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Japanese Robots: Everything You Need to Know!

Anna AyvazyanAnna Ayvazyan
Published Time
Posted on 
March 22, 2024
Aibo, one of many popular Japanese robots. It's a silver dog.

If you love robots and technology, you should make Japan your next travel destination! Japanese robots are famous for their cool designs, unique functions, and customer service! Here’s everything you need to know about them and why they’re so unique!

When did they start developing robots in Japan?

The earliest types of robots in Japan were wooden mechanical dolls, or karakuri ningyo, which were developed in the 1600s in Aichi Prefecture. These dolls were used as entertainment and were put on festival floats.

A white robot with a black eye mask and blue eyes.
Robots are one of many cool things to come out of Japan! Image via Shutterstock

Similar types of robots existed throughout many centuries. However, it wasn’t until the rapid economic growth in 1954 that the manufacturing sector developed extensively. In 1969, the first domestically manufactured industrial robot, Kawasaki-Unimate 2000, debuted, transforming production lines. 

Why did they start developing Japanese robots?

While Japan was facing economic growth, it faced significant labor shortages. People from rural areas came to work in cities, but it was still insufficient to fix the issues businesses experienced due to the lack of skilled workers. In particular, Japan’s developing automobile industry wanted to automate their production lines better. 

A T-rex robot at the Henn Na Hotel.
The Henn Na Hotel chain also has robots as staff. Image via Shutterstock

In 1966, Dr. Joseph Engelberger, a lecturer on industrial robots now known as the “Father of Robotics,” came to Japan for a lecture. He thought only 10 people would show up, but over 200 leaders of Japanese companies crowded the venue. One particular company that took an interest in industrial robotics was Kawasaki. Kawasaki later sent its engineers to the United States to learn more and to import simple machines to Japan for more research.

In 1968, Kawasaki secured a technical license agreement with Engelberger’s company, Unimation. After a year of technical training, the Kawasaki-Unimate 2000 was complete. Units were put in the welding processes, later expanding to handling and painting. At that time, each unit cost 12 million yen (around 80,000 USD), which was considered very expensive as university graduates were only paid 30,000 yen (200 USD) to make them. 

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How advanced are they?

Robots have come a long way since the debut of Kawasaki-Unimate 2000. The automobile industry activated robotic innovation, leading to robot development in various other industries. They are no longer present in industrial environments but in shops, parks, hotels, and spaces! Some of the most advanced types of robots include the working robots at Henn na Hotel and Pepper, the humanoid social robot.

A white robot playing the violin.
Some robots are capable of playing musical instruments! Image via Shutterstock

These robots can interact with humans by analyzing human expressions and emotions and communicating in various languages. Robots at Henn na Hotel can also process bookings and arrangements! Another example of an advanced robot is Robonaut (R2B), the first humanoid robot in space, barging us one step closer to a Star Wars-esque reality! 

Are there any notable robots in Japan?

There are many notable robots in Japan, and in this section, we will introduce Pepper and Aibo – two robots much loved by Japanese people and tourists alike! We will also introduce Kawasaki Robostage – a must-visit location for those who love robots!

AIBO

Aibo the robot, a friendly silver dog.
Aibo, the robot, is a friendly dog! Image via Shutterstock

AIBO is a series of robotic dogs first released in 1999 by Sony. The name stands for Artificial Intelligence Robot but also means “pal” in Japanese. It’s an intelligent, trainable robot companion that acts almost like a natural dog. It can do tricks, bark, learn, and play ball; the best part is it doesn’t need to be cleaned afterward! Although Sony retired the series in 2006, in 2017, it announced a new series of AIBO to the delight of many fans. 

Kawasaki Robostage

One of many Japanese robots on the Kawasaki Robostage.
Even Kawasaki has a robotics department. Image via Shutterstock

Kawasaki Robostage is a robot showroom in Odabia, Tokyo, featuring various industrial robots now used in Japan and abroad. The showroom is open to the public, and admission is free. At the showroom, you can interact with various robots, such as duAro, a drawing robot, and K-Roboride, a VR experience that simulates a drone ride. Exhibits change regularly, so you never know which robot you will meet or experience!

Pepper the Robot

Pepper is a humanoid robot from Softbank. It was one of the first robots with the ability to read emotions. It has been used in many industries, such as retail, banking, education, hospitality, and healthcare in countries such as the United Kingdom and the United Arab Emirates. 

Pepper the Robot.
Pepper the Robot is Softbank’s mascot. Image via Shutterstock

Generally, Pepper’s main job is to help people enjoy life and enhance their lives by helping create and manage relationships. Studies have shown that Pepper has helped people’s lives, especially elderly people in care homes or sheltered accommodations. 

Why are Japanese robots so unique?

Overall, Japanese robots have enhanced our lives, whether indirectly through the cars we drive or the service we receive at restaurants or hotels! They also make great gifts for family and friends! Have you ever had a pet robot dog like AIBO or interacted with a robot like Pepper? Let us know in the comments below!

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