How can SMEs play an active role in the robot industry?Yoji Kuroda
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The robot industry is about to expand. What business opportunities are there for SMEs that manufacture things? We spoke with Mr. Yoji Kuroda, a professor at Meiji University who started his own robot venture company, SEQSENSE, about examples of SMEs in action.
Provide software related to robot operation
If an SME wants to get involved in robot manufacturing, what are some possible ways for them to enter the sector?
"There are three major pieces required to operate a robot. Mechanical parts, electronic circuits, and software. The key technical aspect at the moment is software."
Mr. Kuroda mentioned the example of Mujin, Inc., a company with 115 employees headquartered in Koto-ku, Tokyo.
"SEQSENSE develops software for industrial robots. Through open innovation it has developed a general-purpose "intelligent robot controller" equipped with AI in collaboration with multiple companies such as major electric companies and heavy industry companies. If you attach it to a conventional robotic arm in a factory, you will be able to achieve quite advanced movements."
Another startup company that has gained prominence in this field is Preferred Networks, Inc., which conducts AI research such as deep learning. The company works with FANUC Corporation, known for its automation of factories utilizing robots and other devices, to advance the intelligent use of industrial robots.
"Among software, the ones related to hardware control are often thanks to deep insights based on many years of experience, and cannot be created overnight. Companies that are good at this are strong."
Provide mechanical parts and electronic devices that affect the performance of robots
Of course, robot production cannot do without mechanical parts as well as electronic devices such as sensors in which electronic circuits play an important role.
"The performance of a robot depends greatly on the performance of the parts used. Even with the autonomous mobile security robot developed by SEQSENSE, some of the hardware manufacturing is outsourced to SMEs, and commercially available electronic devices such as sensors and cameras are used. But still it is performance which is important."
Mr. Kuroda says that in the case of cameras, a dynamic range that can be used in both bright and dark places is a commonly required factor, and security robots like SEQSENSE's also require particularly high night vision performance.
3D-LiDAR is installed on SEQSENSE's robots. It uses a laser sensor to track the surrounding conditions in 3D, and has gained prominence as an essential component for autonomous driving. Mr. Kuroda mentioned Hokuyo Automatic Co., Ltd., an Osaka-based manufacturer of various sensors and automatic doors, as an example of an SME that boasts global recognition in this sector.
"It's important to fully research what robots are needed in the market and what parts are needed for them, instead of lumping together all robot parts."
Some SMEs lead the industry in collaborative robot development
SMEs provide robot manufacturers with mechanical parts such as actuators and structural parts for robots, electronic devices such as drive circuits, sensors, and computers in which electronic circuits play an important role, as well as the part known as software. This is one way to enter the robotics market. On the other hand, it is not impossible to develop a robot in-house. A good example is tmsuk Co., Ltd. which has 20 employees and is headquartered in Munakata City, Fukuoka Prefecture.
While it was still called Tems Co., Ltd., a production line manufacturer of belt conveyors and other products, the company gained prominence with robots that were prototyped using technologies such as the mechanical, electrical, and control systems developed through factory automation. The company president himself spun off this business and established it as an independent company. In cooperation with many universities and companies focused on these technologies, many products have been launched and raised eyebrows such as nursing patrol robots developed in collaboration with a nursing care provider, building assistance robots jointly developed with a major home builder, and rescue robots commissioned by a local government.
What is necessary to expand the business with a robotics approach or to improve productivity with robotics technology? In the next and final part, Mr. Kuroda will also give SMEs some general advice.
Series How to use smart robots and key points for entering the robotics business
Series 1 Improving robot capabilities expands the potential for wider implementation in our society
Series 2 Understanding the market, robot aptitude, and use conditions is essential for commercializing robots
Series 3 How can SMEs play an active role in the robot industry?
Series 4 How to use smart robots and key points for entering the robotics business
(Meiji University School of Science and Technology, Department of Mechanical Engineering, Professor / Co-founder of SEQSENSE Inc.)
Completed a doctoral program at the University of Tokyo Graduate School of Engineering, Department of Naval Architecture and Ocean Engineering in 1994. He has been in the current position since 2013 after serving as assistant professor at the Meiji University School of Science and Technology, Department of Mechanical Engineering; as visiting associate professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; and as associate professor at the Meiji University School of Science and Technology, Department of Mechanical Engineering. In 2016, he founded the startup "SEQSENSE Inc." to develop autonomous mobile security robots. Researcher at the Institute of Industrial Science of the University of Tokyo, joint researcher at the Institute of Space and Astronautical Science of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (currently the Institute of Space and Astronautical Science of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency [JAXA]). Participated in JAXA's asteroid exploration mission and was involved in the development of the asteroid exploration rover mounted on Hayabusa and Hayabusa2.
Coverage date February 13, 2020
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