At a regular presidential meeting on April 15, JR West announced that it had completed a multifunctional railway heavy equipment prototype that combines a humanoid heavy equipment robot and a railway construction vehicle. When the appearance was reported, railroad fans and robot fans were involved, and SNS was noisy. Just a robot. It is a “humanoid robot” that was the world of science fiction anime.
It is for aerial work such as overhead wire maintenance, but isn’t it too playful? Why is it a humanoid? When I looked up the co-development partner to contact JR West, I realized that the question was foolish. The partner “Human Machine Integration Co., Ltd.” is a company that initially researched and developed the humanoid robot “Human Machine”. If you team up with a developer looking for a practical application for a humanoid robot, it will become a humanoid robot. It was a matter of course.
Then why is the human-machine unit sticking to the humanoid shape? We asked Dr Kanaoka, the developer and CEO of Human Machinery.
“Engineering perspective” and “business perspective” inhuman machines
If you think calmly, if it is a place where people work, tools, transportation equipment, and workspace should be optimized for the environment where people work. Then consider versatility. For example, the mobile suit of the anime “Mobile Suit Gundam” is optimized for operations by changing weapons. In other words, do heavy machinery and robots become humanoid when they are highly versatile?
“I’m pretty sure for that reason. We think of two humanoid advantages: an” engineering perspective “and a” business perspective. “
From an engineering point of view, external factors are often mentioned. As you say, the human form is good in the human environment. The other is an internal factor. As a control system in which humans and machines exchange information in both directions, it is easier to operate if the human body and the robot body have a one-to-one correspondence. “(Mr Kanaoka)
When working in a remote or harsh environment for humans, remote control of the enslaver (operation side) and slave (execution side) is adopted. This is called bilateral control. If it is a humanoid, it is easy for the operator to imagine the movement of the machine, and intuitive operation becomes possible. Indeed, it is a human-machine integrated philosophy.
“But I also think that external factors are a weak advantage that cannot be decisive. We are not always particular about humanoid engineering. Depending on the work, a more straightforward, so-called robot arm. In many cases, it will be enough. In that case, do not hesitate to choose the simpler one. “(Mr Kanaoka)
If you have a machine that is easier to use than a humanoid, it’s better. That’s true, but what is the meaning of humanoids then?
“That is a” business perspective “for the human-machine integration as a venture company. Human-type heavy machinery requires many robotics technologies, and the human-machine integration possesses the technology that can realize it. I want many people to know that. Human-machine integrated products are the intellectual property of systematic advanced robotics technology. For us, human-type heavy machinery is the media. “(Mr Kanaoka)
Indeed, the appearance of humanoid robots appeals to robot lovers, mecha lovers, and many people interested in machines. It became news and became a story of the column. There was a lot of excitement on SNS with voices such as “It’s a raver!” And “cool”. Did the developers initially expect such a response?
“Yes. That’s exactly the business perspective’. Why do we yearn for the working labourers and giant robots in the anime mobile Police Patlabor’? I think it’s because I can get “power”.
The Human Machinery wants to use not to hurt people or satisfy someone’s desire for control but to satisfy Maslow’s five-step theory of approval and self-fulfilment at the individual level. ” (Mr Kanaoka)
With the introduction of “Zero-type human-machine ver.2.0”, it cannot be overlooked that “track maintenance work is cool”. For example, the anime’s first episode, “Shinkansen Henkei Robo Shinkalion”, begins at the track maintenance site. When the younger generation thinks about their future jobs, I want them to know their existence and feel the pride and responsibility they have. The trigger will be the media. I always thought about it.
“By paying attention, we can raise the motivation of workers, raise their social status and rewards, and solve the shortage of human resources.” (Mr Kanaoka)
JR West paid attention to humanoid heavy machinery because it wanted to make up for the shortage of human resources with machines and, at the same time, make it a symbol for gathering human resources.
Encounter with JR West and the future
Man-machine integration was established in 2015. Dr Kanaoka, the representative director, is also a visiting professor at the Robotics Research Center, Ritsumeikan University Research Organization for Science and Technology. He independently advocated the concept of man-machine synergy effector and has been researching and accumulating mounting technology for more than 15 years. Born in 1971, Mr Kanaoka can be said to be the “Gundam generation”, but the reason for believing in the potential of robots was the science fiction novel “Giants” (written by James P. Hogan), which was published in Japanese in 1980. That is.
“If anything, I’m more influenced by” The Super Dimension Fortress Macross “,” Mobile Police Patlabor “, and” Full Metal Panic “than Gundam. It may seem like a group of nerds who want to make a robot, and some dare to play it. Our business model has an overwhelming advantage, but the confusing part is the drawback. “Mr Kanaoka)
JR West was the company that read the “incomprehensible business model.” Human-machine integration was exhibited at the “World Robot Summit” (sponsored by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, NEDO) held in 2018 and became a hot topic in newspapers and television. The person in charge of JR West who saw it contacted the human-machine. It was just around the time the human-machine integration launched the “human-machine platform” concept to turn robots into a business. After that, we will deepen our mutual understanding of the work required for advanced robot technology and railway facility maintenance.
JR West has invested in human-machine integration through its group company, JR West Innovations, to ” integrate technology and the field.” And it connects with Nippon Signal at the connection with JR West. Nippon Signal, good at railway technology, was also interested in robot technology. Therefore, we will start cooperation with the “Spatial Heavy Work Man-machine Social Implementation Platform”, which plays a part in the “Human Machine Platform”.
“Both JR West and Nippon Signal have a strong desire to improve the maintenance work of electrical equipment at high places on railways into safer, more efficient, and more proud work. Without being confused by the simple shape, I patiently understood the superiority of advanced robotics technology and business models, which are the essence of human-machine integration. In the end, of course, we will pursue economic benefits. We will work together toward innovating the maintenance work of electrical equipment at high altitudes on railways through the social implementation of advanced robotics technology. “(Mr Kanaoka)
How about testing the prototype and evaluating it on-site?
“Although it is an unfinished system, it was surprisingly well-received. There is a response. As I had predicted 20 years before I started development, it has a very high affinity with actual work. It’s a subjective impression, but it blends in without any discomfort as if it had been there for some time. “(Mr Kanaoka)
The zero-type human machine was mainly developed as a heavy work platform for aerial work. Still, the highly versatile “human-machine” will be helpful not only in railways but also in a wide range of fields.
“At the moment, as a general-purpose physical work platform, there is no app installed, for example, like a smartphone that I just purchased. By repeating the tests on the training line, JR West and Nippon Signal will continue developing the “app” for multifunctional railway heavy equipment in collaboration. We will do whatever we can to achieve the goal of introducing it on the sales line by the spring of 2024. “(Mr Kanaoka)
An era when there is a “labor” in our lives. Railroad work was chosen as a significant step towards that ideal. This is an honour for both the railroad and robotic industries.
“Apart from the projects of JR West and Nippon Signal, we are proceeding with the development of new humanoid heavy equipment independently to exhibit at the Osaka Kansai Expo in 2025 as an integrated human-machine. Eliminates the heavy work that people are directly involved in, promotes technological development so that all can be done through human machines, and realizes the ideal of “eliminating physical hardships from the universal world” (Mr Kanaoka)
The world of animation has come to reality. It seems that it was inevitable for humankind.
In addition, Masami Yuki, the author of “Mobile Police Patlabor”, retweeted the tweet that introduced the article of this magazine the other day on April 17 and tweeted “, I’m glad Oi-chan.”