Mujin Story #4: The opportunity to move from manufacturing to logistics

When Mujin founders started Mujin in 2011, they knew what they want from each other: the ability to move fast, self-manage, and take ownership. Once Issei asked Rosen about what Rosen wants to do as a potential business. Rosen said: “We came here to automate all the factories”. In order to achieve even one automated factory people have to consider many different tasks which are not limited only to robots.

This story is about one of the most famous Mujin products and the first partnership.

Looking forward to an era when everyone uses industrial robots:  Please find another blog articles about Mujin, Inc.’s story here: Mujin Story

Mujin global product

While Mujin was working on providing solutions for our customers, the main product was developed. Back in 2014, Mujin had less than 10 employees with one salesperson, CEO Issei, and together they were aggressively developing our technology at a small office close to the national highway. It used to be a convenience store, and when you opened the backdoor, big trucks were rushing by. The noise was deafening, and the only meeting room was right in front of that space. And no space for development.
Mujin 2014
The biggest challenge when introducing automation by industrial robots is “teaching.” This is the process in which robots are programmed every move, and each time products must not change. The teaching process was a huge obstacle for the introduction of robots, especially in the logistics industry due to its multi-type, rapidly changing products (Robot Solutions For Logistics Automation).

Mujin’s core technology is real-time motion planning and control

Robots equipped with Mujin’s teachless technology, motion planning can think through movements themselves like humans. If the object can be seen or the movement destination specified, the robot will automatically move towards it like a human, while avoiding obstacles of its own accord, making it possible to “become closer to a human” inability. Being able to use robots in such a human-like way is an innovative breakthrough and a large step away from the world of teaching. But how to make it real?
Working on Mujin product
Mujin downloaded the task-based code into a new control panel, invented intelligent robotic controller technology, and launched the “Pick Worker” controller, a common platform for industrial robots, in January 2015. It’s like Android or iOS for smartphones. Previously, the interface for industrial robots was hard to use as it can be different from maker to maker. The robot wasn’t also smart, it would faithfully repeat whatever it was taught; that’s why the application was limited.
The Mujin Controller “Pick Worker” has necessary functions for piece-picking and bin-picking supplied all-in-one.

Completely teachless, it’s possible to start picking by robots in a few days

Mujin developed the only robot controller in the world that can directly control robots regardless of their brand. Through direct control, it is possible to automatically carry out fine operations and fine interference avoidance; and Mujin guarantees a level of control quality that distinguishes itself from other companies’ self-proclaimed “Intelligent Robot Controllers” which simply send basic coordinates to the robot controller and most robot movements are automatically generated.
Mujin Controller “Pick Worker”, bin-picking solution (2015)
Mujin’s product, the completely teachless intelligent controller “Pick Worker” won one of the most valuable awards: the 7th Robot Award from the Minister of Economy, Trade, and Industry in October 2016.
The “Pick Worker” system computes the collision-free robot motions in real-time and executes them on a real robot to pick up the workpieces while automatically recovering from inoperable states. For the first time in history, non-expert users can set up, edit, and deploy advanced and intelligent robot picking solutions within several weeks.
7th Robot Award Ceremony
At the award ceremony Issei, Mujin CEO, had a great motivational speech about the restoration of Japan’s manufacturing industry, which “old”  Mujin employees still remember:
“We will bring cutting-edge technology through innovations in robotic automation in Japan, the center of manufacturing, improve and promote this automation, and improve the quality of people’s lives through automation which will help to solve real social challenges, like labor shortage and productivity performance. I’m grateful that I have an opportunity to do something meaningful for this world with my wonderful team together.”
The full version of Issei’s speech read here (Japanese only: ).
CEO Issei during his speech

It was the first time when such an important award was given to a small start-up with less than 30 employees

Mujin Controller “Pick Worker”, piece-picking solution (2016)

Opportunity to enter logistics: Business alliance with ASKUL

In the beginning, Mujin’s technologies offered new possibilities for factory automation only. Mujin’s motion planning technology allows complex robot motions and factory layout optimizations that are impossible with manual programming.
Mujin founders were thinking of any other big robotics opportunities for Mujin technology to be implemented and decided that businesses related to e-commerce are good places to apply robotics technologies; there is abundant funding and other opportunities for automation.
Since 2015, by collaborating with the Japanese e-commerce maker ASKUL, Mujin has been developing an intelligent robot piece-picking system to solve one of the most challenging problems in warehouse automation.
Mujin solution at ASKUL
One day Issei got an email from the ASKUL Executive Officer, Kazuyuki Ikeda. Before reaching Mujin, Mr. Ikeda visited around 100 companies, talked with their engineers asking for a teachless picking technology, but most of them replied that it is not impossible. He also consulted a university professor who seemed to have the latest technology, but the professor said: “I’ve also been thinking about that since I was a university student, but haven’t been able to realize it even now”. So, Mr. Ikeda googled “industrial robots teachless”, and Mujin appeared on the top of the list. He contacted Issei immediately.
Mujin engineers requested to check the actual work scene in order to understand what they needed to do. They immediately went to the logistics center together and discussed what kind of solutions Mujin could provide to realize what ASKUL wants. This was very impressive for ASKUL executives.
ASKUL press conference
So, why did ASKUL believe Mujin?
Mujin has a clear vision of “moving teachless robots”. At that time, every manufacturer would suggest “making teaching easier”, but none had the vision to realize “teachless”. However, in logistics products of all shapes and sizes arrive every day, even if teaching became easier, we have to repeat the process on each product, it can’t be utilized in the work scene. Making teaching easier is a meaningless approach to logistics. ASKUL believed Mujin’s words, even though Mujin had no actual product, and invested in our project.
Mujin, Inc. signed a business partnership with ASKUL Corporation in December 2015. Mujin piece-picking robots have started working in ASKUL’s logistics centers throughout Japan.
ASKUL “Value Center Kansai”, piece-picking solution (2019)
Tens of thousands of different SKUs have been handled. Everyday, there are more and more object types getting supported and handled automatically by robots powered by Mujin technologies.

To be continued..

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