9 Japanese robotics startups to watch in 2014


As you may have read recently, Google has acquired seven robotics startups from the world, as the company looks ahead to new business opportunities. One of these startups is Tokyo-based Shaft, which won the DARPA robotics challenge trials back in December. Japan is an advanced country in this space, so I’d like to highlight a few of the important players in this sector. Read on to learn more!

1. Kiluck

Kiluck has developed Rapiro, a humanoid robot compatible with the popular Raspberry Pi computer kit. The company succeeded in raising over $75,000 on Kickstarter last year, compared to its original target of $20,000. In partnership with fellow startups TeamLab and Yukai Engineering, they have developed the famous Necomimi device, a wearable pair of cat-ears that moves in accordance with your brainwave activity.

2. Extrun

Since it launched back in 2009, Extrun has been in the system integration business. But they recently started developing a mobile camera called Ilbo, a device which keeps watch inside your home while you’re out. You will be able to control the device using an iOS app, and view what’s happening in your room through your mobile in real time. It will transmit a real-time image, but in the future they also plan to roll out additional features like remote controls for air conditioners and lights. They expected to introduce the product this spring for about $100.

3. Liferobotics

Liferobotics is a company that develops commercial products based on technologies from Japan’s National Institute of Advanced Science and Technology, or AIST. They’re developing robotic arm products that can be used in various manufacturing industries, or in assisting seniors or those with physically disabilities.

4. Orylab

Orylab is a hardware manufacturing company backed by Waseda University’s startup incubator. For people with mobility issues, their robot OriHime can be used as a sort of avatar, allowing you to watch and listen to what’s happening in a remote location. You can talk with remote individuals using a live video chat as well. It can carried anywhere as a sort of stand-in on your behalf.

In this way, you could go on picnic with your family virtually, or even attend a lecture virtually with your classmates.


5. Mujin

Mujin was founded by robotics scientist Rosen Diankov and grew out of the University of Tokyo. His team has developed OpenRAVE, a motion planning software for real-world robotics applications, as well as Mujin Controller, software that allows you simulate various robotic motion patterns and optimize performance before you move to full-scale operation. The company raised 75 million yen (about $75,000) from the university’s venture fund in a series A funding back in 2012.

6. Yukai Engineering

Yukai Engineering was founded back in 2007 (and incorporated in 2011) by Teamlab’s co-founder Shunsuke Aoki. The startup is known to have introduced many interesting hardware devices like computing kit Konashi and smart baby camera Paby, and even helping Japanese smart glass startup Telepathy create their prototypes as well. Our readers may recall we interviewed Aoki back in November.

7. Doog

Doog was grew out of Tsukuba University, and has introduced a wheeled mobile robot (WMR) for purposes like advertising or baggage assistance. Some of their robots can follow you around wherever you go. The company wants to help people evolve their business and life further using robotics technology.

8. Asratec

Asratec was launched by Mitou [1] super-creator Wataru Yoshizaki back in 2009. He has been developing a humanoid robot called V-sido. The robot’s primary advantage is that it’s easy to control, even for non-technicians. For most types of humanoid robots, if you make an arm movement, it is likely to fall down if you don’t keep other body parts balanced. This robot’s software calculates how much he needs to stoop or stretch other body parts to maintain balance, so all you need to do is focus on the arm movement. A Softbank executive is leading the company as their president, and several news sources say the Japanese telco plans to launch artificial intelligence and humanoid robotics projects through them.

9. Skeletonics

Skeletonics was created by several Japanese college students who came together to win a robotics contest back in 2008. Their robot moves in sync with the user’s arms and legs, and works and looks like an armored suit, like that in the popular Japanese animation series Ghost in the Shell. It doesn’t use an electric motor-based servo-mechanism but rather mechanical linkage to reduce the robot’s weight as well as possible chances of technical difficulties. As the team recently won the top prize at the ‘Todai to Texas’ Demo Day, they are expected to exhibit their robots at SXSW 2014 taking place in Austin this coming March.

  1. Mitou is a bi-annual software engineering promotion program run by a governmental IT promotional agency in Japan. In 2009, Yoshizaki’s humanoid project was chosen as one of 18 innovative projects out of 124 applicants.  ↩