A wealth of joint project ideas sparked at the Moonshot Workshop on AI and Robotics in Tokyo

In early 2024, European researchers, mostly from Switzerland, were invited to Tokyo to exchange with Japanese researchers funded by Japan’s flagship Moonshot R&D program, as the country accelerates efforts to internationalize collaborations with like-minded countries.

The 2nd Japanese-European Workshop on Moonshot program goal 3, “Co-evolving AI and Robots towards 2050,” took place in Tokyo from January 18 to 20, 2024. Researchers from Switzerland and other European countries were invited by Japan to seek potential collaboration opportunities with their Japanese homologs.

The event was co-organized by the Japan Science and Technology Agency and the S&T Office Tokyo, Embassy of Switzerland in Japan. Prof. Robert Katzchmann of ETH Zurich and Prof. Kazuya Yoshida of Tohoku University as co-coordinators of the program contributed heavily to ensure a setting for fruitful discussions.

The first day started with laboratory visits at Waseda University and the University of Tokyo. At Waseda, the European researchers were welcomed by Prof. Shigeki Sugano, Prof. Tetsuya Ogata and their team developing robots and sensors for the use of machines in daily life. Prof. Kanako Harada led the second lab visit at the University of Tokyo showcasing various projects from drones to remote systems for space or medical use.

On January 19, the plenary session started with an introduction to the Moonshot program, its funding schemes, and the workshop’s aim by Dr. Hideo Nakajima (Director, Department of Moonshot Research and Development Program, JST). Prof. Kazuya Yoshida (Head, Space Robotics Laboratory, Department of Aerospace Engineering, Tohoku University) then proceeded to open the presentation session by wishing everyone a fruitful workshop. First, all ten Moonshot Goal 3 projects were presented by the Japanese researchers in charge. They were followed by the European researchers’ presentations, giving insights into their various projects that had the potential for joint research with the Moonshot program. Altogether, the presentations covered a noteworthy variety of robotic fields, applications, and other topics related to AI and robots. Soft robotics, swarm robotics, nanorobotics, and modular robotics, to name a few, were mentioned through the presented projects covering domains of applications related to healthcare, space exploration, education, environment, and so forth. Some of the researchers also shared their views on open questions revolving around enhancing the versatility of AI robots, coexisting and creating a symbiotic relationship with them, and creating more sustainable robots and a smarter, inclusive society with and through them. The presentations were then followed by one-on-one discussion sessions, allowing the researchers to have a first individual encounter with each of their counterparts.

The day ended with the official dinner marking the commencement of this year’s festivities at the Swiss Residence. In addition to the participants and organizers of the workshop, notable guests from the government, such as Mr. Daisuke Kawakami (Deputy Director General for Science, Cabinet Office) and Mr. Takashi Kiyoura (Deputy Director General for Science & Technology Policy, MEXT) joined the reception as well as Embassy representatives.

The evening started with an address by the host, Chargé d’Affaires of Switzerland David Braun, who highlighted this year’s special jubilee, the 160th anniversary of diplomatic relationship between Switzerland and Japan. He also emphasized the importance of international collaboration in the intertwined fields of AI and robotics. The event went on with a remark by Dr. Kazuhito Hashimoto (President, JST, and S&T Advisor to the Prime Minister) expressing his hope for this workshop in contributing to achieving the Moonshot Goals through international collaboration. The evening moved forward by celebrating the first official contract between a Swiss institution, ETH Zurich, and the Moonshot program for the participation of Dr. Diego Paez-Granados in the Moonshot project led by Prof. Yasuhisa Hirata, who said a few words on this occasion. Finally, Prof. Robert Katzschmann (Assistant Professor, Department of Mechanical and Process Engineering, ETH Zurich, and Coordinator of the workshop on the European side) gave the toast. All guests then had lively discussions over a glass of fine Swiss wine.

The third and last morning was dedicated to longer, in-depth conversations about joint research ideas and opportunities. The afternoon started with a deeper dive into research led by Prof. Jamie Paik (Founder and Director, Reconfigurable Robotics Lab, EPFL) and Prof. Josies Hughes (Tenure Track Assistant Professor, Computational Robot Design & Fabrication Lab, EPFL), respectively, on modular robots and hybrid robots inspired by nature. Each Moonshot Project Manager then synthesized their discussions and the collaboration ideas that took shape during the one-on-one exchanges. Finally, the workshop was wrapped up with a summary of Moonshot’s funding scheme, followed by comments by the Program Director of Moonshot Goal 3, Prof. Toshio Fukuda, and a closing remark from Prof. Robert Katzschmann.

This workshop was a follow-up to the 1st workshop in Switzerland in September 2022. On this occasion, a delegation of 25 Japanese researchers visited EPFL and ETH Zurich to seek potential collaboration partners from Europe.

The Moonshot Research and Development Program was launched by the Japanese Cabinet Office (CAO) in 2019 to promote high-risk, high-impact R&D based on ambitious and inspiring ideas to achieve disruptive innovation and radical solutions for social issues by 2050. The new framework focuses on international collaboration with leading scientists worldwide to realize global human well-being. Nine Moonshot goals (MS goals) were defined to address severe societal issues and threats, such as declining birthrate, aging population, large-scale natural disasters, and global warming, covering areas of society, environment, and economics. MS Goal 3, “Co-evolving AI and Robots towards 2025,” is one of the nine R&D goals supported in this framework.