Hitachi, Fanuc, AI startup forming automation joint venture

Deep learning, edge computing will be deployed for ‘smart’ factory production

Fanuc is looking to give these machines “intelligence” by working together with Hitachi and AI startup Preferred Networks.

TOKYO – HitachiFanuc and AI-startup Preferred Networks are creating a joint venture to develop manufacturing systems that combine artificial intelligence and edge computing technologies to achieve superior productivity.

Intelligent Edge System will be capitalized at 30 million yen ($275,000), with the three companies contributing an equal amount, the trio said Wednesday. The joint venture will be established April 2 in Yamanashi Prefecture, where industrial robot and factory automation company Fanuc is headquartered.

The new company will be led by Yutaka Saito, currently an executive at Hitachi. He will take up the post of senior executive vice president at Fanuc on April 1 and become the joint venture’s CEO.

Intelligent Edge System will develop fast, real-time control systems for network-linked industrial robots and machine tools. By utilizing deep learning AI technology, these control systems will “learn” and “become smarter” as linked machines manufacture products.

Deep learning is a type of AI technology designed to mimic the human brain’s functions to sift through information more efficiently and speed up data analysis. The technology, a strong suit of Preferred Networks, is expected to boost production line productivity by making it possible for robots to recognize different bolts and nuts and adjust their moves accordingly, for instance. It will also likely enable robots to automatically take on the task of an adjacent robot on the production line if it breaks down.

Edge computing will also play a major role in the joint venture’s control systems. Instead of centrally processing data, the technology handles the task at the edge of the network, letting machines on the production line process the massive amount of data, such as the movement of mechanical hands, on the spot.

Preferred Networks is an unlisted AI venture boasting some 100 engineers. At 232.6 billion yen, it ranked No. 1 in terms of business value in a November survey of rising Japanese startups by The Nikkei.

The AI developer’s expertise has been highly sought after by such major Japanese corporations as Toyota Motor and Nippon Telegraph & Telephone.

The leading Japanese automaker invested 11.5 billion yen in Preferred Networks, with the hope that the startup’s expertise will help development of autonomous vehicles that can learn various driving conditions by processing data by themselves rather than relying on cloud-computing.

NTT’s initial interest in Preferred Networks was big data analysis, but the tie-up with the startup led to a partnership with Toyota in the development of “connected vehicles.”

Author: Nikkei staff writers
February 1, 2018 4:58 am JST

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