The following is a summary of the Keynote Speech by Dr. Gill Pratt, Executive Technical Advisor, Toyota Motor Corporation and CEO, Toyota Research Institute, Inc., at the 2015 U.S.-Japan Council Annual Conference in November 2015.
Dr. Gill Pratt, Executive Technical Advisor, Toyota Motor Corporation and CEO, Toyota Research Institute, Inc., stated that he would speak about his work at DARPA and the possibilities of robotics. He noted that the inspiration for the work at DARPA was the Fukushima disaster. Three explosions occurred in the Fukushima reactor, and an analysis showed that if there had been intervention in the critical first few hours and days, the explosions could have been prevented.
When the disaster struck, DARPA immediately tried to help, calculating the radiation resistance of its robots and getting them to Japan as quickly as possible. However, although the robots were good for inspection, they could not make much of a difference for certain essential functions, such as turning valves. Dr. Pratt thus emphasized proper preparation for the next disaster, since it is not enough to scramble to help after a disaster occurs.
Dr. Pratt then described DARPA’s other initiatives, focusing on the DARPA Robotics Challenge. He went over the program structure and funding for the challenge of creating helpful robots, with investment of $100 million. The tasks for the robots were directly inspired by what was needed in Fukushima. A large problem was how to get the engagement of Japan, where many universities have a ban on military research. However, one of the missions of the Ministry of Defense is helping people. For example, Operation Tomodachi was a non-military defense mission. A short video was then played that showed the robots in action.
The winner of the first DARPA Robotics Challenge was a Japanese team named Schaft, which focused on the keyword kaizen, the concept of constant improvement. Schaft was so impressive that Google bought the company. This spurred a renaissance in the robotics field and prompted the Japanese and Korean governments to come to Washington D.C. for trilateral work on robotics.
There was then a demonstration of a robot that can water plants. Following this, a video was played showing the final phase of the Challenge, which included an obstacle course with challenges for multipurpose robots. The robots had to do many tasks, including getting out of a car, turning valves with more autonomy because of decreased communication, and climbing stairs.
Dr. Pratt then stressed the need in both the United States and Japan for robots that can take care of the increasing numbers of the elderly. Robots also have a vital role to play in climate change, as well as in manufacturing. Dr. Pratt concluded by emphasizing that the United States and Japan can work together on building robots to address these and other important needs.
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