Last fall, I was fortunate to visit Japan for the third time during my Yaskawa Motoman tenure. I was especially eager to see Yaskawa’s recently opened Robot Village in Kitakyushu, approximately 600 miles southwest of Tokyo. The Robot Village, which commemorates the 100th anniversary of Yaskawa Electric Corp., is a publicly open green space that includes Yaskawa’s Global Innovation Center. Yaskawa created the Robot Village partly so visitors can interact with robotic technology.
When I entered the first floor of the three-story Global Innovation Center, I was impressed with how well the engineers applied their design intent in making industrial robotics approachable by everyday people. The displays were thoughtfully designed and elegantly integrated within the facility. While all displays on this first floor were impressive, the display that caught my eye was an eight-television screen display. Utilizing eight robots (one per screen), this display was eye-engaging! The robots, televisions and graphics were coordinated in a way that you would expect to experience at a Las Vegas show.
On the second floor, the displays were designed for interaction, with a particular focus on allowing kids to explore how robots are applied today and how they could be applied tomorrow. There was a group of six robots, smaller versions of their industrial-scale brothers, producing toy cars along an assembly line. The six robots fluidly collaborated to assemble a toy car with spring-loaded wheels, chassis and a choice of body color. To punctuate the operation, one of the six robots placed the finished car on a chute that delivered it into my hand.
What intrigued me about this demonstration was the simple, yet sophisticated nature of assembling these small parts to make an instant toy. I thought about the future possibility of custom toys built on demand in a store or at an entertainment center. Had I brought my nearly three-year old daughter with me, she would’ve been smiling from ear to ear watching these robots “dance” together to produce a toy. I imagine that seeing something like this demo at a young age would create a lifelong memory, and could potentially have impact on a future career decision for my daughter.
That’s the point of the new Global Innovation Center. The center has a particular focus of introducing robotic technology to children, which it hopes will inspire them to pursue an engineering career. Certainly, when you see a completely new idea or technology for the first time, it leaves a lasting impression. When I was growing up, I visited a local nature center and learned how to make soap. While simple, the experience has always stuck with me, so I can definitely imagine the impact that a robot delivering an assembled toy could have on a child.
When Yaskawa Motoman opened the Robot Village last June, one of the remarks made by Chairman and President of Yaskawa Electric Junji Tsuda was, “We want to show children the future and its potential, and something they will not learn in school.”
The Global Innovation Center achieves this in many ways, not least of which is its “Mechatronics Wall.” Mechatronics blends systems engineering, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering and control engineering. Yaskawa’s “wall” is a terrific introduction to mechatronics, a term which Yaskawa Electric Corporation coined in 1969.
As you approach the wall on the Center’s second floor, you see it’s not really a wall at all; it is a series of cubes stacked together and bathed in blue light. As the demo begins, the wall moves like a beating heart. The wall beats in sync with a display of lights, sounds and shapes that pour across it and gives you the sense of being absorbed. It was a fascinating demonstration of technology and art; it was absolutely something I could see walking down Times Square or on Michigan Avenue.
The third floor of the Center includes a classroom where visitors can learn about the connection between education and what they experienced on the other floors. The end of the tour is really the beginning for developing the next generation of engineers. What Yaskawa hopes visitors learn is that they can embrace robotics and one day, perhaps, invent technology. I would be especially proud if my daughter chose to pursue a career in engineering with an interest in developing the next great technology for automation. For now, I’ll start by introducing her to as many robots and technologies as I can…and possibly making her own bar of soap.
Jason Farmer is Director of Marketing at Yaskawa America, Inc. – Motoman Robotics Division