Date of activity: March 14, 2017
BionicM, a robotic prosthesis development team composed of graduate students and young researchers at the University of Tokyo, won the award for the Student Innovation category at South by Southwest (SXSW) 2017’s SXSW Interactive Innovation Awards in Austin, Texas on March 14, 2017. The team was participating in SXSW as a part of Todai To Texas, a project carried out by UTokyo’s Division of University Corporate Relations.
SXSW is a large conference on interactive technology, music and film that has been held annually since 1987 in Austin, Texas, USA. With over 70,000 people per year attending SXSW in recent years, the conference has grown into a major event attracting interest from around the world. The Interactive Innovation Awards, which were started 20 years ago, are given in 13 categories to projects and products that had been newly launched in the previous year. These awards are well known for picking real-world “winners”; for instance, Twitter and Airbnb, which won awards in 2007 and 2011, respectively, went on to achieve massive success afterwards. UTokyo’s BionicM team receiving the award in the Student Innovation category marked not only the first time an entrant from Japan had won that particular award, but also the first time ever that an entrant from Japan had won an award in any of the categories.
BionicM is a project with the goal of creating a robotic prosthetic leg by utilizing the bipedal walking humanoid robot technology developed over the past 30 years at the JSK Laboratory in the University of Tokyo’s Graduate School of Information Science and Technology. The four members of the project team are Xiaojun Sun, Fumihito Sugai, Ryo Wakatabe (Graduate School of Information Science and Technology) and Shoichi Sato (Institute of Industrial Science). “Suknee,” the prototype they demonstrated at SXSW’s Trade Show from March 12-15, was developed with assistance from the Japan Science and Technology Agency’s START Program (Program for Creating STart-ups from Advanced Research and Technology) and The University of Tokyo Edge Capital Co., Ltd. as the project promoter. Suknee is equipped with a specially-developed motor mechanism that enables the prosthesis to perform functions such as kicking the ground with its toes, helping its user to experience a more natural and effortless way of walking.
BionicM participated in SXSW as they were this year’s winning team in the Todai To Texas (TTT) project, which was started in 2014 and is run by the Division of University Corporate Relations. The project is a product development competition for University students, alumni and related startup companies; the team judged to have the best product and presentation wins a trip to the SXSW Trade Show to showcase their product. BionicM won the Todai to Texas competition on November 23, 2016 and were presented with the opportunity to exhibit their product at SXSW in 2017. They also put their product in the running for the Student Innovation category of SXSW’s Interactive Innovation Awards, and they advanced through the rounds, becoming one of the five finalist teams. During the final round on March 12, they were chosen as the best team in their category.
The University of Tokyo, principally through the Division of University Corporate Relations, promotes entrepreneurship education as well as the founding and support of startup companies that utilize research outcomes reached at the University. As part of these efforts, the University actively works to give student projects the opportunity to be presented overseas. These initiatives receive support from not only within the University, but also from a variety of corporations and supporters from outside the University. We at the Division of University Corporate Relations ask for your continued support of our activities.