Crafting the "man-machine" for manual work
science・it Dec 15, 2022

Crafting the "man-machine" for manual work

Remotely controlled robotic machinery could take on jobs too hazardous for humans

by Ayaka sagasaki
J-STORIES - The machine’s operator sits in a small cabin wearing a VR headset. As he makes the movements of picking up, lifting, and carrying, nearby a machine with huge mechanical arms precisely mimics his actions. 
This machine looks just like a human-controlled robot from a Japanese anime. Yet its creator, Dr. KANAOKA, prefers not to call the huge device a robot. He uses the Japanese term, “JINKI”(literally, man-machine)  which he explains as meaning “human and machine working in perfect synchrony.” 
Dr. KANAOKA is president of Man-Machine Synergy Effectors Inc., a start-up from the central Japanese prefecture of Shiga. His machines are designed to fuse the power of machinery with human knowledge and decision-making skills, potentially freeing people from difficult, exhausting, and dangerous manual work.
Before establishing the company in 2007, Dr. KANAOKA spent nearly 20 years researching advanced robotics technology as a faculty member at Ritsumeikan University. This March, at the International Robot Exhibition in Tokyo, he unveiled JINKI type Zero ver.2.0, a practical-application prototype of a "man-machine" for aerial work jointly developed by rail company JR West and Nippon Signal.
Rail company JR West is testing the robot's ability to repair overhead wires.      Source: JR West
Rail company JR West is testing the robot's ability to repair overhead wires.      Source: JR West
The maintenance of electrical equipment, such as checking and repairing overhead wires, is essential to railroad safety. But it tends to be done late at night high in the air, so it can be very risky. 
An advantage of anthropomorphic heavy machinery is that it eliminates the risk of falls or electric shock. Nippon Signal is overseeing the commercialization and mass production of the JINKI robot and hopes to start using it on JR West-operated rail lines from spring 2024. 
Dr. KANAOKA at his workstation at the Man-Machine Synergy Effectors HQ.     Source: Man-Machine Synergy Effectors
Dr. KANAOKA at his workstation at the Man-Machine Synergy Effectors HQ.     Source: Man-Machine Synergy Effectors
In 2019, Man-Machine Synergy Effectors launched JINKI Platform, a subscription-based service to leverage its advanced robotics technology intellectual property. It is currently seeking partners to work with on revolutionary robot businesses.
Risky tasks involving heavy machinery are not limited to the railway industry. This equipment is also vital to civil engineering and construction, electric power, transportation, plant maintenance, and reconstruction after disasters. So, there are many potential applications for robotic heavy equipment. The JINKI type Zero ver.2.0 now being tested is a general-purpose machine that can be used for a wide range of tasks, including transportation, logging, and painting. 
The company has several other projects underway and expects to announce various results next fiscal year. The company is also working on a “full-body” JINKI robot to be revealed at the Osaka Expo in 2025. 
A concept image of a “pilot” operator (left) and a "full-body" JINKI robot.      Source: Man-Machine Synergy Effectors
A concept image of a “pilot” operator (left) and a "full-body" JINKI robot.      Source: Man-Machine Synergy Effectors
Dr. KANAOKA told J-Stories, “Our goal is to be able to control a robot the same way you drive a car, and to be able to take advantage of its capabilities anytime, anywhere.” 
Translation by Tony McNicol
Top page photo by alisachikov/Envato
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