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Entrepreneur from Tokyo wants to inspire people with robot pilot experiences

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Kento Hiroi operates Astro, a robot developed by his company. “I want to give people inspiring experiences through robots they can control,” he said.

From manufacturing to services, next-generation entrepreneurs are tackling a wide range of challenges in Tokyo, the heart of Japan’s start-up movement. A notable company among them is MOVeLOT. Inc, based in the capital’s Sumida Ward, which develops robots that can control people from within. The company is steadily gaining popularity among foreign tourists by offering pilot experiences at Robot Base, right next to the company.

Get in the robot!

I sat in the robot’s cockpit and tilted the controls. The speed increased as the arms started moving. I changed the angle of the arms slightly to aim at the target. My enemy.

‘Enemy in sight! Fire!” a Robot Base employee ordered. When I pressed the button with my thumb, the Gatling guns at the end of each arm started firing sponge bullets. This is all part of the robot pilot experience offered by MOVeLOT , which was founded in 2023.

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The Yomiuri Shimbun
The Gatling gun at the end of Astro’s arm can fire 28 sponge bullets in rapid succession. The bullets fly about 10 meters.

Astro is the name of the approximately three-meter-high robot with movable arms. The company manufactured the robot to give people the feeling of controlling a real robot.

“It may differ from generation to generation, but many people have an idea of ​​what it is like to control a robot thanks to anime. I’m sure Astro offers the best experience out there,” said Kento Hiroi, 32, the president of MOVeLOT.

What no man has done before

Hiroi was born in the Pacific coast town of Susami in Wakayama Prefecture. His father, a general contractor, used many different types of heavy machinery.

“I remember my father putting me in a crane. I was so excited,” he remembers.

His parents divorced before he started primary school, and he ended up living in poverty with his mother. In high school, he joined the school’s football team. He put all his feelings of loss and inferiority into his kicks when he couldn’t put them into words. Later he decided to go to an industrial high school where all the children from his area who were good at football went. He practiced hard to be chosen as a regular player. That’s when he learned that hard work pays off.

After graduating, Hiroi worked briefly at a courier company before enrolling in a sports medicine vocational school in Osaka.

Yet he was not satisfied.

Wanting to do something only he could do, he came to Tokyo without any job prospects. After drifting from job to job, he started working at a robot restaurant in Shinjuku’s Kabukicho district.

The restaurant was the talk of the town because of the giant ‘robots’ that joined the dancers and gave entertaining performances under glitzy, colorful lighting. As flashy as they were, the robots were still impossible to control.

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The Yomiuri Shimbun
While inside the robot, the operator can see what is happening outside through a monitor at the top of the cockpit thanks to a camera installed near the head.

Hiroi thought the restaurant could have given customers a better experience if the robots could be operated freely.

“If they were robots that could be controlled from the inside, they would provide a great experience,” he thought, even after moving to another company. In February last year, he started MOVeLOT and started developing robots together with an engineer he met through social media.

Standing up for the future

Developing robots brought one obstacle after another. To move the robot’s arms effectively, Hiroi decided to use hydraulics and installed three gears in each of its shoulders and elbows. The prototype he sank several million yen into was too heavy to move as he wanted. He hired other engineers and they managed to complete robots by putting various ideas into practice, including replacing iron with aluminum to make it lighter.

The company started offering robot pilot experiences in September last year, mainly to tourists from abroad such as the United States and South Korea. By making the most of the company’s proximity to Asakusa and Tokyo Skytree, the company anticipated demand from foreign tourists who wanted an experience in addition to sightseeing. A 50-minute session costs ¥5,000 per person.

“Dozens of people already come every month, but we have the prospect of receiving hundreds of people every month. Our goals now are to go abroad within three years and be listed on the stock exchange within ten years,” Hiroi said. His enthusiasm was palpable.

The next step for Hiroi and MOVeLOT is to bring to life the Ingram robot from the anime “Kido Keisatsu Patolabor” (“Mobile Police Patlabor”). The company started developing it this year in collaboration with the creators of the work.

“My dream is to develop the best robots in the world that people can control and create a future where everyone can control them,” Hiroi said. “I hope that my company will become a unicorn company in the field of robots and that we can prevent Japan from losing its technological edge and manpower.”



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