What the world needs now is socially-distant robots, says Japan

Takes its domestic standard for human/robot interactions to the ISO to get moving machines working with humans in hospitals and beyond

Japan’s Ministry of the Economy and National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology have opened a conversation with the International Standards Organisation (ISO) with a view to setting new global standards for robots that work alongside humans.

Japan has an ageing population and has therefore made significant investments in robots as assistants for the elderly, even developing a national standard to govern their operations in environments where they work alongside humans including medical settings, public transport hubs and commercial facilities.

And now Japan wants to export that standard to the world.

The move is partly altruistic, because Japan sees robot medical workers as a useful tool to increase social distancing.

Your kids will be glad a UK government-funded robot will be changing your nappy and not them


It’s also an industry development play, with the ministry aiming at strengthening industrial competitiveness by expanding the market for helper-bots and hopefully giving Japanese companies a rolling start.

While Japan has signed off on its own JIS Y1001 standard, the ISO’s Technical Committee (TC 299) for “Standardization in the field of robotics, excluding toys and military applications” doesn’t have a document describing best practice in the kind of applications Japan has already considered.

ISO TC 299 has therefore established a new working group, with Japan in the lead, to consider taking JIS Y1001 global.

Which isn’t exactly a “grab some popcorn” moment because deliberations of this sort move slowly, but may be a significant step towards acceptance of machinery in more parts of our lives. ®

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