With Japan facing a looming labor shortage, agricultural and manufacturing industries are turning to robots for help. One such example is a bell pepper farm in Miyazaki Prefecture, where startup Agrist has deployed an AI-powered robot to harvest bell peppers. Trained on 30,000 images of ripe peppers, the robot glides between plants on wires near the vinyl house's ceiling. When its cameras detect a ripe pepper, it extends a robotic arm to cut and place it in a cart. While slower than human workers, the robot offers continuous operation without breaks.
Another farm in Tsu, Mie Prefecture, uses robots to harvest tomatoes. Through a joint venture between Asai Nursery and automotive giant Denso Corp., seven robots harvest and transport tomatoes on a farm the size of Tokyo Dome. The transport robot can carry 350 kilograms of tomatoes, weigh them, and deliver them to the designated point.
On the manufacturing front, Fanuc Corp., a major industrial robot manufacturer, showcased a robot that decorates cakes according to customers' orders at a recent international robot exhibition in Tokyo. The spread of robots on assembly lines has led to a surge in sales, exceeding 1 trillion yen in 2022.
However, despite these advancements, robots are not a silver bullet for all companies. The customization and installation cost for specific factory needs can be high, making them a less viable option compared to human workers in the short term.
Atsuo Takanishi, a professor of robotics at Waseda University, suggests a collaborative approach between users and robot developers to meet specific needs. This will involve redefining work processes and identifying tasks suited for robot handling, ultimately improving the labor environment for humans.