhancing, or supporting physical abilities.

Humanoids

Japan has also seen great development within the area of humanoid robots – a type of robot that garners mixed reactions around the world for their ability to blur the boundary between living beings and machinery. Thanks to a variety of approaches that have been used to pursue reality, some humanoids have reached a stage where they are visually similar to humans, while others are able to closely mirror human motion. In Japan, these abstract and photorealistic reproductions of humans – influenced by traditional aesthetics – are widely considered to be as beautiful as the real thing.

YAMANAKA Shunji’s Robots

YAMANAKA Shunji is a Japanese industrial designer whose work is grounded in both engineering and art. In addition to designing his own robots, he was involved in the development of NTT DoCoMo’s Osaifu-Keitai mobile payment system and the automated railway ticket barriers for the Japanese Suica system. His contribution to solutions for interfacing between humans and machines is a significant one. An exhibition curated by Professor Yamanaka is scheduled to be shown at Japan House London.