Sony and Kawasaki Heavy partner up for remote robot service

Sony Group and Kawasaki Heavy Industries announced on Friday plans to establish a joint company over the coming months in which each will hold a 50% stake. (Source photos by Reuters and AP)

JADA NAGUMO, Nikkei staff writer | Japan

TOKYO — Sony Group will join forces with Japan’s Kawasaki Heavy Industries in a bid to roll out a new remote robotics platform business that will cater to factory workers who have faced challenging conditions in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

The two companies announced on Friday plans to establish a joint company this summer in which they will each hold a 50% stake. The new company will have a capital of 100 million yen ($919,000) and will start operations soon after receiving the necessary approvals.

The business will focus on offering industrial workers, and eventually essential workers in fields like health care, flexible and safe working conditions through a “remote robot platform,” which will enable workers to operate and control robots from remote locations.

Kawasaki Heavy will utilize its extensive knowledge in robotics while Sony will provide its image processing, sensing and network communication technologies.

The new company aims to begin business in 2022 after completing in-house practical experiments.

Hirokazu Tanaka, who is currently the general manager at Sony’s new business planning division, will be the chief executive of the joint company. During a press conference he said: “Japan is facing a serious labor shortage problem especially in industries like manufacturing, logistics and health care. Through our platform service, we aim to connect skilled workers, senior workers and part-time workers to businesses that operate in these areas.”

The company will offer a remote robot operating system that will use specially designed controllers and a business scheme that will enable companies to monitor the status of work remotely. It also plans to provide a scheme to manage remote maintenance of the robots and equipment. The company’s main source of revenue will come from monetizing its platform.

Tanaka noted that the potential market for its business was big amid Japan’s declining work force and the spread of the pandemic. “Providing hardware will not be enough to solve these issues and is the reason we decided to offer solutions through our new services and platform,” he said.

For the time being, the company will look to offer its services to large industrial companies in Japan but will seek to expand overseas in the future. The company also aims to bring in other business partners in the longer term.

Kawasaki Heavy’s Vice President and Senior Executive Officer Katsuya Yamamoto said, “Merging the two companies’ strengths will make it possible for humans and robots to work in new ways.” He added that the companies hoped to “realize a world where people can work in factories from home or work overseas while being in Japan.”

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