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Robot competition looks to cover themes of products, services, public good

A remote-controlled robot that can clean walls and floors is seen in Midori Ward, Chiba. (Mainichi)

A committee of experts to discuss an international robot competition that the Japanese government wants to hold in 2020 met for the first time on Feb. 2, and suggested that the competition cover three categories: product-making, services, and public interest projects.

    "Product-making" would cover fields like factory work and agriculture. "Services" events would include areas like customer service and providing care for the infirm. "Public interest" would cover fields like checks on public infrastructure and disaster rescue operations.

    At the meeting, the experts affirmed a position put forth by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry that it is important for the competition to not just be a test of technical skill, but to open the way to using robots to solve society's problems.

    For "product-making" events, the committee sees a competition to create robots that can pack lunches, quickly and accurately handling even soft and difficult to grab foods as a likely event. For "services," they envision robots that accompany the elderly outdoors, with a competition held to create robots that can plan movement routes and share workloads with humans. For "public interest projects," there could be a competition to create robots that can move independently in harsh environments.

    The national government has selected "promotion of robot development and use" as part of its national growth strategy. In a "new robot strategy" put together by the government in January last year, it listed as a goal the expansion of the robot-related market to 2.4 trillion yen in transactions by 2020, around four times what it is now. To speed up development, not only does it plan the 2020 competition, it also intends to hold an earlier competition in 2018.

    In its further deliberations, the committee will consider individual events for the 2020 competition, and come up with an overall summary by November that includes the competition's location and timing.

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