Industrial robots are estimated to be a $14 billion market in 2017 led by the automotive industry. Smaller and cheaper robots, that are designed to work alongside humans, called cobots, are expected to open the doors for more use of robotics in assembly lines where traditional industrial robots are too big, dangerous or expensive to install to be worth the investment. IDC is predicting that the robot market will be worth $135bn by 2019. IDC notes that Asia is retooling its manufacturing sector and already accounts for 69% of robot spending.
The history of Hitachi Group’s robotics dates back to the 1960s with a remote controlled device for nuclear power plant operations. Since then Hitachi has introduced a wide variety of robots from mechatronic products such as semiconductor testing equipment to robots for extreme environments like nuclear power plants. Now as we move the focus to IoT, Robotics will play a key role in bridging the gap between the real and virtual worlds. Data processing must go beyond cyberspace. IoT will require new and innovative services in the real world which will depend on our ability to combine data with physical operations. Hitachi is implementing social innovation by integrating robotics with IoT platforms and using that technology in social infrastructures.
In 2005 Hitachi’s R&D developed one of the first human symbiotic robots, and named it "Excellent Mobility and Interactive Existence as Workmate" or EMIEW for short. Last year they introduced the third version EMIEW 3 which we displayed at you NEXT 2017 event in Las Vegas September 18-19. Here is a photo of EMIEW 3 and me in Vegas. EMIEW 3 is on the right.
The purpose of EMIEW is to assist our daily lives and to live with humans. It is designed with a round shape and its voice is programmed to be child-like. Its size was designed to be at eye level with someone who is seated, and it weighs only 15 kg so that it will not do any harm in the event that it bumps into a person. It rolls along on wheels at normal walking speed of 6 km/hr, can step over a 5.9 inch height, avoid obstacles, and can right itself if it happens to fall over. It has a remote brain in the cloud that can provide information from video cameras and other sensors around the area, and communicate with other EMIEWs. It can isolate human voices amid noise, communicate in English, Japanese, and Chinese, make appropriate responses to questions regardless of phrasing, and initiate conversations based on visual analysis of what it sees through its own cameras or remote cameras in the cloud. EMIEW incorporates, AI, natural language processing, visual analytics, autonomous mobility, edge and cloud computing all in one package.
EMIEW 3 is a human symbiotic robot that is designed to provide user assistance and information services. It is intended for practical service use at customer sites and was developed for safer and more stable operations. It was recently tested at Haneda International airport to assist travelers with directions and questions.
EMIEW has some very Japanese characteristics. When I lived in Japan, I was always impressed by how helpful and polite people were. When I was lost in Tokyo, I often had to ask directions, especially in the large subway stations. People would stop and try to understand my poor Japanese, then walk with me to the right subway platform. This would never happen in the U.S. If I were able to stop someone, they would at best point me in the direction then hurry off on their own business. That is why it is important for EMIEW to be able to move as well as converse. EMIEW will also bow to you and kneel. EMIEW 3 in the picture above is kneeling. I chose not to kneel, since I wasn't too sure that I could stand up again.
EMIEW is still in a development phase with co-creation with several customers around the world. In Japan it may be able to provide care giving services for their aging population. Each project will provide valuable experience with customers in the field, and we will be able to harvest a lot of the learnings for other IoT projects.