INNOVATORS VS COVID 19
How Robots Play Their Role in the Pandemic
Shunsuke Aoki, founder of Yukai Engineering tells us about the role of robotics in fun living.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Shunsuke Aoki: My family and coworkers are doing well.
Tell us about you, your career, and how you founded Yukai Engineering.
Shunsuke Aoki: I co-founded TeamLab in college and served as CTO for seven years. After participating in the founding of the online community Pixiv, I co-founded Yukai Engineering in 2011 as a robot business.
How does Yukai Engineering innovate?
Shunsuke Aoki: Our company vision is “Robotics for Fun Living,” and we aim for a future in which robots are used in all homes. With our mission in mind, our engineers and designers work together to plan, manufacture and sell robots.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Shunsuke Aoki: Due to the pandemic and an increased number of people staying at home, there has been an increased demand for our therapeutic cushion robot “Qoobo.” This was featured in the news as well in digital trends and Japan Times. In addition, the opportunities to go outside have decreased, and many elderly people have been deprived of the opportunity to interact and talk with others. Using our product BOCCO, we started a service that provides isolated seniors opportunities to have a conversation via robots. NHK (Japan Broadcasting Corporation) started an annual robot-making competition last year, and Yukai Engineering provides the official robot kits. In addition, NHK (Japan’s national broadcast) has begun to hold a robot production competition for elementary school students online, and Yukai Engineering provides the official robot production kits and programming tools.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Shunsuke Aoki: Everything that was previously handled offline we now had to do online. The launch of our official e-commerce site went very well; however, online trade shows such as CES have significantly reduced our chances of business negotiations.
What specific tools, software, and management skills are you using to navigate this crisis?
Shunsuke Aoki: We mainly use the following tools:
- Shopify: e-commerce
- Zoom: online meetings and seminars
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Shunsuke Aoki: LOVOT is one of our competitors as an at-home robot; however, we are focused on affordable robots that are easily used in the home.
Your final thoughts?
Shunsuke Aoki: I believe the pandemic is bringing irreversible changes to society. The transition to digital tools such as online conferencing tools and e-commerce, which became widely used during the pandemic, will not be undone.
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