More robots developed for service industry

More robots developed for service industry
Employees working at Haneda Airport demonstrate "Hybrid Assistive Limb (HAL) robot suits by Japan's robot venture Cyberdyne during a press conference in Tokyo on July 2, 2015.

More and more companies are developing robots for the service industry, as demand is expected to rise among nonmanufacturers who want robots for such physical work as nursing care and transporting luggage.

Demand for such robots is likely to be on par with that for industrial robots widely used in manufacturing. The government aims to promote the use of robots as a solution for the country's labour shortage amid the graying population.

Cyberdyne Inc., an emerging robot development firm based in Tsukuba, Ibaraki Prefecture, said Thursday it will introduce artificial intelligence-aided cleaning robots and porter robots for passengers at Haneda Airport's terminals.

The robots will know their own position at the airport and automatically move around the facility if their destination information is input in advance, avoiding people and obstacles.

For human workers at the airport, power-assisted suit-type robots will be introduced to help them carry heavy luggage easily. Under a lease contract between the airport operator and Cyberdyne, 11 robots will be installed at the passenger terminals by September.

"We're providing technologies that will change the airport staff's ways of working," Cyberdyne Chief Executive Officer Yoshiyuki Sankai said proudly.

Wearable robots are believed to be gaining popularity in the nonmanufacturing sector, as they reduce the physical burden on workers in charge of such tasks as transporting luggage and nursing care.

Activelink, a Nara-based subsidiary of Panasonic Corp., announced Thursday that its power-assist suit-type robot for mass production will go on sale from September. The company minimized the robot's weight by making the body with carbon fiber. The firm plans to aggressively market the product to logistics operators and construction companies.

Some robots produced for the service sector can communicate with people. In June, SoftBank Group Corp. started marketing Pepper, a robot that can be used for corporate promotion activities such as handing out packs of tissues on the street, in addition to family tasks. A Toshiba Corp. robot developed last year uses sign language for those with difficulty hearing.

Under the national robot strategy announced in January, the government aims to enlarge the market size to ¥2.4 trillion (S$2.6 billion) in 2020 from the current ¥660 billion. For nonmanufacturers - including service providers, and medical treatment and nursing care service providers - the government forecasts sharp market growth to ¥1.2 trillion from the current figure of ¥60 billion.

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