A long-standing tenet of Western economic theory is that competition promotes efficiency, increases productivity, and encourages innovation. Thus, when American and Japanese private companies build 13 ft. tall weaponized robots, economic theory mandates that they should be placed in an arena and made to do battle. Or at least that was the challenge extended by the American startup Megabots, Inc., after completing a 12,000 lb. prototype called the “Mark II.” The Japanese company to which the challenge was directed, Suidobashi Heavy Industry, maker of the 13 ft. “Kuratas” giant robot was eager to accept. Once both teams finish upgrades to their robots, which are underway, the friendly competition will occurr and add to the extensive history of collaboration on robotics innovation between the two countries.
The Japanese government has prioritized robotics as an important growth sector for its economy. Japan has struggled to regain its previous prominence in the high-tech sector after companies from places like the US and South Korea gained ground in a market formerly dominated by Japanese companies. In an effort to keep up, Prime Minister Abe announced a program sending employees of Japanese tech companies to Silicon Valley in order to “absorb the culture” of American innovation. The advanced state of US robotics and the mutual interest it shares with Japan on promoting robotics for the manufacturing and healthcare sectors provide a strong foundation for future collaboration and innovation. After announcing the duel, Megabots, Inc. launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund a series of upgrades for their Mark II that quickly raised over half a million dollars. This highly motivated investor market is exactly what Japanese robotics companies hope to tap.
The US and Japan also enjoy a high level of technological cooperation across other sectors. American universities such as Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Purdue, and the Department of Defense’s (DOD) Naval Postgraduate School are partnered with the Japanese Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI) and Ministry of Transportation (MOT) to collaborate on various types of robotics innovation. Both Japan and the United States are world leaders in high-technology, and their cooperation is responsible for innovation that has advanced the frontiers of not only robotics, but also tech-heavy industries such as space and medical science. Competition is also a familiar tool for encouraging multi-national cooperation in the tech-industry. Earlier this year, the US Department of Defense organized a robotics challenge that included teams from Japan, Hong Kong, and South Korea, among others.
Colby Ferland is a recent graduate of the George Washington University and a research intern at the East-West Center in Washington.