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Forefront of Robotics for Business

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Forefront of Robotics for Business

  • We are entering a new age in robot business. While robots attracted attention during the 3rd robot boom in 2014, and various initiatives are continuing to be carried out today as part of the Japan Revitalization Strategy, we are starting to see steady developments towards the full- commercialization of robots. What kind of robots are actually “viable as a business" and in demand today?

Evolution of robotics that might change the structure of the industry

Two years have passed since people started talking of the 3rd robot boom, but the boom seems to have passed its peak. Everyone said that the boom was "real" this time, but was it backed up by actual results? The answer to this question aside, it can be said that the trend in the last few years is not something transient but still in progress in various genres. In particular, in the four genres of humanoids, drones, mobility, and power assistance, technologies that were unthinkable a few years earlier have been introduced and they are each creating new business areas. In terms of humanoids, Pepper was launched and contrary to expectations it opened up a B2B market. Drones, which were first developed as a tool for aerial photography as a hobby now carries great expectation for applications in logistics. In terms of cars, IT giants which were not players in the automotive industry are looking to grab the next dominance. We are also witnessing a ceaseless expansion of devices for human power assistance well beyond the scope of social welfare. Looking at this situation, we can see that robotics is not just a boom but it currently has the influencing power to significantly change the conventional structure of the industry.

Great looming challenges and the future beyond

The four genres mentioned above are by no means on a steady path; rather, they are currently undergoing a transitional period. In terms of humanoids, we have passed the stage of initial impact and we now need to find ways to integrate the new functions that would follow (most likely artificial intelligence [AI]). In terms of drones, laws and regulations are being stipulated following the amendment to the Aviation Act and we now need to tackle the issue of how to operate them in cities. In terms of autonomous driving, we need to incorporate it into actual transportation systems amid government-led deregulation ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. As for power assistance, we need to facilitate an environment that helps people in need of assistance to operate it with ease as we are currently tackling big challenges in introducing robotics into general society.

Realizing further evolution towards 2020

Ten years ago, almost all companies engaged in robotics business were industrial robot manufacturers. However, currently, technologies like robots, AI, and Internet of Things (IoT) have turned into basic knowledge in companies spanning across diverse industries. Until recently, the market for service robots was minimal, but rapid growth is expected in the future. Numerous companies have shifted their focus or recently entered the service robot market to offer robots used in various fields including medical care, nursing care, transportation and communication. One of the reasons why many companies are entering the market is because the government’s growth strategy includes the expansion of the robot industry as its priority agenda, but it also comes against the backdrop of using robots to compensate for the decreasing workforce as a result of declining birth rate and an aging population. These companies may also have hopes to maintain the advantage in the robot genre, which has traditionally been the specialty of Japan, learning from their past mistake of falling behind other countries in the Internet business.

In 2020, the Olympic and Paralympic Games will be held in Tokyo. The year 2020 is also the final year of Japan’s 5-year Robot Strategy. The market size of the robot industry in Japan is forecasted to reach 2.9 trillion yen in 2020, compared to 1.6 trillion yen in 2015. In 2035, the population of Japan is expected to decrease to 109.09 million people, and the market size of the robot industry in Japan is expected to swell to 9.7 trillion yen in the same year. We are currently undergoing a significant transitional phase in the evolution of robotics and we need to keep an eye out on how each company implements a full-fledged launch of businesses on the front lines and what kind of actions they take.

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