Auto manufacturer Honda will install robots developed at Neve Ilan near Jerusalem in its assembly line. The robots were developed in a joint venture by Israeli entrepreneur Ran Poliakine and Honda subsidiary Musashi Seimitsu, a tier-1 supplier of parts to the Japanese auto industry. Poliakine is known as the founder of Powermat, which developed technology for wireless charging of smartphones.
Last month, Musashi Al, the joint venture, completed a pilot with Honda for one of its products - a robot for testing the quality of parts on the production line. The company now reports that it has received orders from customers in the auto industry, headed by Honda, which will install the robot in its assembly line in the coming months. The company is not revealing the size of the order, but market sources say that the deal with Honda is in the tens of millions of dollars.
Musashi Al has been working at Neve Ilan for six months, and has 30 development employees. The company also has dozens of production workers in Japan. Following completion of the pilot, the company is expanding, and plans to increase the number of its employees to 100-200 by the end of the year.
Poliakine holds 49% of the shares in the joint venture through SixEye Interactive, his software company, while Musashi Seimitsu holds 51%. Poliakine founded Powermat in 2006 with former Blackberry CEO Thorsten Heins. Two years later, a dispute in the company between Poliakine and some of the shareholders led to the replacement of Heins and the appointment of Elad Dubzinski as CEO. Powermat still operates; its charging stations are deployed in Starbucks branches in the US.
"1.6 million Japanese test components manually"
The joint venture has developed two products for automated assembly lines so far: an optical system for detecting defects in metal parts on auto production lines and an automated forklift for factories. The company displayed both of them at the artificial intelligence (AI) exhibition in Tokyo this month. The quality testing robot completed a successful pilot at Honda, while the forklift began a pilot in October. "It was very difficult to develop a machine to replace a human being in quality testing, because it operates the hands, which is robotics; sees, which is optics; and makes a decision, which is AI," Poliakine told "Globes."
According to Poliakine, Israel has a great deal of know-how in computer vision and AI, while Japan has a lot of expertise in robotics. The combination of these led to the development of a robot for testing the quality of components. To the best of Poliakine's knowledge, this will be the first such use of a robot. The robot contains an arm that holds parts and puts them into a box in the robot's "chest," where it scans the parts using cameras and sensors and detects defects in a few seconds, based on AI and machine learning capabilities.
"The automotive industry in Japan consists of eight million people, 1.6 million of whom, 20%, test the components manually. If a machine can do this work, these people can do something else productive, because there's no productivity in quality assurance," Poliakine adds. He says that in addition to the lower cost of these machines in comparison with quality assurance employees, such a robot can provide a country like Japan with a solution for another problem: lack of personnel.
In contrast to Western countries, where replacing people by robots arouses alarm, the attitude towards this process in Japan is different. The Japanese population is aging because of its especially low fertility rates, leading to a shortage of people for Japanese industry. Robots are likely to solve this problem. There is therefore a great emphasis in Japan on promoting AI technologies, and SoftBank is one of the leaders in this trend.
The Japanese minister of economy, who visited Israel at the head of a senior delegation early this year, attended the signing of a cooperation agreement between Poliakine and Musashi Seimitsu. It was the largest delegation of Japanese leaders ever to visit Israel. A conference in honor of the visit celebrated improvement in relations between the two countries. This improvement was reflected in Israeli exports to Japan, which reached $1.16 billion in 2018, 42% more than in 2017.
Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on April 15, 2019
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