Mr. Tomotaka Takahashi is a creator of humanoid robots and the founder of Robo Garage, Co., Ltd. (Robo Garage). His small (40 cm or less) creations are characterized by their fluid motions- walking, running, jumping, raising arms, crouching down, waking up and turning – which make them seem alive.
Mr. Takahashi, robot creator, shares his IP experience (Video: WIPO) Video
Mr. Takahashi's original inspiration was the Astroboy humanoid robot manga written by Mr. Osamu Tezuka, who illustrated how to construct a humanoid robot in detail. This comic fueled Mr. Takahashi's dream of having a job involving the creation of robots. The chance arrived in 1999 when he was accepted to Kyoto University's Faculty of Engineering where he began his studies and eventually started a career as a robot creator.
At Kyoto University, Mr. Takahashi's main concern was the unnatural way in which robots walked bending their knees in a half sitting position so he focused on developing a technology that would give a robot a smooth and human-like walking motion. He first invented a technology to enable a biped robot to walk on a steel plate on the floor by switching on/off electromagnets placed at the back of the robot's feet. The technology was installed inside an existing plastic model robot which he named Biped Walking ZAKU. This first technology was followed by the design of his first original robot named MAGDAN.
Building on his first invention, Mr. Takahashi went on to develop a bipedal mechanism which made more fluid and upright walking possible without the use of a steel plate on the floor. He named this technology the SHIN-walk and incorporated it for the first time in his CHROINO robot design.
The industrial design of FT is registered in Japan and the US (Photo: WIPO)
Mr. Takahashi's FT (Female Type) model became the world’s first humanoid robot to walk and move in a feminine way, based on his observation of fashion show models. Other robot engineers had avoided making female type robots, as they require a slim profile which makes it difficult to place all the necessary components inside the body and also affects the balance needed for walking. The FT's unique design and movement instantly allows people to recognize it as a female robot.
Another common walking-related problem faced by most robots that Mr. Takahashi later set out to solve was that of losing balance when bending or stretching. Mr. Takahashi solved this problem by inventing a biped walking mechanism which he incorporated in his ROPID - Rapid Robot - design which can make quick movements including running and jumping.
People often think that robot design/creation requires cutting edge technologies and a super-computer, but Mr. Takahashi mostly designs and creates robots with his hands and asserts that it is not so important whether a robot is made from high or low technology, as long as smooth and natural movements are accomplished. As he mostly works alone, he does not need a blue print to share his ideas during the robot-making process. He does not use computer aided design (CAD) either because he is certain that human curves and shapes come from a hand-made process, whereas a computer creates mathematically simpler curves. As he designs, creates and programs the robots by himself, it takes him nearly six to twelve months to create one original robot.
Robot, its joint mechanism, and method of controlling the joint mechanism(PCT Application no.: PCT/JP2007/000368, PATENTSCOPE® search)
Bipedal walking mechanism (Application no.: 2004-163953, Industrial Property Digital Library)
Mr. Takahashi decided to patent his first invention after seeing an announcement for patent consultations being offered by his University's technology licensing organization (Kansai TLO). A consultation visit to this TLO convinced him of the need and advantages of filing for a patent for the electromagnetic absorption bipedal walking of his first robot, ZAKU. The first patent application was filed with the Japan Patent Office (JPO) through Kansai TLO in 2000. Four other patent applications on bipedal walking robots followed between 2001 and 2002.
In 2004 when Mr. Takahashi invented the innovative bipedal locomotion named SHIN-Walk, the TLO immediately filed a patent application with the JPO. In 2007, Kyoto University filed an application with the JPO for his bipedal walking robot that can make quick movements without losing its balance. That same year, Mr. Takahashi filed an international application jointly with a Japanese new product development company under the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) system for a robot, its joint mechanism, and method of controlling the joint mechanism.
Mr. Takahashi shares the patents with the university and the TLO because it is difficult for his small company to manage patents, and also because the name of a large and respected institution such as Kyoto University guarantees his credibility to his potential clients
Mr. Takahashi's vision is that in the future, humans will have regular conversations with technology and based on the content of those conversations the machines will take care of the person's needs (for example, turn set the bathwater to a specific temperature, open the blinds at a certain time). For such a conversation to take place, it is essential that the technology is embodied in a design that facilitates such an exchange, similar to the way a child will speak to a teddy bear. For this reason, Mr. Takahashi takes great care in designing his humanoid robots providing them not only the technology but also the appearance of being alive.
Mr. Takahashi protects his robot designs mostly through his commercial partners. For instance, a company registered his robot design with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) in 2005. His designs of a radio controlled toy robot and the female type robot were registered at the JPO and at the USPTO between 2006 and 2007.
The trademark of the company is registered in Japan (Registration no.: 4841627, Industrial Property Digital Library)
Mr. Takahashi protects the names of his company and robots with trademarks in Japan. In 2005, his company name, Robo Garage, was registered with the JPO. In 2006, CHROINO was registered at the JPO in English and Japanese letters, and this robot's logo was registered jointly with a Japanese company at almost the same time. In 2007, FT was registered at the JPO in Japanese letters, and most recently, ROPID was registered in English letters in 2010.
In his final year as a student at the university, Mr. Takahashi consulted with a professor in charge of the TLO and Intellectual Property (IP) about ways to make robot creation his profession. Soon after this consultation, an incubation center was established at the university to support entrepreneurial students like him. Mr. Takahashi founded his venture company as the first incubation company of Kyoto University in 2003 and established his office inside the University.
Mr. Takahashi's one-of-a kind robots made without blue prints make it challenging for external companies to commercialize them. This is why most of his robots are not commercially available. Nevertheless, his patented bipedal walking technologies have been licensed and commercialized. For example, Kyosho Corporation, a Japanese toy manufacturing company, produced robots named GUN WALKER (on sale from 2002) and MANOI (on sale from 2006). TETSUJIN 28 GO (on sale from 2006), manufactured by Vstone Co., Ltd., is another example of the commercialization of Mr. Takahashi's bipedal walking technology.
Mr. Takahashi assigned three of his industrial design rights to companies to protect the robot designs and also shares trademark rights with a company to protect his robot's logo.
EVOLTA CAR succeeded in running at Le Mans for 24 hours (Photo: WIPO)
The technologies and designs incorporated in Mr. Takahashi's humanoid robots are mostly demonstrated at exhibitions and events in Japan and abroad. Mr. Takahashi attracted international attention when CHROINO was nominated as Time Magazine's Coolest Invention of 2004 in the year following the establishment of his company. Between 2004 and 2008, he won the world championships of RoboCup, an international initiative fostering robotics and artificial intelligence research and education, as a core member of Team Osaka.
Companies and research institutions interested in Mr. Takahashi's work at exhibitions offer him various business proposals, including licensing agreements for his patented technologies and industrial designs, joint development of new robots, consultation on specific projects, new robot design, or commercialization of his robots, among others. Mr. Takahashi has not received as much return as he expected from licensing fees because the robotics market is not very big.
However he has found that his clients usually appreciate and find added-value in his work if he combines the technology (patented) with a design element (protected with industrial design rights) and a brand element (protected with trademark rights) and showcases them as one set.
A business venture which has provided much media attention for Mr. Takahashi's creations is the EVOLTA series of robots, designed and created by Mr. Takahashi to prove the power of EVOLTA batteries manufactured by Panasonic Corporation. The battery-powered robots succeeded in climbing the Grand Canyon's cliff (at a height of 530 meters) in 2008, running in Le Mans for 24 hours in 2009 (certified by Guinness World Records as the longest-lasting AA alkaline battery cell in the world), and traveling 500km from Tokyo to Kyoto in 2010.
Mr. Takahashi has firmly established a reputation as a robot creator in less than 10 years from his first invention. His story is an example of how a TLO can play a significant role to support a student inventor to become an entrepreneur and leading expert in an industry through the utilization of intellectual property rights.
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Date of publication: January 28, 2011