Sake, sushi and robots – Japan has it all

From industry to pop culture, robots are as much a part of Japanese culture as sake and sushi.

Japan’s love affair with robotics is reaffirmed every second year at the International Robotics Exhibition (iREX) in Tokyo, Japan. As a first time visitor to this international trade show, and a relative newbie to ABB Robotics, I was asked to share my impressions of the world’s largest robotics exhibition.

Now that the catatonic haze that comes with jetlag, long hours and gorging on sushi has begun to subside, there is only one way to describe the experience: Out of this world! The international trade show is a showcase for industrial, service and other robotic devices. Walking around Tokyo Big Sight–Tokyo’s largest exhibition hall–I had a chance to interact with robots and robot concepts that both fascinate and boggle the mind. My colleague, Nick Chambers, highlighted some of them in his blog  Top 9 wackiest, strangest and coolest robots and concepts at iREX 2013.

Like invitees to an exclusive garden party, all the big media grabbers were there, including Baxter of Rethink Robotics–who tends to get a larger than life slice of the attention. In fact, this larger than life “adaptive, collaborative manufacturing robot” was just across the aisle from ABB’s booth. He didn’t do much–just stood there quietly at the edge of his booth waggling his arms like a gorilla and certainly not matching up to expectations. Perhaps that’s why our Dual Arm Concept robot was always stacked 3-4 people deep and Baxter looked a little lonely for the entire show. After a while I found myself staring and wondering whether it was really Baxter or whether I might be mistaken. Then the funniest thing happened. Baxter came to life and raised an arm at an admirer. The movement was so odd, I was sure he would begin rolling around the floor shouting, “Danger Will Robinson! Danger!”

Just down the hall was Seiko Epson Corporation’s autonomous dual armed robot.  Equipped with vision and force sensing functions, this robot reportedly “executes tasks by recognizing objects, making decisions, and adjusting the amount of force applied, on the fly.” Like the throngs of admirers pushing their way through the crowds to get close to this debutante, I tried to photograph her and her two friends, but security was too tight–something a bit foreign to me given that ABB welcomes people to come and take pictures and videos and tweet/Facebook/Youku/Weibo/whatever from our booth.

Other guests scattered around the show floor included Nao, the robot that dances Gangnam Style–and quite frankly better than me–and a robotic dog (pictured above). I fell in love with that pure-bred pooch. On sale for a mere ¥198,000, or approximately $2,000 US, he doesn’t need to go out at night and eats nothing. Talk about unconditional love!

I also had a chance to peruse some of our industrial competitive colleagues’ booths to say “Hi” and view what they had on display. All the major ones were there–Kuka, Motoman, and Fanuc. During my little walk about, I came face-to-face with the world’s largest robot, Fanuc’s 2000iA. Weighing in at 680 kg (1,500 lbs.) this thing is the Godzilla of industrial robots! I shudder to think what would have happened if it had fallen off its pedestal. It took me 10 minutes to catch my breath after seeing it. I can tell you there is no doubt in my mind why Fanuc hasn’t changed its color from screaming yellow to the softer greys, whites and silvers now characteristic of a world in which robots and human work side-by-side.

All joking aside, though, I can’t forget why I was invited iREX:  to help unveil ABB’s new generation of large industrial robot, the IRB 6700. Not only has the power consumption of this robot been lowered by 15 percent but its overall serviceability has been improved, making it the most reliable and cost effective large robot ABB has ever built. My hat goes off to the team of engineers who spent upwards of three years working to make this industrial workhorse a reality.

I also would like to applaud our Japanese colleagues who maximized our booth space and highlighted numerous aspects of ABB’s robotics portfolio. In addition to the IRB 6700, ABB demonstrated Remote Service, RobotStudio and Laser Cutting. The highlight of course was our Dual Arm Concept. Working with its human counterparts this much talked about robot assembled 16,800 switches involving over 50,000 parts during the four days.

Great job everyone!

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About the author

Nicole Salas

I'm the Events Manager for ABB Robotics globally. I joined ABB in 2007, working for corporate communications in the United States before joining Robotics in 2013. I began my career as a journalist in Caracas, Venezuela and have worked for United Rentals Inc. as well as several international public and investor relations agencies. Outside of the office, you will find me racing sailboats.
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