Photo: Reuters / Paul Hanna

“The thing we at Yaskawa Electric are wrestling with now is the convenience store lunch,” Akira Kumagae, head of motion control at Yaskawa told the Financial Times. The company is Japan’s number two maker of factory robots, boasting a market capitalization of US$7 billion. “We think maybe this is our next business chance.”

“[Tofu and vegetables are] not necessarily small, but are extremely hard to grasp. For example, to pick up a single bean with chopsticks and put it in — that’s tough even for a human,” says Mr Kumagae. “There are so many things that robots still can’t do.”

“When we talk about robots we can make the arm but we can’t really make the hand,” says Yasuhiko Hashimoto, head of robotics at Kawasaki Heavy Industries. “University professors will tell you they can do all kinds of things, but as a maker who actually has to deliver, there’s still a long way to go.”