Peter Hawkin, head of systems at Tharsus Group, recently took part in a UKTI-led trade mission to Japan, which gave him the opportunity to examine the latest developments in robotics and autonomous systems.
When people think of technology-driven economies, it’s likely that the first place to spring to mind would be Tokyo, Japan.
You’d be forgiven for believing that this was due to unparalleled advancements, which have left the rest of us looking on in awe; however – speaking from experience – I can tell you the UK is as equally adept at designing and manufacturing technology driven solutions.
Having recently taken part in a UKTI-led trade mission to Japan, it presented the opportunity to explore the reason behind this common misconception, and a visit to the world’s largest robotics trade show, iRex provided me with the answer.
Stood in the middle of the exhibition hall, filled with thousands of like-minded individuals, looking to learn as much as possible, I realised I could – with remarkable accuracy – identify whether or not the exhibitor was a native.
There was a stark difference in the way in which a company from Japan would interact with delegates, compared to any of the other exhibitors; they’d mastered the art of attraction by demonstrating their capabilities in a way that captured the imagination.
Rather than having a well-choreographed corporate video – which allowed you to take a virtual tour of its facilities, or a banner showing off its client portfolio, these companies had applied their technology to create humanoid robots that wouldn’t have seemed out of place on the set of a futuristic science-fiction film.
Although the technology used is most likely not going to be commercially viable for many years, and was no more advanced than many of their foreign counterparts, it appealed on so many levels.
The most successful exhibitors understand delegates are always going to be interested in technology that could be used on the shop floor, but have also recognised the fact people are attracted to the pop-culture vision of what the future might look like, giving the impression they were decades ahead of competitors.
The British are stereotypically humble and we’re known for our stiff upper lip; but if we are to try and emulate the Japanese, and generate more excitement and interest surrounding our production, we need to break away from this modesty and make a song and dance about our technological capabilities.
We should be very proud of the strides we’ve made; Tharsus itself has undergone a significant transformation since it was established in the sixties, as a sheet metal fabricator.
The company now applies Original Equipment Design and Manufacture (OEDM) to build complex electro-mechanical and cleantech products in partnership with its customers.
However, the Japanese are streets ahead of us in terms of perception. If we were to take a slightly different and more engaging approach to networking and marketing, it would help to accurately reposition the UK as an innovator in the eyes of the average person on the street; because although industry insiders are aware of our high-tech systems, this view is not necessarily held by outsiders looking in.
One of the first steps to achieving this goal would be to try and replicate the iRex exhibition – on a smaller scale to begin with – in order to attract people to the UK to share and celebrate our systems, in a way that excited people – regardless of their level of technical knowledge.
I’ve already begun designing an interactive prototype that incorporates some of Tharsus’ most impressive technologies, which will be introduced to our marketing materials at exhibitions, in an attempt to recreate the buzz that the humanoid robots generated.
I hope it will be the start of a culture change in our industry that will result in the UK being the first place to spring to mind, when asked to name a technology-driven economy.
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