FingerVision Inc. has been selected to participate in Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry's 2023 "Innovative Robot Research and Development Project (Food Field)" as a robotics vendor with cutting-edge technology. Through this initiative, FingerVision will pursue further functionality, convenience, and versatility in order to deploy the "multi-variety picking and placing robot" that has already been introduced to one food factory in many more factories and production lines.
◆METI's Innovative Robotics R&D project
This is a project promoted by METI with the aim of implementing robots in society starting in fiscal 2020, with investment focused on four areas: "facility management," "food," "retail," and "logistics warehouse."
Japan Ready-made Meal Association was selected as the representative body for the "food" field in 2023.
Link to METI's press release: https://www.meti.go.jp/policy/mono_info_service/mono/robot/230929_robotfriendly.html
One major theme of the project is the development and introduction of robots for filling side dish containers and bento boxes, and eight food manufacturing companies and 16 robotics technology vendors are working together to take on the challenge and commit to solving industry issues.
Link to Japan Ready-made Meal Association's press release:
◆Expectations of FingerVision's robotics technology
Following the activities of recent years, the Japan Ready-made Meal Association has clearly recognized that "end effectors'', equivalent to "robotic hands", hold the key to handling a wide variety of food types, such as those included in bento boxes and prepared dishes. Therefore, expectations are rising for a robot system that can handle a wide variety of foodstuffs and uses FingerVision's "tactile hand" as its core technology.
Lunch boxes and delicatessen ingredients are characterized by a wide variety of product types, amorphous shapes, and breakability, and while they can be easily managed by a human hand, from the perspective of robot technology, it is difficult to handle them accurately and delicately. Consequently, it has proved impossible to break away from the traditional manual-dependent production system used for decades.
Specifically, when looking at the action of filling food containers from the perspective of controlling a robot hand, it is important to grasp accurately (= grab without dropping) and handle delicately (= handle without breaking). This is because there is a trade-off relationship, and using traditional robot hands, it has not been possible to grasp and fill while carefully determining the correct grip force.
In contrast, FingerVision implements a vision-based tactile sensor in the robot hand, allowing it to handle food with the minimum amount of force without damaging items, and to detect slippage the moment it occurs without dropping them. When grasping items, instead of using a pre-determined force and firmness, the robot hand initially handles the items with minimal force and control, and gradually adds more force until it no longer detects slippage, in the same way as a human hand does. Consequently the trade-off between accurate and delicate can be eliminated, and the robot can fill bento boxes and side dish containers as easily as human can.
In addition, one outstanding feature of this technology is that the same degree of robot control can be applied regardless of the individual differences between food types, so there is no need for prior learning or long-term teaching. We have already introduced robots in food processing factories based on the technology's full compatibility with food plating, and we are working to introduce them in multiple other factories. In this project, we are collaborating with major robot maker, Yaskawa.