Japan’s Robot Revolution

By Demetrios Ventouratos

Japan dominates as one of the largest technological innovators in the world and has the third largest economy in the world. Despite its prosperity, Japan still encounters a problem that will plague the nation for years: a declining and aging population. From 2010 to 2015, Japan’s population has declined from 127.8 million to 126.82 million. Though that seems to be a small decrease, data from the Pew Research Center predicts that Japan’s population will decrease by 15% by the year 2050 and will amount to about 107 million people. Japan however is not alone in that regard since many European states such as Germany are experiencing a negative population growth from natural situations rather than war or famine which applies in the case of Syria.

Japan and Germany in particular are in similar situations. Both nations are close in economic terms and production, but they have taken different routes to this problem. Whereas Germany encourages immigration from the other EU states and has accepted Syrian refugees to counter the declining population, Japan has adamantly refused to accept large amounts of immigrants from anywhere and has decided to focus on robotics to solve this problem.

As of 2016, robots already dominate certain manufacturing plants such as car plants, but Japan aims to have robots fully integrated into daily life. Japanese companies are already attempting to make android robots that can respond to human actions, and RIKEN-TRI Collaboration Center for Human-Interactive Robot Research has already begun working on RIBA. So what exactly is RIBA? RIBA is an advanced robot that has the capacity to lift up people, and it can help place disabled people into wheel chairs or a bed. RIBA therefore has great potential to be used in nursing homes and hospitals as a way of dealing with the growing elderly population in Japan. RIBA can also greet people with basic greetings such as a “hello,” or “goodbye,” and it can even shake a person’s hand after a voice command is given.

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(Taken directly from the RIKEN-TRI Collaboration Center for Human-Interactive Robot Research’s website, these images show some of RIBA’s functions)

riba robot 2 Going beyond RIBA, a Japanese company called Kokoro has been developing a humanoid robot named “Actroid-DER series.” The Actroid is more human looking than RIBA, and it has a wide range of human expressions such as smiling or even winking and moving their eyes around. There are also three models of the Actroid, all of which are advertised as possible “narrators” or “chairperson” according to the Kokoro website. The advancement of these humanoid robots could even replace cashiers, clerks, or tour guides.

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(The various models of the Actroid series that have been taken directly from Kokoro’s website)
(The various models of the Actroid series that have been taken directly from Kokoro’s website)

The advancement of robots in Japan has even prompted the nation to open up a robot. The hotel is called Henn-na, and is located in Kyusho, southern Japan. Though it is operated largely by robots, it still requires human assistance at times. Henn-na is so advanced as a hotel that itactroid 3 actually does not require keys as the robot sensors can detect a customer’s face and can let that person into the room.

These advancements in robotics mark an interesting development of modern technology, and Japan is leading the way in an attempt to fight against its aging and declining population. Robots like the Actroid and RIBA are amazing, and when fully developed, they have the potential to accomplish great feats and will help to provide a source of labor to the Japanese economy. Despite the advantages of these robots, questions remain over the morality of using robots and creating robots with personalities, and so artificial intelligence still remains on the horizon.

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