TEPIA: Trip to Robot Wonderland






Hi everyone! In this blog post I will write about another school trip – this time to TEPIA, a tech company based in Japan which specializes in making robots. The tour showcased various high-end technologies made by TEPIA, many of which were robots.  I will highlight the exhibits I found interesting below.

The first exhibit I saw on the tour was a face recognition technology. A camera takes facial feature data and shows an estimate of the person’s gender and age on a large screen. I found the idea very interesting, but this technology wasn’t very accurate.  Many of the students were tagged with the wrong gender and age, some of which were so far off that it was funny!  (I was tagged as a 37-year-old woman).

Face recognition technology. A camera takes facial feature data and shows an estimate of the person’s gender and age.

Next, the tour guide showed us Paro, a pet seal robot used for therapeutic purposes.  Paro is used to help hospital and elderly-care patients recover.  Since many hospitals do not allow animals to enter due to health and sanitation reasons, Paro is a great substitute for a loving and furry companion.  Paro makes sounds and gestures that emulate real-life seals and has soft fur that is very pleasant to touch.  The benefits of animal therapy are well known.  Patients are often alone most of the day and that feeling of loneliness can inhibit their healing process.  Contact with another life-like being gives the patients happiness, which is why for many people Paro is truly a gift.  Although I believe that there is no substitute to real-life interaction with human beings and animals, Paro can give people a sense of companionship when they do not have any other alternatives.

Paro, a pet seal robot used for therapeutic purposes.

Another health-industry TEPIA technology was a walker for elderly people.  This electronic walker for elderly people was truly wonderful!  When walking on an incline, the walker becomes lighter and thus it is easier for the person using it to walk up hills.  When on a decline, the walker becomes heavier.  If the person using the walker lets go of the handles, the walker automatically stops in place.  Thus, this “smart” walker can prevent accidents from happening such as the elderly person losing control of the walker when on a decline because of the speed at which the walker is being dragged downwards or losing control of the walker because the person let go of the handles.  Also, for the person’s convenience, the walker has a seat that one can sit on to rest.

Some robots made by TEPIA for the manufacturing sector make the lives of factory workers easier or help supplement the declining human workforce due to the decline of the population in Japan.  One of these was a robot called CarriRo.  CarriRo is a special cart robot that can carry up to 150 kg.  It has several modes, one of which is that it follows the person holding the remote control.  The tour guide explained that this mode is called duck mode, since like a baby duck it follows its mother (in this case the person holding the remote).  CarriRo makes it safer and easier for workers to take things from place to place.

The other manufacturing robot was an industrial robot used for high-precision factory work.  It can move in five different ways and can move at extremely rapid speeds.  This industrial robot helps supplement the decline in the Japanese population.

Another technology of interest was an environmentally-friendly technology.  Instead of using trees to make paper and thus decimating many forests, this TEPIA technology uses limestone to make strong, durable, and waterproof paper.  The tour guide explained that in the future they may be able to even use this material to build buildings! I really care about the environment, so I think this technology is awesome!

An environmentally-friendly technology. Instead of using trees to make paper and thus decimating many forests, this TEPIA technology uses limestone to make strong, durable, and waterproof paper.

The tour guide also showed us a program developed by TEPIA that can translate things people say from one language to another by writing it on a screen.  She demonstrated this program on a tablet.  For example, a doctor might need to explain to her patient what part of their body is broken or unhealthy.  The doctor can display the patient’s x-ray scan on the tablet and circle the problematic areas of the body with the stylus.  Then when she says something and then swipes her finger on the screen the words she said will be shown in the patient’s language.  There are many other potential uses for such a technology, such as in education and business, but it is still inaccurate and TEPIA is working to improve it.

We were also shown a video explaining the building process of the Sky Tree, the tallest tower in the world – a structure 634 meters high.  The video explained how the engineering team came over many obstacles, such as the 2011 earthquake.  I really enjoyed this video; it was fascinating.  Such a large and complex structure was built in just four years!!  There was one thing I disliked about this video, though.  The video showed various pictures of the engineering and building teams, but there were no women in these pictures whatsoever.  As a woman and a future engineer myself, this was kind of offensive, but I understand that in many places, including Japan, women are still being discriminated against in the workforce, particularly in STEM.  I hope that Japan will change for the better in the future.

We were also shown a room with various robots made by high school students from all over Japan for the TEPIA Challenge competition, a room with various programming exercises with robots, and two 3D printers and a laptop with AutoCAD 3D modeling software.  I enjoyed looking at the various robots and I also played around with the AutoCAD software (though I was not able to make anything since the software was in Japanese and it was hard for me to understand).

Two 3D printers and a laptop with AutoCAD 3D modeling software.

Overall, I learned a lot and had a good time.  Japan is known for its wonderful high-tech sector and TEPIA did not disappoint in that matter.  In the future, I hope that I will be able to work on interesting projects as an engineer, particularly ones that are environmentally-friendly.

So, are you guys getting sick of hearing only about school trips? Well, these are the highlights of my (gloomy) existence, so bear with me. Learning Japanese is fun and satisfying but it also requires a lot of hard work and dedication. So, sometimes you just have to take a break (luckily my school takes me out on these awesome trips!!!) These school-trip posts are especially meant to show people with the I’m-going-to-study-all-day mindset (including myself) that there’s more to a country than just the language and your textbooks ain’t gonna teach you that.

You can learn about the culture of a country by going on trips and making friends with locals or you can simply observe your everyday surroundings and glean meaningful insights from them. (Note: when people-watching on the train, please try not to stare too hard – even if you’re burning with curiosity!!!).

In my next blog post, I’ll write about the challenge of keeping dietary restrictions in Japan. Ja, mina-san, mattane! See you next time!