The International Robot Exhibition took place in Tokyo last week. Hashi Consulting was present among the 637 exhibitors and more than 110,000 visitors. IREX is the largest robot trade show in the world. For those of you who had the chance to visit Tokyo Big Sight, just imagine that all the halls were crowded with robotic arms, cobots, teleoperated robots, and all of the parts you can think of to operate them. In this article, we will provide you with what, we believe, were the highlights of the exhibition in robot technologies.

The show was divided into two main categories: industrial robots and service robots.

Industrial robots are the ones used to assist humans in the production of products. Nachi Robotics system presented what the future of car assembly lines might be. A fully automatized process with humans only devoted to supervising and repairing their mechanicals counterparts. Tesla is famous for using for than 300 robotic arms, including some of the largest Kuka robots ever produced. Are the car industry workers doomed to lose their job? And will giant robots soon operate the full manufacturing process and achieve the ultimate Taylorisation step? Bernstein’s analysts do not believe so and consider that humans should still handle that final assembly process.

Service robots ranged from small cleaning robots to mechanical waiters. Comparing to the enormous industrial arms, design, and not only functionalities are crucial elements to consider. Robots that are aimed to blend smoothly in the house and behave as friends to cure loneliness. In 60 years we went for the quite scary Robby the Robot depicted in Forbidden Planet to the age of cute machines. ARRK design prototypes were especially impressive. Lovot is just another example of how “kawai” a robot can be.

For retail, Csjbot presented a whole range of robots to help consumers while shopping or dining. Partnering with ARRK design, they showed what a fully automatized restaurant, from the reception to the cooking and service, could be.

Healthcare and social robots were, of course, one of our main interests. In super-aging Japan, electronic companions are gaining traction, and Palro, Nao, or Sota were once again the stars of the care show. Interestingly, some companies are now devoted to developing software to control and program robots easily. JTP is one of them and has released a touchpad visual programming solution to define exercise routines aimed at retirement houses exercise programs. Nao will perform as a gym coach and help the elderly have fun while exercising.

With the introduction of 5G technologies, Telepresence and teleoperated robots are now becoming more realistic. Tokyo robotics presented its Master-Slave controlled robot. Using sensors and a Virtual Reality Headset, the operator can fully control the movements of the robots. Latency is still an issue but no doubt that in the coming years, such a solution will allow humans to perform complex tasks remotely in hostile environments. We tried the system and were impressed by the accuracy of the movements and responsiveness of the robot. The company collaborates with NTT to streamline communication and Xela robotics to go one step further and provide haptic feedback.

The IREX exhibition held in Tokyo was just a glimpse into the future. It proved that robotics had much more potentials than just developing cleaning or industrial robots. No doubt that the next exhibition will be even more impressive and will aim at closing the bridge between humans and machines.