Japanese Robots: ISO Assistive Robotics Tech Standards to be Based on Japan's
The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) has decided to adopt Japanese standards for assistive robotics tech. Developers in Japan, the vanguard of a potentially global industry, got their deserved props, and they can now look toward overseas expansion and competition.
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What are Assistive Robotics?
A robotic helper, hmmmm... a personal and personalized android that follows you around tending to your every need - that would be nice, yeah? Add to cart ASAP, right? Well, perhaps a live-in, human-shaped robot is the first thing that comes to mind, and maybe someday it will be the case, but in reality contemporary assistive robotics are a much more pedestrian and disembodied affair.
That’s not to say they aren’t amazing technologies. Currently and soon-to-be available assistive robotics are impressive, and they have advanced well beyond what was available only a few years ago. One reason for the ISO hat-tip is that the industry here in rapidly-aging-and-numerically-shrinking Japan will be the first to really bloom, something to which government and industry are keenly paying attention, and barring some cataclysm that suddenly halts global human development, other aging societies with low fertility rates will soon follow. Huge. Global. Market.
Here’s some of what’s already available or in serious R&D:
Assistive Robotics - clockwise from top-left: myoelectrically activated prosthetic arm/hand (RSLSteeper Bebionic3 - in use); robotic lift devices for public transportation (various makers - in-use); robotic mobility assist (Honda - R&D); feeding robot (Secom - R&D, possibly deployed); home assist android robot (Kawada Industries - R&D, concept); home helper robot (Toyota - R&D, concept); robot mobility assist plus rehabilitation (Cyberdyne HAL Suit - in-use).
Assistive robotics are part of a broader category of machines and software known as “Assistive Technologies.” Conceptually, to really get a broad idea of what this means, British firm RSL Steeper, maker of that supertech prosthetic arm up there, put together the following video (yes, it’s kind of a commercial ad, but these days, what isn’t?!):
(For more of what RSLSteeper does, read through and watch their latest Bebionic3 video at the end, starring everyone’s favorite bionic, beer-drinking Australian, Nigel Ackland.)
So, pretty easy to agree that, whether for the disabled or elderly, or the simply busy (robot vacuum, anyone?), humanity could certainly do with more assistive technologies now and in the future. But, as with any given product category, an individual or company or consortium cannot just go abroad and sell or buy a bunch of these willy-nilly. Thankfully, civilization has reached consensus around the notion that there have to be standards in place, criteria for approval, quality control, etc., and this is where the ISO comes into play.
What's the International Organization for Standardization?
Across its 163 nation-state members (of 206 countries), the non-governmental (and oh-so-appropriately based in Switzerland) International Organization for Standardization provides verification and certification processes for a broad range of internationally standardizable consumer and industrial products and/or their unique features. The organization was founded in 1947 and includes the entire developed world and most countries considered “developing.”
Basically, if two countries want to conduct business involving the buying and selling of physical products, or if a player from country A wants to sell products to countries F, C, and Z, then an ISO certification is essential in getting the ball rolling. That’s it, very basically. Those who thirst for more on the ISO can have a watch:
Why the ISO’s Decision is Very Good News for Japan and the Rest of Humanity
Just as most observers agree that Japan currently has the most advanced and market-ready assistive robotics, there’s also broad consensus that, in terms of physical practicality and in an abstract economic sense, Japan has the greatest need. We’ve covered Japan’s Aging Society Problem as it relates to robotics on several occasions (vis-à-vis aging society; vis-à-vis women in science); it’s of extreme import, and given that the domestic assistive industry alone is conservatively projected to reach $4 billion over the next few decades, it's not something to be ignored or haphazardly managed.
And so, with this decision, broadly speaking, the ISO move both validates Japan’s role as a leader and innovator in assistive robotics, and it provides a practical route into export channels; thereby, the homes and workplaces of almost anyone on the planet. That’s money. Money and prestige.
Case in point:
Cyberdyne’s HAL Suit, approved for export by Japanese authorities earlier this year, can now not only begin the process of ISO certification, but take a lead in setting the global standard. Instead of being confined to Japan’s healthy yet limited market, this will allow Cyberdyne to expand internationally - of course feeding its bottom line, widening its feedback base, and looping back to improve domestic distribution and development.
(This is obvious, of course - but Cyberdyne, if you’re listening, the world’s biggest economy, whose citizens tend toward... the larger, is going to need, well, you know, a size upgrade. THXALOT, AMERICA)
Lastly, while Japanese robotics are super awesome and leading the world on many fronts, the worst thing the industry could do is leave itself to the confines of the archipelago’s international boundary and domestic economy. Overspecialization, stagnation, and the resulting international irrelevance would very likely hobble Japan’s robotics export potential - instead of leading the world and infusing the domestic economy will all that robot cash, Korea, the United States, and Western Europe could quickly eclipse Japan’s current assistive robotics forerunner status.
Just sayin, Japan, embrace international competition, send your stuff abroad, import what’s out there, watch the world, and keep your lead. Heed, Japan, heed the tragic Tale of How the World’s Best and Most Sought After Smartphones are Not Made/Designed in Japan. Heed it! For if you do not, the Apple iLeg, not the Sony VAIO Prosthetic Unipod QPT-19984, will become the best-selling assistive robot in Japan.
You know, so to speak.
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Just for Fun - Some VERY Assistive Robotics:
Nigel Ackland’s latest demo video for his BeBionic prosthetic arm. The role this device plays in improving one human life is something quite beautiful and profound (perhaps a bit offensive to call it a “Terminator Arm?”). Have a watch:
Images: RSLSteeper Bebionic; Tri-Met; Honda; Secom; Kawada Industries; Toyota; Cyberdyne