Bridgestone Corporation (Bridgestone) today announced that it has commenced a Proof of Concept (PoC) for using soft-robot hands to automatically perform piece-picking, the process of picking and transporting individual items, at logistics sites. Looking ahead, the company will seek to achieve small-scale commercialization of soft-robotics business through co-creation with various partners during the next Mid Term Business Plan (2024-2026).
With Bridgestone’s soft-robotics business aiming at supporting the lives of all individuals through the power of rubber, Bridgestone strives to achieve its corporate commitment for “Empowerment: Committed to contributing to a society that ensures accessibility and dignity for all” described in its “Bridgestone E8 Commitment.”*1
Bridgestone’s soft-robotics business is a new challenge in its diversified products business area to support safe mobility and movement of people and objects. Capitalizing on its core competencies “mastering rubber” and “mastering road contact,” and leveraging its tires and hoses development and production know-how, Bridgestone is developing rubber actuators (artificial rubber muscles) to explore new business models for commercialization. Bridgestone’s rubber actuators feature flexibility, impact resistance, light weight and high power. Utilizing these characteristics, the company thereby aims to help address social and customer issues such as labor shortages and demand for non-contact interactions through automation of various tasks that currently require human hands, with soft-robot arms and hands.
In July 2022, Bridgestone commenced a PoC together with wholesalers of daily necessities and various items, robot manufacturers, and other partners in which soft-robot hands equipped with Bridgestone rubber actuators are used to automate piece-picking processes in logistics warehouses. It is difficult for a single conventional robot to pick up objects with various shapes, levels of rigidity, and weights, such as tubes, bottles, and pouches, therefore automatic piece-picking using robots is a demanding problem. A single soft-robot hand equipped with Bridgestone’s rubber actuators, meanwhile, is able to achieve “just the right” grip of various objects. The company will continue to move forward with PoC together with its partners in pursuit of the quick practical application of soft-robot hands for logistics piece-picking applications.
Norikazu Otoyama, General Manager of Soft Robotics Business Preparation Office, offers the following comment with regard to the start of PoC.
“It would not be an exaggeration to say that co-creation forms the basis for all of Bridgestone’s exploratory businesses (new businesses). I believe that gaining understanding from our partners regarding our business to create new social and customer value and to start the PoC at the site of a partner represents a large step forward in the soft-robotics business. From the perspective of the declining birthrate, aging population, and the need to avoid contact between people due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there is rising demand for automation in areas where people work, which is drawing attention to soft-robotics that can collaborate together with people. Through its tire business, Bridgestone has continued to support the mobility of people and objects from the ground up. With its legacy in tire business, we look forward to creating new value together with various partners through our soft-robotics business in the future.”
Bridgestone has positioned recycle business, soft-robotics business, and guayule business as exploratory businesses and is exploring technology and business models in new fields where its core competencies can be leveraged to achieve sustainable future growth. Moreover, the company seeks to foster entrepreneurs through new undertakings and the exploratory businesses are areas where talent with entrepreneurial spirit come together. In the soft-robotics business as well, talent ambitious in creating a new business from zero are swiftly advancing projects unbound by past conventions as an internal venture with the goal of quickly commercializing the soft-robotics business. Bridgestone will continue to develop exploratory businesses as a means of giving diverse talent a diverse range of opportunities in which to excel.