Japan’s robot expo sparks debate on future of work (VIDEO)

SEED Solutions’ platform robot SEED-Noid picks up tea leaf from a tea tree during its demonstration at Robot Development & Application Expo in Tokyo  January 17, 2018. — Reuters pic
SEED Solutions’ platform robot SEED-Noid picks up tea leaf from a tea tree during its demonstration at Robot Development & Application Expo in Tokyo January 17, 2018. — Reuters pic

TOKYO, Jan 19 — It’s rude to watch someone work, but that might change when the chores are being done by a robot.

It’s not quite as fast as a human — taking two minutes to fold a t-shirt — but at least it doesn’t get bored or tired.

Some of those watching at the RoboDex Expo in Tokyo were clearly impressed.

“I think the robot is more skilled than my wife at folding laundry,” Koji Wada, a 58-year-old salesman for a gasoline station chain said.

Nearly 200 companies are exhibiting at the show — that’s twice as many as last year.

They all serve with a smile and the question everywhere — ‘what does it mean for human labour?’

“I think it would be better if humans did the more creative jobs and the robots can do the manual work,” senior expert for NEC Fielding ltd, Hiroyuki Fujii, said.

The expo’s organisers expect the robot service industry to grow almost 9 fold in the years between 2016 and 2030 and be worth more than US$8 billion.

That’s welcome news for a country with an ageing population.

Some airlines, retailers and restaurant chains are already having to rethink expansion plans because they can’t fill jobs.

“If current workers focus more on complicated work that robots can’t do, I think we can solve the labour shortages,” director of service robot business development at Macnica Inc Shigeru Uyama said.

There’s more work to do of course but some robots even look the part.

And unlike their human counterparts they don’t get stressed under pressure — even if there’s a long queue forming at reception. — Reuters

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