December 22, 2017 6:46 am JST

Toyota-backed fund invests in Israeli robotics startup

Japan-Israel exchanges in technology development gaining traction

Intuition Robotics is developing a companion robot to help seniors stay engaged in life.

TOKYO -- A fund sponsored by Toyota Motor and others has taken a stake in an Israeli robot developer, highlighting a broader trend of stepped-up collaboration between Japanese and Israeli companies in such cutting-edge areas as robotics and cybersecurity.

Mirai Creation Investment, which counts Toyota and Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corp. as backers, participated in a $6 million round of funding in Intuition Robotics. The Israeli company is working on a companion robot to help seniors stay active by offering activity suggestions and taking voice commands.

Co-founded by an entrepreneur trained in an Israeli military intelligence unit, Intuition Robotics received investments from parties including the U.S.-based Toyota Research Institute in July with an eye toward collaborating in artificial intelligence and robotics. Mirai Creation Investment, operated by Japanese asset management company Sparx Group, sees potential in capitalizing on military-related technologies and personnel in the private sector.

Meanwhile, Tokyo-based consultancy Internet Research Institute is gearing up for a debut on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange as soon as late January, with local authorities having given the green light for the listing. This would mark the first Asian company to publicly trade on the exchange.

Founded in 1996, IRI drew attention as the first company to debut on the Tokyo Stock Exchange's Mothers startup market in December 1999. It left when becoming part of Orix in November 2007. With founder Hiroshi Fujiwara having since bought back shares. IRI will return to the stock market after a decade away.

Fujiwara has his own cybersecurity research lab at the Israel Institute of Technology. He plans to bring expertise cultivated there to Japan and expand consulting operations as the company goes public. The plan is to have Israeli-related products and services generate half of overall sales in 2020.

Tokyo-based Samurai Incubate, which established an Israeli office in 2014, will invest in local startups. Venture capital company Global Brain, also based in Tokyo, has invested in a drone company in Israel. 

(Nikkei)

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