TOKYO – Bringing British robots and robotic technology to Japan might appear, at first glance, to be a case of shipping the proverbial coals to Newcastle, but companies on the cutting edge in this increasingly important sector attracted admiring attention at the inaugural “Innovation is GREAT” event at the British Embassy in Tokyo.
Eight companies from across the UK took part in the robot technology showcase on February 25th, opening a year-long campaign designed to demonstrate the depth and breadth of British robotic know-how.[memb_has_membership memberships=REGISTERED-MEMBER]
“This is a great market opportunity for us because Japanese are very open to robotics and are typically early-adopters of this sort of technology,” said Silas Adekunle, founder of Reach Robotics and the Mecha Monsters range of game androids.
“These are the world’s first gaming robots and these are toys like no-one has ever seen before,” said Adekunle, who set up the company even before graduating from the University of the West of England.
“We wanted to make robotics more fun and engaging because most robots at the moment are passive and are soon put in the corner and forgotten,” he said. “Mecha Monsters are robots that battle each other, controlled by smartphone or a tablet. They become stronger with each battle and can be customised through physical and virtual add-ons.
“They really are the playable, code-able evolving toy for a new generation of game players,” he added.
Adekunle, who was kept busy with a constant stream of representatives of Japanese companies and organisations, said he hoped the visit to Japan with the UK Trade & Industry delegation would lead to new partnerships, possible funding opportunities and an examination of the robots’ retail potential.
Createc, which is based in Cumbria, already has a solid foot in the door in Japan and is carrying out imaging technology studies at the Fukushima nuclear plant. And with several of Japan’s presently mothballed nuclear reactors now slated to be decommissioned, Pete Woolaghan believes the company’s ability to see hazards differently means it will be in demand here.
“We use remotely controlled drones equipped with laser scanners to calculate in real time the distribution of radioactivity in a given space,” he said.
“Until now, the industry has had to rely on educated guesses of radioactivity levels, but this gives the user a very clear understanding of the situation they are facing and what they should be doing.
“We’re the only company in the world that can do this and the Japanese companies that we are working with are now able to obtain an incredibly rich understanding of the environment they are operating in.
Perfected at the Sellafield nuclear site in Cumbria, the technology has also been sold to companies in the United States, said Woolaghan, who added, “The UK has some really good entrepreneurs and small and medium-sized enterprises and I think that our companies’ ability to react to challenging situations is a real strength.”
Professor Sethu Vijayakumar, of the Institute of Perception, Action and Behaviour at The University of Edinburgh was also getting to grips with the potential of the Japanese market with its robo-limb and i-limb ultra range of smart prosthetic upper limbs.
“The Japanese do have some very good technology in this area, but they’re not packaging it all together into a completed, functioning product like we have here,” he said.
The leaps made by Prof. Vijayakumar’s team has enabled 600 amputees to be fitted with limbs that enable them to recover significant levels of autonomy with respect to dexterous manipulation.
“We are in Japan in part to seek collaborations with academia and industry, and particularly to highlight the areas in which we are the best in the world,” he added.[else_memb_has_membership] [/memb_has_membership]
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Article by Julian Ryall, March 2015