September 24, 2012      

With the world’s biggest robot market and significant human-robot co-existence expected to become reality by 2020-25, Japan has a deserved reputation as a robotics world leader.

“Ethical and emotional barriers against new robots are not high in Japan, but people demand a high level of safety for those new technologies. This is our challenge and why we have started projects to develop safety regulations,” says Yoshihiro Nakabo, an assistant director at Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI).

A METI-funded, New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO) project, is busy developing safety standards and safety verification techniques for service robots.

As part of this effort, and in collaboration with Japan’s National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, NEDO established the Robot Safety Center in 2010.

?The Robot Safety Center was established [as] part of this R&D project, but it may continue after the project ends in 2014. We expect that some certification body will start certification on robot safety [based on ISO 13482] after 2014, and the Robot Safety Center may perform an important role, especially on the technical part of safety verification and testing,? says Nakabo, adding that it hasn’t yet been decided which certification body will be assigned to the task.

The Japan Robot Association (the country’s official deliberative body for ISO standardization) is actively promoting ISO 13482, but also drafts Japanese Industrial Standards and JARAS (Japan Robot Association Standards).

METI, which collaborates closely with robotics companies and university researchers, has been publishing robot policy guidelines in the areas of industrial policy and safety since 2004, including a 2007 document setting out government policy regarding next-generation intelligent robotics.
“These are neither laws nor mandatory regulations,” Nakabo points out. Neverthless, Nakabo believes that Japan is doing enough to stay on top of the new ethical, legal, and regulatory challenges posed by the growing use of robots.

Japan’s activities in robot regulation and legislation may not be as eye-catching as some of South Korea’s, but given policy makers’ commitment to actively developing practical safety standards and the maturity of the discussion around ethical and legal points of interest, Japan is currently ahead of the field in this important area.

Get an in-depth look at the course of action that each of these five world leaders is taking:

5.China : The lack of interest in robot-related legislation and regulation in China is a problem that must be urgently addressed.

4.United States: The United States is one of the few countries to enact robot-specific laws and regulations.

3.European Union: RoboLaw is a $1.9 million European Commission-funded project designed to prepare the way for the creation of legal and ethical guidelines.

2.South Korea: The Ministry of Knowledge Economy (MKE) is the official body responsible for overseeing legislation and regulation regarding robotics.

See related: Robots and the Law: Introduction Humankind?s new tool: who gets the blame when one screws up?
See related: Robot Law: A Global Perspective: First of a four-part series on how world regulators are bringing legislative and regulatory guidance to the robotics industry

Do you think governments and regulators in your country are doing enough to provide governance for robotic technology? Know of other legistlative and regulatory initiatives that you would like to see included in future coverage? Email us: [email protected]