September 28, 2020
The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) has been advancing the FY2020 Project for Establishing Infrastructures for Research and Development, etc. for Innovative Robots as a research and development (R&D) project for achieving robot-friendly environments. As part of this project, the Japan Machinery Federation (JMF), an operator of the project, opened a call for applicants for the project and, as a result, selected Mitsubishi Estate Co., Ltd., United Super Markets Holdings Inc. and Kewpie Corporation. In response, these companies will start R&D for establishing robot-friendly environments in the fields of facility management, retail sales and food manufacturing, respectively.
1. Overview of the project
METI considers it important for Japan to develop environments that not only help companies smoothly introduce robots into their businesses but also reduce costs for introducing them, i.e., robot-friendly environments, as an approach to encouraging introduction of robots into fields facing serious labor shortages, such as facility management, retail sales and food manufacturing. To this end, METI inaugurated a Task Force for Promoting Establishment of Implementation Models of Robots in the fall of 2019 and, since then, the task force has been advancing discussions on requirements necessary for developing such environments and other issues and streamlining such requirements (see page 2 of this press release).
As part of this effort, JMF, an operator of the project, opened a call for applicants for companies that implement R&D targeting the three fields mentioned above, and as a result, it selected three companies as below.
Field of facility management: Mitsubishi Estate Co., Ltd.
Field of retail sales: United Super Markets Holdings Inc.
Field of food manufacturing: Kewpie Corporation
2. Overview of the R&D
The following is an overview of the R&D to be conducted in the respective fields.
(1) Field of facility management
[i] Successful applicant: Mitsubishi Estate Co., Ltd.(Companies to which this company will commission the R&D: Panasonic Corporation and Hitachi Building Systems Co., Ltd.)
- The company considers it necessary to develop internal environments of facilities to help robots work smoothly in order to effectively make use of robots with such functions as conveyance, cleaning and security guarding in office buildings and commercial facilities as an effort for addressing labor shortages and achieving remote and contactless provision of services.
- Currently, smooth transfer of robots to other floors is the most difficult challenge in operating robots in facilities. To overcome this, the company will focus on achievement of internal robot-friendly environments of facilities in which robots are able to smoothly and safely ride elevators and will conduct R&D for communication specifications, operation methods and other approaches.
(2) Field of retail sales
[i] Successful applicant: United Super Markets Holdings Inc.(Company to which this company will commission the R&D: SoftBank Corp.)
- The company considers it necessary for robots and other devices to quickly and correctly recognize information on a large number of products as an approach to encouraging retail shops to make automatic such manual services as settlement of customers’ payment at cash registers, product display and inventory management. It will conduct development of environments in terms of a method for allowing robots to recognize such information using image data, which has recently been attracting attention as a quick and inexpensive recognition method among a variety of methods which are assumed be used for recognition of product information by robots.
- Specifically, the company will analyze actual service operation of retail shops and streamline situations to identify image data necessary for the situations. Based on this, it will conduct R&D to produce image data tailored to the required conditions.
(3) Field of food manufacturing
[i] Successful applicant: Kewpie Corporation
(Companies to which this company will commission the R&D: RT Corporation, ExaWizards Inc., FA Products Inc., Groovenauts, Inc., TechMagic K.K., FamilyMart Co., Ltd., and Maxvalu Tokai Co., Ltd.)
- The company found that manufacturing floors of food factories have been conducting most of the processes for serving home meal replacements into containers by hand, in particular, for preparing lunch boxes, due to the difficulty of automation of these processes. It considers it necessary to make automatic such processes for servicing foods into containers and realize unmanned and labor-saving services as an effort for helping such factories address labor shortages, improve labor productivity and avoid the condition of closed spaces, crowded places and close-contact setting (3Cs) in factories.
- The company considers it highly difficult and challenging for robots to quickly and attractively serve soft, unfixed foods into containers. Moreover, it assumes that such robots, if they were successfully developed for this purpose, may be set at a high price since they need to make use of highly sophisticated technologies. To overcome this challenge, the company will streamline methods using robots which are able to easily serve foods into containers and ideal approaches in which robots are able to easily grasp packaging containers. Based on this, it will conduct R&D for production lines with automatic food serving functions based on the results of the streamlining above, and R&D for inexpensive robot arms.
Reference: Task Force for Promoting Establishment of Implementation Models of Robots
In the fall of 2019, METI inaugurated a Task Force for Promoting Establishment of Implementation Models of Robots (TF) as a body bringing together system integrators and other robot experts, placing leading robot users at the core, and providing opportunities for them to hold discussions on establishing robot-friendly environments for three fields facing serious labor shortages: facility management, retail sales/restaurants and foods manufacturing, and the TF compiled the discussion results into a report in March 2020.
Inauguration of the TF
Discussion results by the TFAppendix 1: Report on the Results of Activities by the Task Force for Promoting Establishment of Implementation Models of Robots (summary) (in Japanese)
Appendix 2: Report on the Results of Activities by the Task Force for Promoting Establishment of Implementation Models of Robots (full text) (in Japanese)
From FY2020, METI will place the TF under the Robot Revolution and Industrial IoT Initiative (RRI). The TF will strive to advance discussions on establishment of robot-friendly environments and development of standards and other criteria for disseminating such environments while collaborating with the R&D efforts under this project.
Moreover, in FY2020, Seven & i Holdings Co., Ltd., Toshiba Elevator and Building Systems Corporation, the Japan Quality Assurance Organization, Hitachi Building Systems Co., Ltd., Preferred Networks, Inc. and Mitsubishi Electric Corporation (in the order of the Japanese syllabary) have joined the FT as new members.
Division in Charge
Robotics Policy Office, Manufacturing Industries Bureau