The revolution in robotics has had a seemingly mild-mannered leader pushing forward with new technology and revolutionary innovation. This leader has acted as the industry powerhouse over the last several decades powering the advancements we see today. The leader? Japan.
The island nation drives the advancement of artificial intelligence, machine learning, and machine vision technologies which are essential to powering the new age of innovation in robotic hardware. To put this into perspective, Japanese industrial robot manufacturers delivered over 50% of robots supplied in 2017. This was a 39% increase from 2016! Japan, also, ranks second highest in the world for robot installation with 297,200 working units in 2017. These advancements are building on a foundation that comprises top-known Japanese corporate names: Mitsubishi, Denso Corporation, OTC Daihen Corporation, Epson, FANUC, Kawasaki — the list goes on.
Simultaneously, Japan continues its rise to status as a world-leading startup and technology ecosystem. Investment has continued to flow into Japan’s tech scene. In 2016, venture companies in Japan focused on three key areas: robotics rose 329%, artificial intelligence (AI) rose 246%, and the Internet of Things (IoT) rose 184% over the year before. This is alongside prime minister Shinzo Abe’s recent goal to create 20 unicorn startups by 2023.
It is quite possible that a percentage of these unicorns will be robotics startups. From automated chefs, dementia-therapy robots, personal assistants, adaptively-intelligent machines, and AI-based industrial marvels, these are ten of Japan’s most successful (or promising and unique) startups that are changing the way we live, work, and function.
10 Startups Leading The Robotics Revolution
1. Connected Robotics
Connected Robotics, a Tokyo-based startup, has created two automated food robots: the OctoChef, which makes fried octopus balls known as tokoyaki, a popular street food in Japan, and the Reita robot, which serves soft-serve ice cream.
The company recently announced a ¥850M ($7.8 million USD) Series A funding round. This funding supports Connected Robotics’ advancements in the food industry including an automated dishwasher robot, a hot-snacks robot targeted for convenience stores, and an automated breakfast-cooking robot named Loraine.
2. Preferred Networks
Preferred Networks, an AI and deep-learning-focused startup, recently unveiled the world’s first robot capable of tidying up a room. The robot can be commanded to clean with response to various instructions and guidelines. It uses machine vision to recognize over 300 household items enabling it to intelligently pick up and put away belongings.
Preferred Networks is the highest-valued startup to come out of Japan, with an estimated $2 billion valuation. The company has leveraged its expertise in machine learning and AI to power the intelligence behind their newer robotic endeavors. Watch their tidying up robot at work below!
3. Softbank Robotics
Softbank Robotics is a subsidiary of Japanese conglomerate Softbank, though the team at Softbank Robotics operate as an independent startup. Softbank Robotics is best known for their companion, emotion-reading robot, Pepper.
They, also, recently announced a landmark partnership with HSBC, which will support the new development of a service robot that will be rolled out in HSBC bank branches across the United States.
4. PARO Therapeutic
PARO Therapeutic has developed an advanced, interactive robot to act as a social companion for the elderly, specifically designed to stimulate patients with dementia, Alzheimer's, and other cognitive disorders. The robot is fashioned as a cuddle-friendly seal that responds to the owner’s voice and interactions. Data has shown that this unique approach has effectively aided in both loneliness and dementia therapy.
TX Inc. (Telexistence) develops remote-controlled robots that can mirror one’s actions, even if on the opposite side of the globe. These robots allow one to complete tasks, communicate, and interact with others physically via telecommunication. The operator receives sensor information from the remotely-located robot and controls the robot to conduct remote tasks. Telexistence investors include Airbus Ventures, Mizuho Capital Co., JTB Corp, and Maeda Corporation.
6. PLEN Robotics
PLEN Robotics, based in Osaka, has produced The Cube, which the company describes as a “portable, personal assistant robot.” The Cube is a robot designed to respond to human interaction, mimicking our own movements and motion. The device is equipped with a smart camera, motion tracking, facial recognition, and speech recognition tech that, combined, powers cutting-edge functionality.
7. Ascent Robotics
Ascent Robotics provides AI-based software for robotics and autonomous vehicles. Ascent’s research team has focused on developing advanced neural models and machine learning algorithms to power intelligent vehicles.
The Ascent team recently raised over $16M in funding in March of 2018; they continue to work with many different types of technology partners in the automotive industry to develop the technology.
ZMP, founded in 2001, is a robotics startup that focuses on selling experimental vehicles with autonomous-driving technology installed as platforms for research and development. Investors include Intel and Sony, and the company is working with Sony alongside mobile Internet company DeNA to launch a driverless taxi service.
LifeRobotics, founded in 2007, develops industrial robots that help companies automate manufacturing and warehousing processes. The startup is focused on “cooperative working robots” – automated machines that are able to learn advanced functionalities, workflows, and tasks through user’s guidance.
Mujin, founded in 2011, has developed AI-based motion control software for industrial robots. Robots are often programmed with specific movements and responses, though Mujin’s controllers allow robots to “think” through their movements without any pre-programming, adjusting to a situation as it occurs.
Mujin’s technologies are mainly used in logistics, warehousing, and factory automation for picking, packing, and sorting functions. The startup has developed the world’s first warehouse without any human staff in partnership with JD.com, a Chinese e-commerce leader.
Disruptive Technologies: Innovations from Japan
Japan continues to be a leading innovation hub for startups and technologies. The country’s strong history in robotics combined with a growing startup ecosystem has led to a boom in robotics ventures as well as many other types of startups.
Could the disruptive, new technologies springing from Japan impact your organization or perhaps lead to new opportunities in your business?
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