In Japan, a new generation of robots is chasing the rest

Asimo has retired. The popular humanoid robot imagined and designed in the year 2000 by Honda ended, on Thursday, March 31, twenty years of public interventions in the Miraikan. The National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation, in Tokyo, offered him one last lap, after an emotional ceremony. “I have many good memories with many people”Asimo said, after receiving a thank you letter and flowers from museum director Chieko Asakawa. “It showed the possibility of robots and humans coexisting”explains Rikuko Nagashima, a researcher specializing in communication theories.

A project launched in 1986, Asimo, a contraction of Advanced Step in Innovative Mobility, has established itself, along with Sony’s dog Aibo, as a symbol of Japan’s progress in robotics. Honda has continued to improve its capabilities, including movement. He could run or jump.

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The automaker put an end to the adventure, after presenting its new project, an avatar robot, at IREX 2022, the great robotics fair, held from March 9 to 12 in Tokyo. This is real « second soi » must allow live remote experiences. Avatar robots represent true “4D mobility” because they can “play with time and space”, explains Takahide Yoshiike, an engineer at Honda. The group aims to commercialize these robots in the 2030s for use in remote work, emergency medical intervention or space exploration. In this area it will compete with Toyota, designer, in 2017, of the T-HR3. This robot must eventually work on assembly lines.

Health, reception, transport

These advances confirm Japan’s preponderance in robotics, a market that is expected to reach 339 billion yen (2.5 billion euros) in 2027, compared to 139 billion yen in 2021. And this, despite growing competition of industrialists from the south, Korean or Chinese, and the scare caused by the Fukushima nuclear disaster, which had forced Japan to turn to foreign manufacturers to obtain robots capable of intervening in the damaged plant in 2011.

Regarding robotics, the Archipelago began in the 1970s with the industrial sector. “The Japanese market for industrial robots is now the second largest in the world, after China”, recalls Milton Guerry, president of the International Federation of Robotics. The Japanese giants in the sector, such as Fanuc and Yaskawa, contribute 45% of world demand. And 78% of its production was exported, in 2020, mainly to the United States and China.

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