Japan launches countrywide ‘Robot Revolution’

The expertise which built Honda's Asimo robot will be used for the new Robot Revolution Initiative. Image courtesy of Honda.
The expertise which built Honda's Asimo robot will be used for the new Robot Revolution Initiative. Image courtesy of Honda.

Lawmakers in Japan have launched an ambitious plan to transform the way the country uses robotic technology.

The plan, called the ‘Robot Revolution Initiative’ aims to foster the growth of robotics manufacturing and development within Japan.

Primarily it will do this through the development of high-level cooperation between different companies and the Japanese Government. Already, more than 200 companies have signed up for the project including well-know names such as Toyota, Honda and Panasonic.

Backing up these plans for cooperation is a large amount of direct government investment, aimed at increasing the size of the Japanese robotics market four-fold, from 600 billion Yen ($5.34 bn) right now, to 2.4 trillion Yen (approx. $20 bn) by 2020.

Japan hopes that this new investment in robotic technology can help stimulate its economy, following decades of poor performance.

“The government plans to promote robot use as part of efforts to spur economic growth,” explained Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at a meeting for the new initiative.

Working in Japan’s favour for this ambitious project is its location, and close ties to fellow Asian manufacturers such as China and South Korea. While Japan’s own robotics market has shrunk in recent years according to research by the International Federation of Robots, China especially has risen to become a major buyer of this high value-added equipment.

No guarantee of success

Japan is already a market leader in robotic hardware technologies, and in many ways this latest initiative will play into their manufacturing strengths. This being said, it does little to make up for the country’s comparative disadvantage on the software side.

Companies in the US, such as Google, IBM and Microsoft have been making major strides in the software technology underpinning robotic systems. Primarily, these companies have been leading the way in the development of machine learning, weak AI and autonomous systems.

Should Japan fail to also invest in these critical computing technologies, it could find its robots crippled by poor software, and easy competed out of the market by US products.

In addition, China is also making large investments in developing its own robotics production industry, with hundreds of billions of dollars of government funding planned.