KITAKYUSHU, Japan — They may be the most efficient workers in the world. But in the global downturn, they are having a tough time finding jobs.
Japan’s legions of robots, the world’s largest fleet of mechanized workers, are being idled as the country suffers its deepest recession in more than a generation as consumers worldwide cut spending on cars and gadgets.
At a large Yaskawa Electric factory on the southern Japanese island of Kyushu, where robots once churned out more robots, a lone robotic worker with steely arms twisted and turned, testing its motors for the day new orders return. Its immobile co-workers stood silent in rows, many with arms frozen in midair.
They could be out of work for a long time. Japanese industrial production has plummeted almost 40 percent and with it, the demand for robots.
At the same time, the future is looking less bright. Tighter finances are injecting a dose of reality into some of Japan’s more fantastic projects — like pet robots and cyborg receptionists — that could cramp innovation long after the economy recovers.
“We’ve taken a huge hammering,” said Koji Toshima, president of Yaskawa, Japan’s largest maker of industrial robots.
Profit at the company plunged by two-thirds, to 6.9 billion yen, about $72 million, in the year ended March 20, and it predicts a loss this year.
Across the industry, shipments of industrial robots fell 33 percent in the last quarter of 2008, and 59 percent in the first quarter of 2009, according to the Japan Robot Association.
Tetsuaki Ueda, an analyst at the research firm Fuji Keizai, expects the market to shrink by as much as 40 percent this year. Investment in robots, he said, “has been the first to go as companies protect their human workers.”
Related articles by Zemanta
- Panasonic Develops Medical Robot (time.com)
- For Building DIY Droids, It Helps to Live In Japan (hardware.slashdot.org)
- Robot Nurses in Homes Within Five Years (shoppingblog.com)
- Honda develops brain-wave controller for robot (cbc.ca)
- Japanese company does thriving trade in ‘fake friends’ (telegraph.co.uk)
- This Looks Healthy [Robots] (gizmodo.com)