How Japan Is Making “The Jetsons” World A Reality

Judith Soto,

Remember The Jetsons? Despite being over fifty years old, this children’s cartoon is still used as a reference point for what we imagine the future may look like. Hanna-Barbera produced and first aired the cartoon in the early 1960s; and how we loved it. From flying, driverless cars, robotic pets and servants, flatscreen TVs, to video chat – The Jetsons gave us a glimpse into family life in the 21st century (2062 to be precise).  

Although cars are still planted firmly on the road (for now), long-haul truck bots and driverless delivery vehicles may only be a few years away. And flatscreen TVs and video chat have been part of our lives for over a decade.

As for robots. Well, they’re coming too. In fact, they are already among us.

Where are the robots?

If you want to see a place where robots are embraced and robotic technology is cutting -edge, Japan should be on your must-visit list.  

Take Pepper, the world’s first commercially available social robot. It is a product of Softbank, ソフトバンクグループ株式会社, the second largest public trading company in Japan and a world leader in the development of telecommunications, technology, and of course, robotics. Around 15% of Softbank’s trademarks are in class 9 (Electric and Scientific Devices). Overall, in the field of robotics, Japan currently has around 15 thousand of valid trademarks. By comparison, the valid trademarks for robotic products in the United States, which has over double the population, is over 23 thousand. 

The reason for Japan’s foray into robotics is a simple one – it has a desperate shortage of labor. With the oldest population in the world and a strict immigration policy (which is loosening, but nowhere near fast enough to keep up with the labor shortages), Japan has turned to robots and AI to help support a demographic in which a third are over sixty years of age.  

Although Japan’s birthrate has stagnated (some studies project that in fifty years, Japan's population will be down to half of its current numbers), its drive to create alternative labor through robots is moving at a rapid rate. One of the biggest growth areas is in care and companionship for the elderly. For example, Sensibot has valid registered trademarks in classes 7,9, and 10 in the fields of “clinics, hospitals, home care, surgical robot to assist, cleaning robot for home, cleaning robot for business, robot to assist drug manufacture, and robots for assembly”. Most of these fields are related to eldercare and/or health.

Robotic exoskeleton trademarks

Not only do robotics assist with the needs of the elderly who require day-to-day support and friendship, but they also help people to stay in work for longer. One such example is that of robotic exoskeletons, which are wearable frameworks controlled by computers and powered by a system of motors, pneumatics, levers, and hydraulics. They are at the forefront of rehabilitation, especially for those who have suffered spinal injuries. For older workers who struggle to lift or are not as mobile, a robotic exoskeleton can allow them to remain active in the workplace.

Japan currently has three valid registered trademarks for robotic exoskeletons, the same number as China and South Korea, the other tech powerhouses in the region. Given the enormous advantages of this technology, trademarks in this area are likely to increase significantly over the coming years.

In summary

Japan has always led the world in technological developments. But its concentration on robotics is borne out of a necessity that all nations will soon face. 

We have now reached ‘peak child’. The world’s population is expected to hit around nine billion between 2040 and 2060 and then start to fall. Japan’s shrinking population is a case-study in how fewer people will affect human evolution. The country is currently set to lose the equivalent of a midsized city every year for the foreseeable future. But it will not be alone for long.  Every nation on earth is on track to have a smaller, older workforce by the turn of the century.  

Humans need robots to meet this new challenge.  Japan is showing us that man and machine can not only co-exist but can actually thrive together.  

The world of the Jetsons is becoming our new reality.

Fact Sheet - A Spotlight on Asia

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By Judith Soto

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