Tokyo Entrepreneur Wants to Inspire People with Robot Piloting Experiences

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Kento Hiroi operates Astro, a robot developed by his company. “I want to give people inspiring experiences through robots they can pilot,” he said.

From manufacturing to services, next-generation entrepreneurs are tackling a wide range of challenges in Tokyo, the heart of Japan’s start-up movement. One notable company among them is MOVeLOT. Inc, based in the capital’s Sumida Ward, which develops robots people can pilot from the inside. The company is steadily gaining popularity among foreign tourists by offering piloting experiences at Robot Base right next to the company.

Get in the robot!

I sat inside the robot’s cockpit and tilted the controls. It revved up as the arms started moving. I changed the angle of the arms slightly to aim at the target. My enemy.

“Enemy in sight! Fire!” a member of staff at Robot Base ordered. When I pressed the button with my thumb, the Gatling guns at the end of each arm started firing sponge bullets. This is all part of the robot piloting experience provided by MOVeLOT, which was founded in 2023.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
The Gatling gun at the end of Astro’s arm can fire 28 sponge bullets in rapid succession. The bullets fly about 10 meters.

Astro is the name of the approximately three-meter-tall robot with movable arms. The company manufactured the robot to give people the sensation of piloting a real robot.

“It may vary from generation to generation, but many people have an image of what it’s like to operate a robot thanks to anime. I’m sure Astro offers the closest experience out there,” said Kento Hiroi, 32, the president of MOVeLOT.

What no man has done before

Hiroi was born in the Pacific-coast town of Susami in Wakayama Prefecture. His father, a general contractor, used many different kinds of heavy machinery.

“I remember when my father put me in a crane. I was so excited,” he recalled.

His parents divorced before he entered elementary school, and he ended up living in poverty with his mother. In junior high school, he joined the school’s soccer team. He would put all his feelings of loss and inferiority into his kicks when he couldn’t put them into words. He later decided to go to an industrial high school where all the kids in his area who were good at soccer went. He practiced hard to be chosen as a regular player. That’s when he learned that hard work could pay off.

After graduation, Hiroi briefly worked at a courier company before enrolling in a vocational school for sports medicine in Osaka.

Still, he wasn’t satisfied.

Looking to do something only he could do, he came to Tokyo without any job prospects. After drifting from job to job, he was employed by a robot restaurant in Shinjuku’s Kabukicho district.

The restaurant was the talk of the town because of the giant “robots” that joined the dancers, giving entertaining performances under glitzy, colorful illuminations. No matter how flashy they were, the robots still couldn’t be controlled.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
While in the robot, the operator can see what is happening outside through a monitor on the upper part of the cockpit thanks to a camera installed near the head.

Hiroi thought the restaurant could have offered customers a better experience if the robots could be operated freely.

“If they were robots that could be operated from the inside, then they’d provide a great experience,” he thought, even after moving on to another company. In February last year, he started MOVeLOT and began developing robots together with an engineer he met though social media.

Standing up for the future

Developing robots came with one obstacle after another. To move the robot’s arms effectively, Hiroi decided to use hydraulics and installed three gears into each of its shoulders and elbows. The prototype he sunk several million yen into was too heavy to move the way he wanted. He hired other engineers and they managed to complete robots by putting various ideas into practice, including replacing iron with aluminum to make it lighter.

The company started offering robot piloting experiences mainly to tourists from abroad, such as the United States and South Korea in September last year. Making the most of the company’s proximity to Asakusa and Tokyo Skytree, the company expected demand from foreign tourists who wanted to have an experience in addition to sightseeing. A 50-minute session costs ¥5,000 per person.

“Dozens of people are already coming every month, but we have the prospect of getting hundreds of people monthly. Our goals now are to venture overseas in three years and to get listed in 10 years,” Hiroi said. His enthusiasm was palpable.

The next step for Hiroi and MOVeLOT is bringing to life the Ingram robot from the anime “Kido Keisatsu Patolabor” (“Mobile Police Patlabor”). The company has started developing it this year in cooperation with the work’s creators.

“My dream is to develop the world’s top robot people can pilot and making a future where anyone can operate it,” Hiroi said. “I hope my company will be a unicorn firm in the field of robots and that we’ll be able to stop Japan from losing its technological edge and manpower.”