Introduction—Robotics, an endless revolution

Introduction—Robotics, an endless revolution

Robotics play a critical role in space exploration. Pictured is the Curiosity rover that landed on Mars
in August 2012 and has been performing various studies of the Red Planet’s climate and geology.

Robots: the evocation of the word brings high technology and sometimes even science fiction to the mind. However, robotics has left the realm of science fiction for several years now. The market is expanding rapidly worldwide. In a 2014 report from the Boston Consulting Group, the authors expect the robotics market size to reach USD 67 billion by 2025. Even though the figures differ from one report to another, all foresee a bright future for the field.

Robotics cover a wide range of applications, from industry to service to medicine. Robots increase productivity, and in some cases can do a better job than humans—or jobs that humans cannot even do such as work in hazardous environments. Prompted by recent events such as the Great East Japan Earthquake or the Nepal 2015 Earthquakes, research in disaster robotics, robots specialized in search and rescue, is one of the many areas in robotics that are booming. This is particularly true in the case of natural disaster prone Japan, one of the world leaders in robotics along with the U.S., Germany, South Korea and China.

Japan is spearheading the research in robotics on many different fronts. Robots are culturally more accepted in Japan, and they are seen by many as a possible cure to Japan’s current demographic ill. As a bid to further Japan’s world leadership in the robotics field, the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe expressed his desire to see more private and public investments in robotics in a meeting with the Robot Revolution Realization Council in January this year. The call for a multi-stakeholder minimum investment of JPY 100 billion will be combined with a wave of deregulation reforms aimed at facilitating research and commercialization of Japanese robotics.

The Prime Minister’s hope is to see the Japanese robotics industry market size tripled to JPY 2.4 billion by 2020. Robots are expected to take on an important role during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, which will feature such robots as driverless taxi cars or tourism robots that provide information about landmarks in the city.

In an industry that experience revolutions on a daily basis, it is hard to keep track of everything that is happening in the field of robotics. In this issue of Japan and the World, we look at two companies that are transforming the world of robotics.

The first company is the Hybrid Assistive Limb (HAL) exoskeleton maker Cyberdyne, founded by Tsukuba University professor Dr. Yoshiyuki Sankai. In this article, professor Sankai talks about his invention and how robotics can be used to improve the human condition and heal individuals.

The second one is a U.S. Silicon Valley venture company called Grabit, which is developing a groundbreaking technology named electroadhesion. Co-founder Charlie Duncheon provides us with insights into the world of robotics, its future, and the role Japan can play in this fascinating industry.

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