First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Yuki Nakagawa: We are well. Thank you. I’m the president and founder of my company, and my husband is CTO.
Well, we decided to work from home against the pandemic before the government shutdown. However, we live near my company 5mins on foot. Therefore, employees work from home, and we support real work at the office. Our engineers make CAD models at home, and another engineer printed them out by 3D printer at home to assemble. Software engineers get in touch with the robot through the internet to test their software at the office. They watched a robot moving scene from home through the web camera in the office. We think living in the SF world…
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded RT Corporation.
Yuki Nakagawa: I started my job as an AI for robotics researcher at the university. Researcher, sub-leader of exhibitions in a science museum and one small company. I raised my company in 2005. I hoped to make smart AI for robots. However, there was no good hardware at that time. Therefore, I decided to work for advanced AI and robotics training materials for universities and corporations. We got cutting-edge technologies to contribute to researchers through training materials customization. Since 2017, we got investments in VC to realize collaborative robots to work in the food factory.
How does RT Corporation innovate?
Yuki Nakagawa: We are developing a robot topping food into a tray on the belt conveyor working with human staff in a food factory. “Foodly” is the name of the robot.
Food factory work has many challenges from the view of AI and robotics. The basis of challenges are small lot production and many kinds of food. Add to say, hard things for AI is the difference of shape and looks of each food. For robots, not only soft and complex shape handling but working next to humans gives challenges. We solved these challenges with the service robot approach. Specifically, physical AI for robots and deep learning vision systems are realizing this robot service.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Yuki Nakagawa: We started this development in 2017. We didn’t think about this situation at that time. Many food factories think to put robots between human staff to make social distancing in the belt conveyor line. We believe our robots to help food factory production.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Yuki Nakagawa: The most difficult problem was that there were some single employees who were lonely because he/she worked from home and didn’t speak a word. Therefore, we used an online tool called discord to create rooms for each department so that we could have casual conversations and simple meetings since May 2020. We learned that human relationship requires physical closed distance.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety?
Yuki Nakagawa: Fear and worry often arise from ignorance, so I read papers on viruses and history books on the pandemic from 100 years ago. To reassure employees, I spread the word about infection prevention at a time when not much information was available and switched the company to work from home before the government declared a state of emergency.
Anticipating some scenarios of what would happen next from a historical perspective and thinking about how our business could contribute helped us to calm down and reassure our employees of our expectations.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Yuki Nakagawa: AI/robot companies are competitors of the technology aspect. Staffing service companies are also competitors from service.
The food factory has a line contracting business, where a team of staffing workers is active. We’re teaming up with a staffing company to sell robots and work with a team that includes robots as a service to our customers. Don’t hesitate to use robots in the factory to avoid COVID-19.
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