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Global Robot Academia (Selected as a 2008 Global COE*)

Collective Effort in Robot Research
-Working to Construct "M-Robotics"

The 1960s were in the middle of Japan's rapid economic growth. The character Astro Boy drove people dreams toward the future of scientific technology, and that expectation and excitement reached a peak at the Osaka Exposition in 1970. This period was the background in which Japan started full-scale robot research, and that research has continued to lead the world until today.
In 1966, Waseda University began research in bipedal robots and the mechanism by which people walk. This was the first research of this type in the world. In 1970, 4 research laboratories joined together and started the WABOT (Waseda Robot) Project in order to further develop robot research. The project is based on two themes. The first is the realization of robots which are infinitely close to human beings (humanoid robots). The second theme is the realization of robots which support medicine, nursing care and daily life.
Upon entering the 21st century, Waseda has shown new developments which are the combination of all research activities until now. The Humanoid Robotics Institute was founded in 2000 and the WABOT-HOUSE Laboratory, which researches the fusion of living environments and robotics, was newly established in 2002. Furthermore, from 2003, Waseda formed the institute for "Symbiosis Technologies for Human and Robots in an Elderly Dominated Society". This institute was selected for the 21st Century COE Program** by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT). All of these efforts were made to integrate robot research at Waseda.

Professor Masakatsu G. Fujie, Institute Leader of the Global Robot Academia

During this time, robot technology in Japan has achieved major advances. Private corporations have such as Honda and Sony have become involved in research. At the Aichi 2005 Exposition, there were many performances by humanoid robots that displayed a variety of movements and expressions. These robots could walk, laugh, speak and dance like human beings. People's amazement at the abilities of these robots is still a fresh memory. The base of robot technology is very wide, and practical application of this technology is currently spreading into all areas of society. Robot technology has become essential to the infrastructure of daily living and manufacturing, in ways that are both visible and hidden from the eyes of the public.
Robot technology is contributing to advances in many fields of engineering. Despite such contribution, it has taken a surprisingly long time to achieve a system of robot technology and theory for the purpose of establishing an academic field known as robot science.

WABOT-HOUSE, a home where humans coexist with robots

Further achievement of robot research in the 21st century is not possible without taking action to establish such an academic field. Under this conviction, Waseda University is working to establish M-Robotics (Methodological Robotics) Science, and has started a research institute named the Global Robot Academia. This institute was selected for the 2008 Global COE Program by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT). We held a discussion with Professor Masakatsu G. Fujie (Waseda University Faculty of Science and Engineering), who is leader of the institute and its efforts to establish an academic field in robot technology.

(*) Note: Global COE is a program of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) that offers prioritized support for the formation of international outstanding education research centers. "COE" stands for Center of Excellence.
(**) Note: 21st Century COE is a central support program of the MEXT for the formation of global educational institutions. 21st Century COE began in 2002 as the initial program of a series of programs to support the establishment of COE programs at universities.

Photograph, left: The first bipedal robot (WL-3, 1969); Photograph, center: Bipedal robot exhibited at the Tsukuba Expo (WHL-11, 1984); Photograph, right: Robot playing the Electone (WABOT-2, 1984)

Family tree of the robot technology which was born

TWENDY-ONE, a robot that coexists with humans

The names of several universities can be raised when discussing the main institutes which have pioneered robot research in Japan. These universities include Waseda University, the Tokyo Institute of Technology, Osaka University and the University of Tokyo. Each of these universities has conducted research using unique approaches. For example, the Tokyo Institute of Technology is proficient in metallic control mechanisms, while Osaka University is adept in mental mechanisms. Among these various specialties, the strength of Waseda University lies in how we have raised a diverse family tree for robot research. At the head of this family tree is Professor Ichiro Kato (deceased), a researcher who possessed charismatic appeal, and the tree has expanded horizontally to include several research laboratories. The vision held by Professor Kato, a scholar in the field of mechanical engineering, was a grand vision fixed on the future. Many researchers were drawn to his original concept of working to for "the cohabitation and coexistence of robots and humans". This concept has also been inherited as a dream by younger generations.

"Navigation Cane", which performs navigation for the vision impaired using IC tag communication

"The greatest strength of robot research at Waseda University is our collective ability. At the Global Robot Academia, we have gathered many robot researchers from within our university and massed their collective strength. Besides Waseda University, there is not other place with a gathering of such esteemed members." (Professor Fujie)

Simulation of stimulus to a liver model using a kinesthetic input/output device

The quality and achievements of the members is certainly surprising. Professor Shigeki Sugano is involved with TWENDY-ONE, a lifestyle support robot that is capable of cohabitating with humans. Professor Atsuo Takanishi performs research regarding humanoid robots such s the bipedal WABIAN-2R. Professor Shuji Hashimoto works with independent robots that possess environmental cognition ability and with chemical robotics research such as enabling the independent walking of artificial polymer gel. Professor Mitsuo Umezu is a pioneer in artificial heart research and the leader of TWIns, a joint biomedical science institute with Tokyo Women's Medical University. Professor Fujie, leader of the institute, is involved in robot systems for supporting medical procedures such as cardiac surgery, neurosurgery and orthopedic surgery, as well as in systems that support walking by the elderly and disabled. These are just a few of the members of the Global Robot Academia, which is a large project composed of cooperation by a total of 22 professors and assistant professors.

"Members are divided into three main groups from the perspective of the field of application for robot technology. First is the P-RT group, which focuses on a single individual. Second is the C-RT group, which focuses on multiple individuals. The third and final group is S-RT, which focuses on society in which multiple individuals are involved. Each of these three groups works to achieve the mission of our institute." (Professor Fujie) These three perspectives form the concept for construction of systematic robot science, while expanding the multidisciplinary approach needed for each perspective into the fields of humanities, social sciences and human sciences. (Refer to Figure 1)

Figure 1: Objective of the Global Robot Academia project

Developing doctors who can perform in the industrial world

Another important mission of the Global Robot Academia is the development of young researchers that will advance the next generation of robot science. "Stated simply, we seek to develop researchers and technicians that possess "breakthrough ability". These professionals will combine solid academic knowledge with imagination and the ability to implement ideas. The industrial world requires professional doctors who will provide leadership for the robot technology which forms the base for the next generation of social infrastructure." (Professor Fujie)

Figure 2: Objective of the Global Robot Academia professional development

In the previous 21st Century COE Program entitled "Symbiosis Technologies for Human and Robots in an Elderly Dominated Society", 12 professional doctors obtained employment at corporations during the 5 years of the program. In the subsequent program Global Robot Academia, we plan to send into the industrial world an additional 10 times this amount, or the large amount of 120 professional doctors. These professionals will be sent during the 5 years of the program until 2012. Professor Fujie refers to this goal by saying "This is in no way a figure that we have developed ourselves, but a realistic number based on the requests of corporations."

A fulfilling education program is essential to the achievement of this goal. The educational program of the Global Robot Academia features the two pillars of a fulfilling curriculum and "On Research Training" that allows students to gain experience at research sites. "Overseas, approximately 120 credits of subject enrollment are required even in the case of Doctoral Degrees. However, almost no class enrollment is required in Japan, and a research thesis by itself is sufficient in many cases. This does not allow for the development of world-class professionals. At our institute, we have assembled a unique curriculum known as Global Robot Academia and have developed a solid educational system." (Professor Fujie)

Scene from summer school

A variety of systems have also been prepared for On Research Training. One example is the system known as "Laboratory Traverse". This unique system gives students a cross-sectional experience of many laboratories in order to familiarize them with a wide range of robot technology and to allow them to study technological schools of thought that differ under each instructor. Furthermore, all students in the Doctoral Program experience overseas research for a goal of at least 3 months. "We have students select where they want to go, give a proposal, and return to Japan after producing a specific results. Eventually, we want to aim for a place that allows them to write a proposal for a financial grant during their foreign research." (Professor Fujie)

Scene from seminar discussion

At Japanese universities, research proposals for national financial grant research are almost always written by instructors. However, at this institute, students in the Doctoral Program play a leading role. This is done to enable students to participate in the system of financial grants even if they go overseas.

Furthermore, a unique system known as "Research Assistant" functions as a support program for outstanding students in the Doctoral Program. Students selected for this system are provided with a salary equal to what would be earned at their first job after graduation. This system was established by Professor Ichiro Kato (deceased) and has a long record of performance.
"Overseas, there is a system in which students that have entered a Doctoral Program decide their employer at an early stage and corporations pay for scholarship funds. While it is extremely difficult to create something to rival this system, our Research Assistant system is a revolutionary concept for contemporary Japan." (Professor Fujie)

Construction of a 4 partner system of Japan, America, Europe and East Asia

Joint summer school with Korea's KIST-CIR and Italy's SSSR (September 2008, Italy)

"The establishment of M-Robotics is by no means an easy task. We don't have a clear idea of how much progress we can make in 5 years. However, there is no doubt that we must lead the world in engaging this issue." (Professor Fujie)

In order to achieve this goal, effort is being placed into partnerships with research institutes throughout the world. Agreements have been in effect since several years ago with Korea's KIST-CIR (Korean Institute of Science and Technology, Center for Intelligent Robotics) and Italy's SSSA (Scuola Superior Sant'Anna). These agreements have fostered a solid cooperative relationship in both education and research.
Further, in September of 2008, an agreement was reached between the four universities of the University of Karlsruhe (Germany), Carnegie Mellon University (America), the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, and Waseda University. This agreement is known as "Inter ACT" (International Center for Advanced Communication Technologies) and serves to advance plans for scholastic exchange and joint projects.

Waseda University President Shirai signs the Inter ACT Agreement Inter (September 2008)

The ultimate goal is to establish Waseda's "M-Robotics" as the standard for global robot science. For this purpose, it is essential to develop activities to support parts of a world-leading education and research network. As the 4 institute partnership system between Japan, America, Europe and East Asia is formed, the grand dream of the Global Robot Academia moves steadily towards becoming a reality.

Related Links

Waseda University Global COE Program "Global Robot Academia"

Waseda University WABOT-HOUSE Laboratory

Waseda University Humanoid Robotics Institute

Waseda University Center for Advanced Biomedical Sciences (TWIns)

Waseda University & SSSA (Scuola Superiore Sant'Anna) RoboCasa

Waseda University Faculty of Science and Engineering