Japanese Govt to Pick up Where Sony Left Off?


Friday, February 3, 2006

Govt To Launch New Robot Development Initiative

TOKYO (Nikkei)–The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry will begin a results-oriented robot development project in fiscal 2006 that will be broad in scope, supporting applications for everything from factory automation to nanny-robots that can make sure children safely get to school and back.

The ministry intends to review the participants after two years in order to focus the funding on those participants that have the best chances of attaining the project objectives in 10 years.

The project will support development work on three themes: factory automation, robots that operate in difficult environments and robots that help people in daily activities.

Within in each theme the work will focus on specific objectives, such as a robot that can assemble flexible materials like bundles of wires, and a robot that can bus tables at a family restaurant. The ministry could set as many as nine different objectives.

Several companies and other bodies will be selected to work on each objective. Funding in the first year will total 1.1 billion yen, and a similar amount will be provided each subsequent year. But after two years a review will be conducted and for each objective only one body will be selected to carry forward with their project.

By focusing support this way on the most capable bodies, the ministry hopes to accelerate the practical development of advanced robots.

(The Nihon Keizai Shimbun Friday morning edition)

Though the ambitious Astro Boy Project (NOTE: JT apparently requires registration to view its archives. Do yourself a favor and visit bugmenot.com to get around this. I just made you all an account for it) does not seem to have taken off, the Japanese government, in the grand tradition of high technology, has decided to serve taxpayers with the bill for research and development of more practical robots. When this research develops into marketable products, you can be sure that business interests will jump at the chance to sell robots.

Oh, that reminds me: Sony recently decided to scrap its Aibo robot dog and Qlio humanoid robots as part of their restructuring plans. As one surprisingly sympathetic Aibo enthusiast explained, “R&D is expensive. It’s hard for a company to try to go into the black when they’re showing R&D expenses.” Hey, maybe the prospect of high-tech products that require minimum investment could entice even Sony to get back into the ring once it has trimmed the fat off its business.

And one other thing, what is up with the waitress-bot? Wouldn’t it make more sense to make a robot that can serve prison food or something rather than a bogus family restaurant?