The government plans to use robots as a key measure in dealing with labor shortages and the nation’s aging society, and will boost support for development in several priority areas, The Yomiuri Shimbun has learned.
According to the government’s robot strategy, which is aimed at achieving the widespread adoption of inexpensive, user-friendly robots before other countries, the government will focus on four fields—nursing care, agriculture, infrastructure inspection/disasters and factories. Through subsidies and other support measures, it aims to take the initiative in the field of robotics, where international competition is increasingly fierce.
The strategy also sets a target for boosting the scale of the domestic market for robots, aiming to increase it from about ¥700 billion in 2012 to about ¥2.4 trillion in 2020.
The government will announce the plans this week and include them in its new growth strategy to be compiled in late June.
In step with the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, the government plans to hold an event tentatively called the “Robot Olympics,” where countries from around the world would compete over the efficiency and performance of their robots.
According to a government estimate, the nation will need about 1 million more caregivers than it will actually have in 2025. With this in mind, the government will promote efforts to reduce the cost of robotic power-assist suits, mechanical exoskeletons that can be worn to make caregiving physically easier. Such suits can help a caregiver hold and move a person in need of nursing care.
As more than 60 percent of the nation’s farmers are 65 or older, the government will also support the development of unmanned tractors and other devices. Regarding infrastructure inspection, the government will accelerate efforts to develop small unmanned helicopters that can confirm cracks in the inaccessible parts of bridges using cameras or sensors.
The government believes that efforts over the next several years will be critical. Last year, U.S.-based Google Inc. acquired robot development companies in both the United States and Japan. Robots are expected to play a central role in the next industrial revolution after the Internet.
Japan is a world leader in robotics technology, but the adoption of nursing-care robots is hindered by their high price of about ¥20 million each. The government believes that a robot with a narrower range of functions costing about ¥100,000 would be rapidly adopted in many nursing care facilities, making it possible to increase the number of such robots to more than 1 million.
The government is also considering establishing a panel comprising robot development companies and users to enhance the user-friendliness of robots.