ATOUN : Wearable Robotics– Power to the People
Wearable robotics manufacturer ATOUN Inc. is fine-tuning its efforts to assist workers in a variety of industries. Katayama Osamu reports.
ATOUN Inc. is located in Nara, Nara Prefecture, an ancient city that nurtured Japanese culture in the eighth century when it was the nation’s capital. The company is situated within the grounds of the Narayama Research Park, which is surrounded by ancient tombs and residential districts.
“The sky is huge. It’s like Silicon Valley here. This is the perfect place for creative activities,” says Fujimoto Hiromichi, the company’s president, with a laugh.
ATOUN Inc. President Fujimoto Hiromichi speaks at a trade show.
ATOUN was founded in 2003 as an in-house venture company of Panasonic Corporation. The company is presently capitalized by Panasonic Corporation (69.8%) and Mitsui and Co. (29.9%). ATOUN is a fabless company that focuses on research and development and outsources production to other companies.
Having graduated from what is now the Division of Sustainable Energy and Environmental Engineering at the Graduate School of Engineering, Osaka University, Fujimoto joined Matsushita Electric Industrial Co., the present-day Panasonic Corporation, in 1997. He developed materials for small motors.
In 2001, Panasonic Corporation established a fund for the establishment of in-house ventures, the Panasonic Spin-Up Fund. Panasonic Corporation prepared funds totaling 10 billion yen for three years in order to discover and nurture human resources who aspire to launch a business. Fujimoto applied for the first phase of the funds at the age of 30, in his fourth year after joining the company.
Fujimoto said, “I wanted to create robots like those straight out of science fiction novels. I expected that I would be able to launch a business if I developed products with a focus on practical aspects after finding out about the power assist suit.”
Fujimoto kept his plan on hold for a year because the business outlook was uncertain in the beginning, but after examining his plan carefully, he finally established a company in June 2003. Fujimoto launched his business from a small room like a garage with two team members. He now employs 27 men and women of all ages, the average age being 35.
Developing Powered Wear
ATOUN seeks to create a society in which everyone can perform efficiently regardless of their physical strength. That is, the company seeks to create robots that enable even the elderly to carry heavy items or go up steep slopes easily.
“From the beginning, I thought of wearable robots,” says Fujimoto.