The Rise of Flying Machines with Brains

An autonomous control system has the power for self-governance in performing control functions according to Panos J. Antsaklis from the University of Notre Dame in 1991. “Such a system is composed of hardware and software that can execute the requisite control function over long periods without human intervention.” All autonomous systems need to achieve their specific objective while being exposed to varying disturbances and uncertainties and need to be able to recover from adverse conditions. This is a powerful technology that can possibly unman most tasks that depend on human.

Fast forward to 30 years later, the autonomous control technology has advanced by leaps and bounds. The world’s leading autonomous control technology today is owned by Autonomous Control Systems Laboratory (ACSL), a spin-off company from Chiba University, Japan. This is the first article in a series of four where we summarize our introductory interview with Mr. Satoshi Washiya, President, COO & Board Director (Representative Director) of ACSL.

Deep Technology To Solve Ongoing Issues 

ACSL aspires to be at the forefront of technology development. With the vision to revolutionize social infrastructure by pursuing cutting-edge robotics technology, their technologies are backed by accumulated research experience in the field of robotics, which is one of the strongest fields that Japan has been known for.

It doesn’t take much observation to understand that the largest ongoing issue in Japan is the declining of labour force population. Furthermore, the number of aging infrastructures is also on the rise. However, these unbalanced issues have presented an opportunity for ACSL to apply the autonomous drone technology for the benefit of the society when they first made their foray into the industry.

According to Mr. Washiya, the base of ACSL’s autonomous control technology was founded by Professor Kenzo Nonami long before ACSL was formed as a startup in November 2013. Named after the university lab, the company is currently worth more than 3 billion Japanese Yen and is engaged in R&D, manufacturing, sales, and solution development for industrial drone applications.

Evolution Of Society Through Technology 

ACSL recognizes the contribution of drones to the society. Drone replaces low value-added and dangerous operations while increasing the productivity of economic activities. From Mr. Washiya’s point of view, the importance of drones is so significant that it also promotes the evolution of society for the next generation. He added that ACSL aims to be the global pioneer in solving social infrastructure issues using their drones in three key areas namely infrastructure inspection, delivery and disaster reconnaissance and by this, contribute to nurture a holistic drone ecosystem.

When asked what’s the secret for ACSL to stay far ahead of other drone companies, Mr. Washiya revealed that it actually lies in the proprietary technologies and SLAM (Simultaneous Localization and Mapping) technology, a technology that eliminates reliance on GPS in entirety. Therefore, SLAM technology increases the drone’s capability to operate indoor or in complex settings. ACSL is highly capable of customizing these technologies according to their customer needs, thus, making them more competitive.

Overturning Unfavourable Perspectives 

One of the most recent examples of how ACSL is applying their technology is in their collaboration with a utility company to automate smokestack inspection using autonomous drones. These smokestacks could reach up to 200m in height, and are normally inspected by human inspectors using gondola. This process could take up to three weeks and is a very dangerous work for human. Although ACSL is creating a safer working condition with their technology, it didn’t go without a challenge.

Since drone technology is new in Japan, both users and policymakers tend to be very conservative and would like to avoid from taking risks as much as possible when it comes to drone technology implementation. Fortunately, says Mr. Washiya, technology awareness has helped more people to understand the positive impact of drone technology and be more receptive about it.

He also noticed that there’s somewhat of a similarity in mindset outside Japan but it is steadily being overturned by the positive trend on drone technology acceptance that is gaining a good momentum. “Safety has always been our priority, but we hope to challenge and automate more and more difficult missions and unman people from dangerous and low value added works,” he further assured. This resonates well with initiatives introduced by ASEAN countries such as Malaysia and Singapore to encourage wider adoption of drone technology and automation by the industry.

Pursuing Technology Superiority With Global Talents 

Eyeing for ASEAN for their company growth due to its remarkable economic and population size, ACSL believes their technology would fit into the market and able to improve the lives of the people in the region. Part of this is due to ASEAN also having a fair share of experiencing the same natural phenomenon as Japan. Furthermore, ACSL has scores of globally talented individuals. Their expansion plan into ASEAN is also being supported by the fact that one of their core values is “multilateral perspective”. They believe diversity is key to bringing multilateral perspective in the working environment and will ultimately lead the team to have more innovative mindset.

Towards the end of the interview, we asked what technology enthusiasts can look forward to in drone technology in the future. To this, Mr. Washiya answered, “ACSL is not a company in drone business. It is an autonomous control technology company. We will pursue the world’s most superior autonomous control technology and fully implement it in society. We will realize the revolution of society through automating and unmanning as many human tasks as possible.”

Second article in this series will reveal ACSL’s technological and R&D strength. Let us know your feedback or share your brilliant ideas with ACSL. Email to info-asia@lne.st

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