Japanese firm 3D MEDiA Co has secured $10 million in its latest round of funding to help it perfect its 3D robot vision system for industrial robots.
This company is the first commercial venture company launched by Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto. It has been working on robot vision since 2011 and believes that giving robots the gift of sight will help companies slash their labour costs. It could also change the face of manufacturing.
The automotive and electrical industries are increasingly reliant on robots and there are more than 30 on the average production line.
If they can effectively see and interpret the information in front of them, that would be a major step. It would not just help companies cut staff, it could also increase workplace safety.
This is more than sensor-based response
Of course basic sensor responses have been around for a long time and we already have ‘vision’ systems made up of cameras that capture an image and send it to a software program for analysis. These robots follow pre-programmed orders based on the information that the camera feeds into the processor.
Robots can already locate, identify and sort parts. They can even provide basic fault detection, but bulk order picking was a step too far. This new technology should bridge that gap.
The likes of Amazon have thousands of order pickers walking the floors of its warehouses every single day. If it can automate the process, then it can save huge amounts of money and create a more efficient workplace. They are one of millions of companies around the world that could benefit from this advanced technology.
These robots are more than factory workers
Time will tell exactly what this technology is really capable of, but it will inevitably cross over into other industries. Robots that can interpret information could change the industrial landscape. They could even replace key workers in dangerous and repetitive jobs.
As well as 3D vision, the job advert also includes mention of a ‘brain’. We don’t know how complex this brain will be and, in truth, it may be a long way off true AI. It’s an intriguing development nonetheless and we’re curious to see what the Japanese company comes up with.
The $10 million fund will help the company set up a new R&D centre in Tokyo, which will form the basis of a new research institute called the Intelligent Robot Laboratory. This could attract further investment, help the company take on outside contract work and form partnerships with a variety of industrial companies. It will also use some of the funds to build up its sales and marketing departments.
The Innovation Network Corporation of Japan led this round of funding, in collaboration with the New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organisation. The INCJ is a public-private partnership that aims to boost and promote Japanese business by supporting next generation companies and encouraging high-tech solutions.
This announcement could be the start of something big
This might seem like a minor announcement, but if 3D MEDiA Co can perfect this technology then it will have a seismic impact on the world. Companies will streamline and change the way they do business and a vast number of workers will lose their jobs.
Others are working on the same technology and someone will get this right before long. It will not happen in a vacuum either. The likes of Google and Microsoft are working on AI that the company will be able to incorporate into its advanced robots. So manual workers might have some sleepless nights before too long.
When it happens, we will have social and economic issues to deal with, but we will also have some seriously cool robots patrolling the factory floor.