Reported by Russell Nickerson, Engagement Liaison at MassRobotics
Time and time again, there are Japanese companies that come to visit MassRobotics in an effort to spark conversations around keeping Japan competitively engaged in the global robotics community. With conference RoboDEX paired with Green Factory Expo, Smart Factory Expo, Smart Logistics Expo, Wearable Expo, Automotive World and Nepcon R&D Manufacturing Technology Expo ALL being held at Tokyo Big Sight, it was a great opportunity to see the status of many industries that interact and directly use robotics.
Of course at the show, I had a chance to meet a number of our current global partners, including Mitsubishi Electric, AMD, Dassault Solidworks, Universal Robots and Lattice Semiconductor. The show floors were a dizzying array of robotic soldering machines, green technology showcases, logistics robots of all sizes. There were many familiar robots such as Boston Dynamics Spot, Kinova Arms, Clearpath Husky. Universal Robots arms were as usual a common example. This made me wonder, is the Japanese robotics industry still strong? I would say yes, however a common theme for many Japanese companies was that there wasn’t interest (or perceived capability) to expand into the global market yet. One could argue cultural differences stand in the way but engaging with MassRobotics partners from Japan has proven otherwise.
During my time in Japan we worked with our friends at the CIC Japan and Venture Cafe to hold an event called “Bridging Robotics Ecosystems Boston and Japan.” The goal of this event, as with many of MassRobotics’ partakings, is to find win-wins and help make connections. Seeing hesitation from so many companies from the conferences the prior week, I made it known how MassRobotics operates as a non-profit to assist companies globally large and small in the robotics space. I also spoke about the primary issue of Japanese robotics startups (and even larger corporate entities) having difficulty bridging into American markets because there aren’t many low risk, relatively straightforward and high impact ways to engage in scaling their company. That is where MassRobotics can act as a gateway into the robotics community in a way that can really make a difference with connections, resources and infrastructure. Speakers from our partners at AWS, Mitsubishi, and AMD and Waseda startup Hatsumuv spoke about how they interact in Japan and globally. Attendees commented on the diversity of the speakers and the connections that they made at the event.
Over the course of three weeks, I traveled to a number of different organizations including WOVEN, Toyota R-Frontier, DMM make, AWS Startup Loft and of course Mitsubishi Nagoya Works. Mitsubishi frequently interacts as a leading partner with our resident startups and community so it was great to see the factory where the robots, VFDs, PLCs and other products are built. I commented, “It’s like a mini city in itself,” with even a convenience store for employees among other impressive resources and capabilities using Mitsubishi products on its large site.
It was sad to leave Japan but once my suitcase was filled with otaku figurines, toys and games it was time to say “Ja ne!” My hope is for MassRobotics to keep growing connections with our partners, Japanese startups and organizations with strong robotics projects. MassRobotics is still waiting for its first resident startup from Japan. Companies of all sizes in Japan make some amazing technology and I hope we can show them ways they can bring it into the global market.