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U.S.-Japan Cooperation: To What End? On What Basis? In What Areas? Four purposes of U.S.-Japan collaboration in robotics are readily identifiable. Two are technical objectives to address gaps in the science base and to develop needed technologies. The United States is better at the former, Japan at the latter. Another purpose is to learn to collaborate. Historical competitive patterns, together with legal restrictions, have produced few examples of formal R&D collaboration among U.S. companies and little experience with international cooperation involv- ing groups of firms. U.S. companies need to learn to collaborate, and cooperative programs in robotics R&D could provide a test case upon which cooperative efforts in other areas might build. Finally, U.S.-Japanese cooperation in robotics would serve to familiarize the two countries with one another's R&D infrastruc- tures. The relative strengths of these prospective partners have been articulated already. Basic research is the forte of the United States, while applied technology is Japan's. The approach taken in Japan has been to create structure and organiza- tions first and think about the "heart" of a project later. U.S. firms often confuse technology and business. Technology cannot do business by itself; U.S. firms should recognize production engineering as technology. Combining and integrat- ing these strengths and characteristics can make both countries more significant players in the international community. It may well be that cooperation through existing modes would further the Japanese approach. Cooperation must be structured in such a way that U.S. part- ners learn about the process through which technological applications are realized in Japan. Successful U.S.-Japanese cooperation will be rooted in areas that yield mutual benefit. Potential collaborative efforts should be achievable in a relatively 19
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20 short period of time-2 to 3 years and should show concrete, but not immediate- ly commercializable, outputs. Preference should be accorded projects that no one company or university would consider funding on its own. Mechanisms for international collaboration can be based in the public sector (e.g., MITI, NSF, NASA) or the private sector (company to company). One U.S. company representative suggested that Japanese robot users fund technical devel- opment by U.S. companies, perhaps in exchange for joint manufacturing rights rather than just licenses. To allay concerns that they might just establish sub- sidiaries in the United States, they might license technology to U.S. forms and agree to distribute, rather than just license, U.S. products. The same individual also suggested that the Japanese government expand economic incentives to help U.S. companies establish subsidiaries in Japan. Another suggestion was that the U.S. government improve mechanisms for the collection of information about new technological developments in Japan (e.g., new experiments by users and activities at particular R&D centers) and make it quickly and broadly available to U.S. com- pan~es. We are not without models of U.S.-Japanese cooperation. G~anuc Robotics Corporation, a U.S.-based company established by General Motors and Fanuc Ltd., is an equally owned joint venture created to produce and distribute robots and optimized robotic production systems that will increase the competitiveness of its customers. The business objectives of both parent companies are served by having equal representation in GMFanuc's policy management. Japanese strengths in market orientation (e.g., Japanese appreciation for mechanical con- straints on robots) are expected to foster a production orientation in a development environment that synergizes philosophical differences in behavior between U.S. and Japanese engineers. Cross-licensing agreements are intended to promote tech- nology transfer between the two parents. The degree of success achieved by these approaches and policies will be revealed in time. Given the mechanisms, criteria, and impetus for collaboration, U.S. and Japanese companies need to find suitable areas for cultivation. There are two ways to find such areas: (1) identify an area in which both countries already have considerable, potentially complementary, technology and marry these technologies in one project and (2) choose an area to which each can bring a strong basic skill but in which neither has much expertise. Nuclear emergency and disaster response robots are examples of the former. Both U.S. and Japanese policymakers are interested in such technologies in light of events at Chernobyl and Three Mile Island, but work on radiahon-hardened electronics and autonomous locomotion in human-scale spaces is in its infancy. Health care is an example of the latter area. Japanese work on health care robots has focused on patient service and clinical practice, whereas U.S. work has focused on robotic surgery. The realization of third-generation robots presupposes a host of fundamental developments. An analogy might be drawn to the introduction of the automobile. Besides developments required to make motor vehicles a practical reality, a suit
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21 able environment (roads and rules) had to be created. Similarly, an environment must be created that is conducive to the coexistence of intelligent service robots and humans. Key components and generic technologies need to be developed. Advances in very large scale integration (VLSI), sensor technology, and machine vision will be required. Goals should be set high. In scope, this foundation-laying work might be likened to putting a man on the moon. Neither the United States nor Japan has efforts in all important areas, and, individually, both may lack the resources to do it all and do it well in a timely fashion. This is a convincing ratio- nale for expending considerable effort on cooperation in a few selected areas. Robotics has passed from a labor substitution technology to one that increasing- ly complements human labor. In manufacturing emphasis is shifting from labor savings to labor enhancement. Beyond manufacturing, a host of service robot technologies directed at the underlying goal of all technology-improving the amenity of life-is foreseen. We are looking forward to the potential of robots used in hospitals and in the care of the elderly and infirm, in construction, waste disposal, and nuclear power plant and other hazardous work and even as personal attendants and companions in the home. Applications of robotics in space, an area where both the United States and Japan have made significant investments, is another potential area for collaboration.* The necessary collaboration, like the achievements, will not come easily. Fundamental differences in U.S. and Japanese cultures, societal structures, and emphasis and orientation must be overcome or effectively synergized. Criteria for arriving at projects that can accomplish this have been identified: · ensure mutual benefit; · exploit complementary capabilities (resources, information); and · embark on realistic projects that will yield measurable, but not immediately commercializable, results in a relatively short (2- to 3-year) time frame. Specific areas suggested during the exchange were joint work on sentence robots and robots to work in hazardous environments, as well as joint study of the socioeconomic impacts of such robots, perhaps including joint curriculum devel- opment for training a new generation of workers to function compatibly with a new generation of intelligent robots. Achievements of U.S.-Japanese collaboration in robotics in such areas as protection of the Earth's environments, medical treat- ment, and enhancement of human welfare will become common properties of all mankind, to the considerable credit of both countries. * See National Research Council, Space Technology to Meet Future Needs, National Academy Press, 1987, for an analysis of the special consideraii~ that must be taken into accost in applying robotics technologies to space exploration. Themes that might be explored for collaborative research include telepresence, cooperation between manipulators and robots, trainable systems, sensing, and perception.
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