Vol.2 The New Frontier of FA with CC-Link/CC-Link IE

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Special Interview

A conversation with the CLPA's Engineering Adviser, Professor Kabe

Exploring new applications for CC-Link globally

The CC-Link Partner Association (CLPA) appointed Prof. Kabe as an engineering adviser in 2012. He is a professor of the faculty of human sciences at Waseda University and has been engaged in research and development of advanced medical and social care robots. We interviewed him about the role of the engineering adviser and a new direction for CLPA. Prof. Kabe, whose background includes the development of factory automation (FA) devices, assists the direction of CLPA using his wide viewpoints and sophisticated knowledge about automation technology. He will work on the promotion of CC-Link and CC-Link IE to non-FA fields from a global viewpoint.

─Please tell us about your background. Prof. KabeI studied robotics at Tokyo University's mechanical engineering department before joining Mitsubishi Electric Corporation. There, I worked on the development of FA devices and industrial networks. In April 2003, Waseda University opened its Department of Health Sciences and Social Welfare. This gave me the opportunity to change career and become a university professor. ─Would you tell us about your research theme? Prof. KabeOne of the major research themes is development of a "human-service robot" used in the medical and welfare fields. I am working on the development of a system that supports the health and medical services offered at various places in people's lives, such as in hospitals, cities, transportation, and homes, to help offer solutions to problems accompanied with the super-aging of society.
I have been carrying out my research under the concept of "social implementation", developing an entire service covering the administration of actual operation sites and a business model for the operation, rather than developing hardware or software for a particular-function robot.

Application to service robots
Fig.1: Sleep apnea syndrome support robot "Jukusui-kun"
─Would you introduce the products of your research? Prof. KabeI currently have two major products: "Jukusui-kun" and "Tocco-chan". Jukusui-kun helps people with sleep apnea syndrome. Tocco-chan is intended to reduce vulnerability to "locomotive syndrome", a high-risk state in which the activities of bones, joints, and muscles are decreased, decreasing the independence of one's life and requiring nursing care (Fig. 1 and 2).
Sleep apnea syndrome, in which people often stop breathing or breathe infrequently during sleep, not only imposes a great load on one's body but also may cause other diseases, such as high-blood pressure, diabetes mellitus, or cardiac infarction. With the current medical treatment, a patient has to wear a device, such as a breathing mask. Such a device is a great inconvenience for patients. To ease this load, I have been developing Jukusui-kun.
Jukusui-kun is a stuffed-bear robot having robot arms and a microphone that detects snoring. While used as a pillow, Jukusui-kun moves its arms to softly tap a patient's head or to move his/her face sideways when it detects apnea or infrequent respiration to help him/her breathe.
Jukusui-kun detects apnea or infrequent respiration based on the blood oxygen level that is detected with a pulse oximeter "Mini Jukusui-kun" attached to patient's fingertip and based on snoring that is detected with its microphone. I employed cordless communication between Jukusui-kun and Mini Jukusui-kun so as not to disturb one's sleep. When I presented this prototype at the international robot exhibition in 2011, many people were interested in it and it was introduced through newspaper and TV programs in Japan and overseas.
Fig.2: Locomotive-training support robot "Tocco-chan"
─Would you tell us about "Tocco-chan"? Prof. KabeTocco-chan is a panda robot, and its first prototype was developed to cause its user to laugh in order to promote his/her health. For this purpose, actuators for moving the arms and legs, a voice-recognition function, and a face-recognition function are built in. Since an algorithm to detect smiles is built into the face-recognition function, the Tocco-chan can keep talking with various gestures until the user smiles. I have been developing the second Tocco-chan that supports training for locomotive syndrome prevention by improving the mechanism for wider applications. Specifically, the second Tocco-chan will motivate a patient who takes the necessary training by talking and showing comical actions to entertain him/her. For the control of the actuators, commercially-available programmable controllers and CC-Link are used.
In my laboratory, in addition to producing prototypes of human-service robots such as Jukusui-kun and Tocco-chan, I study business models for implementing these robots.
Expanding the possibility of CC-Link and CC-Link IE

─Would you tell us about your role as the engineering adviser? Prof. KabeI attend each committee held by CLPA and activities of various working groups under CLPA as an adviser. One of my major roles is to give advice about the direction of technology development and marketing strategies related to CC-Link and CC-Link IE. I think that CLPA expects me to give opinions or advice based on the wider viewpoint of a person who has put oneself in a university, and who has wide networks across various industries and fields. I also give information about the latest trends of advanced technology and applications, which are important to determine plans for CC-Link and CC-Link IE.
In particular, I think that I need to give advice for improving the technology of CC-Link and CC-Link IE and for promoting the activities of the CLPA to strengthen global competitiveness of users and member companies. Many industrial network standards were created at a certain period. Many such networks were eliminated, but there are still several networks. To strengthen the presence of CC-Link and CC-Link IE and to increase the global share, activities and technology development considering the needs of users in advance are essential. I l give advice based on these concepts.
─What is your goal as an engineering adviser? Prof. KabeThe major goal is to promote the status of CC-Link and CC-Link IE in the global market. For this purpose, it is important to pay attention to new trends that are globally growing in various fields including non-FA fields. Fusion of information-communication technology (ICT) and FA is especially important. For example, "big data", with which meaningful information is extracted to build a new application system, is gathering interest as a key for new business mainly in the ICT field. However, compared to the ICT field, the FA field has not been interested in big data yet, although this is now beginning to change as we hear talk of "Industry 4.0". I believe that people involved in the FA field must understand that big data can have a large impact and possibility to be related with FA. Information networks collecting big data and industrial networks collecting data from sensors at actual FA sites are both indispensable. The application of big data can only be expanded by personnel and field staff at sites who analyze the data and determine its use.
For example, home electronics and service robots that "talk" are becoming more common. If using robots in our various lives becomes the norm, the robots will be connected to each other through a network. I think that the architecture of this network will be developed combining an information network and an industrial network.
─In other words, the technology of CC-Link and CC-Link IE will be more likely to be used in non-FA fields, won't it? Prof. KabeExactly. In fact, the technology of CC-Link and CC-Link IE is already used in large robots at attractions in museums or theme parks. CC-Link and CC-Link IE will be more and more used in non-FA fields.
If human-service robots, such as the locomotive-training support robot "Tocco-chan" and the sleep apnea syndrome support robot "Jukusui-kun" that I presented before, are used in many households, application software connecting such robots through networks may be developed. I think that we, people outside the FA field, can notice these new needs related to CC-Link and CC-Link IE faster than anyone inside the FA field. As an engineering adviser, I will positively work on pioneering new needs and pursuing No. 1 in the world together with you.

Prof. Akiyoshi KabeFaculty of Human Sciences, Waseda University School of Human Sciences
Department of Health Sciences and Social Welfare Robot Media Laboratory Waseda Research
Institute for Science and Engineering Professor

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