Japanese Robots: iREX 2013 Primer - Japan's International Robot Exhibition

iREX 2013 Primer - AkihabaraNews.com

The Japan Robot Association (JARA) and Nikkan Kogyo Shimbun are gearing up to host the 20th bi-ennial iREX International Robot Exhibition here in Tokyo. This is Japan’s Big Show, and naturally, AkihabaraNews is going to be all over it - here’s a bit of what to expect:

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Okay, First of All, What's iREX?
We’ll resist the urge to just say "Gigantic Awesome J-Robotics Extravaganza!", and go ahead and break it down a bit:

Organizers: JARA does exactly as one would totally expect a JARA to do; it’s a membership organization for Japanese robotics born of Japan’s exploding industrial robotics and automation industry of the late 1960s & early 70s. Eventually, its focus broadened to include personal and social robotics as well. The other primary partner in iREX organization & promotion, the Nikkan Kogyo Shimbun, or ”Daily Engineering Newspaper/Newsletter,” also does exactly what it sounds like it would be doing: providing news and networking for Japan’s engineering and manufacturing sectors and promoting those industries through various events and seminars and great big huge robotics exhibitions in the heart of Tokyo.

According to the organizers, and probably pretty accurately stated, the held-every-two-years iREX International Robot Exhibition is the world’s largest and awesomest exclusively robotics-focused tradeshow. The event is four days of engineers, makers, and manufacturers networking, attending seminars, and of course displaying, demoing, and hawking their robotic wares to each other and the public at large. Some stats from the last show in 2011:

Number of exhibitors: 208 companies; 69 organizations
Number of booths: 1,085

Number of Overseas Exhibitors (of the above): 36 companies; 7 organizations
Number of Overseas Booths: 98

Total Number of Exhibition Visitors (over four days): 102,361
Estimated Number of Overseas Visitors (of the above): 3000

The team behind the event, probably super busy shopping for plywood and foamcore, didn’t return to our inquiries about who’s registered this year, but previous exhibitors include all the industry background and generally glamourless infrastructural firms, plus pretty much all the major players with all the best toys who’d normally come to mind:

ABB industrial robotics (Sweden); FANUC industrial robotics (Japan); Kawada Industries industrial robotics (Japan); Kuka industrial robotics (Germany); Yaskawa Electric industrial robotics (Japan); OMRON industrial vision systems (Japan); Alderbaran; Honda, Kokoro; NTT; Robotics Association of Taiwan; SRI International; Toyota; Korea Machine Tool Manufacturers; Waseda University - on and on and on.

This is, as stated above, the Big Show. Prom night. The Whole Enchilada (or at least most of the enchilada). The event will be held at the the Tokyo International Exhibition Center, located in the heart of Tokyo Bay. Oh, should also mention here that the hosting facility is more commonly known, in the language of Captain Ironically Obvious, as “Tokyo Big Sight.”

iREX Event Shots

iREX 2013 - Safe to Say This Year’s Numbers Will Impress
In our weekly robotics feature, we often mention the so-called Global Robotics Revolution/Renaissance/Resurgence, i.e., at an accelerting pace we’re getting more and better robots along with an increasing amount of specialized and mainstream media coverage. That reality, combined with the bandwagonny trend toward manufacturers of all sizes going way out of their way to call their products “robots” when they’re totally not robots, clearly means that the hype game, often but not always justified, is totally on (because of how polite and professional we are, we won’t mention any specific offenders, except for Toyota’s Segway clone, the “WingWay,” or was it the "SegLet,” no, the “Winglet;” a fine example of wishful naming). Anyway, suffice it to say, all this in concert means public interest in robotics is heightened, and the associated marketing and development and promotion going world-wide on a wildcat-chain-reaction should produce an event of unprecedented magnitude.

This year’s event will be broken down into zones, or areas of focus:

“Industrial robots (IR), service robots (SR), related elemental devices, simulation and vision systems, small production systems and robots deriving from R&D activities of government, industry and academia. There will also be a robot demonstration stage.”

Apropos to the majority of Japan’s and much of the world's flashiest and arguably most important robotics news over the last few years, iREX 2013’s overall theme is a focus on personal, social robotics; living and interacting with robots and appreciating and planning for their role in humanity’s future. The organizers went with "Robot Technology; Making a Future with Robot” [sic] as this year's catchphrase (definitely have to take a few moments to make fun of that in the addendum - with all due respect, of course).

Further, Regarding iREX 2013’s general mission plan intent thingy, organizers state that:

“To support the ever-evolving robot knowledge and systemization, we aim to create new robot markets and with the keywords of “Co-existence”, “Harmony” and “Safety”, exhibit the latest technology and products relating to robots which play a role in everything from manufacturing to personal application, and encourage business talks and technical interaction between visitors.”

Let’s hope that what the organizers didn’t spend on native-speaking English editors for their website and materials, they did put into organizing and planning the event... and really, given the importance and prestige of it, they’ve probably totally represented. It looks to be a fantastically interesting, and, as we remain inclined to exclaim, "Gigantic Awesome J-Robotics Extravaganza!"

For those participating, with an approx. $3400 U.S. minimum for registration (closed on June 26), plus getting oneself and one’s gear to the event, plus putting one’s team up for 4-5 days in Tokyo, the expense and logistics involved are considerable. But we do sincerely hope that a few startups will make an appearance this November.

As for the attendees, there’s no question that run of the mill robot dorks and engineering enthusiasts and sociotechno-fetishistic writers (ummm...) will come out in force for the viewing and learning and appreciating, but for most local tinkerers and the global DIY crowd, this will be a spectator sport - but an inspirational and educational one, so nothing wrong with that.

Concurrent Events in Related Fields
Somewhat robotics related, though not necessarily, there are a range of simultaneous events being held around Tokyo - providing for those interested a much wider range of exposure to the Japanese engineering sector; events going on at the same time as iREX 2013:

IROS 2013 Tokyo (Organizers: IEEE /RSJ International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems) Date: November 3 (Sun) – November 7 (Thurs)

Parts Feeder Exhibition 2013 (Organizers: Japan Parts Feeder Industrial Association, Nikkan Kogyo Shimbun, Ltd.) Date: November 6 (Wed) – November 9 (Sat)

SAMPE JAPAN 2013 (Organizers: Society for the Advancement of Material and Process Engineering, Nikkan Kogyo Shimbun, Ltd.) Date: November 6 (Wed) – November 8 (Fri)

VACUUM 2013 (Organizers: Japan Vacuum Industry Association, The Vacuum Society of Japan Joint Organizer: Nikkan Kogyo Shimbun, Ltd.) Date: November 6 (Wed) – November 8 (Fri) 

Vacuum 2013 definitely sounds like the most fun. Perhaps we'll dispatch a team.

Wrapping Up: Planet Earth’s Preeminent International Robotics Throw-Down is:

What: 2013 iREX International Robot Exhibition
Where: Tokyo International Exhibition Center, AKA “Tokyo Big Sight
When: November 6 - 9, 2013
Why: Because robots!
And Who’s Delivering Coverage: an Asia-focused, Tokyo-based, multi-lingual, Akihabara-News Robotics Team

For those unable to get themselves to Tokyo this November, stay tuned to AkihabaraNews’ robotics coverage; we’re here, boots on the ground, serving it up - we’ll have video, photos, interviews, and plenty of Technosnarky commentary to share.

Oh, and just in case our robo-geeky excitement isn’t shining through these words as bright as it is in realityspace, here once again is our official, anticipatory statement regarding the iREX 2013 International Robot Exhibition:

“Gigantic Awesome J-Robotics Extravaganza! Oh, hell yeah!”

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Addendum on Plurality in the English Language:
While the event is truly international, there is one not-so-subtle, entirely not-out-of-sight linguistic hiccup:Making a Future with Robot?
With robot, huh? Just one? Okay iREX, this time, since you did actually get it right at least once in the brochure, we’ll forgive you. Even though the other six cases where it’s not correct do make it hard.

It’s true, there’s no such thing as a plural noun in Japanese, but come on - you guys are pretty bright, yeah? Next time, ask around a bit, or just like, you know, run it through a word processor. Or grab foreigners on the street until you find an English speaker. Just sayin, get some eyes on that stuff, yeah?!

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Images: iREX