Shiga lab develops robots to perform dangerous tasks

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Kanaoka Hakase, president of Man-Machine Synergy Effectors, Inc, stands by an industrial robot under development in Kusatsu, Shiga Prefecture.

A Shiga Prefecture laboratory is developing a potentially life-saving industrial robot that allows its operator, via virtual reality, to grasp and lift heavy objects as if using their own hands.

The robot, which weighs about 450 kilograms, could be attached to a crane to work in high places, including carrying out inspections and maintenance of railway overhead wires. The virtual reality gear worn by the operator provides a robot’s-eye view, in addition to force feedback to give the operator a sense of what is being lifted.

The robot — dubbed “jinki,” or humanoid machine — is being developed by Man-Machine Synergy Effectors, Inc., in Kusatsu, Shiga Prefecture. Its president, Kanaoka Hakase, aka Dr. Kanaoka, is a 50-year-old robot researcher and visiting professor at Ritsumeikan University who started his own company in 2007.

The company has no production plant but earns money from patent royalties and other fees, by collaborating with companies and other entities that want to use its robots.

Kanaoka said that while he has seen many industrial robots in Japan, he began to wonder why the technology was not being used to save lives in the aftermath of the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake.

The new robot’s development began after West Japan Railway Co. consulted with Kanaoka about using a robot to prevent workplace accidents such as workers falling from overhead wires or receiving electric shocks during maintenance.

“We want to eliminate physical hard work through robotics,” Kanaoka said.

The company is currently conducting demonstrations of the new robot, with the aim of putting it into practical use in the spring of 2024.

The company is also developing a larger robot that walks on two legs, aiming to expand its functions to inspections of tunnels and bridges.

The company’s robots, including the walking robot with a height of 4 to 5 meters, are scheduled to be displayed at the 2025 Osaka-Kansai Expo.

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