At this pace, the country’s robot population is going to outnumber people.
If you are a human who works at the Kawada factory outside Tokyo, most of your coworkers are robots. On the assembly line, the company’s uber-advanced, human-looking robots can do the work of three people. They can also make you a decent cup of coffee.
While Japan has been a robot-friendly place for a long time, the number of robots is now booming, even as its human population is not. In the next five years, the country hopes to build 20 times more of them. One industry leader suggests that the country should invest in 30 million robots—nearly the same population as greater Tokyo—as part of a plan to regain a spot as the world leader in manufacturing.
“What you’re seeing in Japan is a much more aggressive approach to purchasing robots,” says Mike Zinser, a partner at Boston Consulting Group, and co-author of a new study about how robotics will transform manufacturing. “They’ve got a real potential to see significant cost savings, and also an improvement in competitiveness relative to other countries over the next decade.”
Though robots aren’t new on factory floors, new advancements mean that they’re suddenly poised to play a significant role. “The cost of robots has been declining over a few years, they’ve been getting cheaper, but you’re also seeing a performance increase,” Zinser explains. “We’re at a point now in many industries, and many different kinds of tasks, where you’re starting to reach an inflection point. Price and performance is actually at a threshold where it makes sense for a manufacturer to deploy that robot today than it would to pay for human labor.”
Read more: Meet The Robots That Are Taking Over Japan
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