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Moving the Needle with Commercial Robotics at Rapyuta

Jaiyam joined Rapyuta Robotics as a perception engineer, hoping to impact the future through developing products. He talks about Rapyuta’s values and how he became the systems lead of their ASRS (a type of warehouse automation technology) solution.

Photo of Jaiyam Sharma
Jaiyam Sharma

Jaiyam came to Japan from India as a master’s student and went on to complete a Ph.D. in semiconductor devices. He was drawn to Japan by its microelectronics industry, which at the time had some of the best facilities and equipment in the world. After completing his studies, he worked for a few years as a robotics engineer at a large Japanese conglomerate, before deciding to join Rapyuta Robotics.

He said, “I had done my Ph.D. and a lot of studies, a lot of theorizing about how the future might look, and the way to create the future is to make products. The reason I came to industry, rather than more academics, was I wanted to make products. After two, three years in industry, I knew lots of companies, and thought Rapyuta would be a good place.”

I needed to look for a more exciting, more fast-paced work environment that would challenge me and also allow me to grow.

Rapyuta’s core mission is to empower lives with connected machines, and currently they offer various products aimed at automating warehouse related tasks. Jaiyam said, “In Japan, labor is in demand and the population is not exactly increasing. In that sense, there’s a big opportunity in the warehouse space. It’s hard work, warehouses look so cold and damp, and they’re always far from the city. If we can automate that and let humans do more interesting stuff, that would be a big contribution to people, to Japan’s GDP, and also validate the utility of robotics itself.”

Rapyuta takes a first principles approach to building solutions—rather than starting with the technology they will use or assuming what shape the solution will take, they look at the problem and brainstorm from there. Jaiyam said, “You’re given a problem. You’re given a realistic expectation on the budget and the timeline, and then you figure it out iteratively, what works, what doesn’t work. Through the process of elimination, you will arrive at some solution.”

Generally, we’ve found that these solutions do require various state of the art technologies, because the problems we are dealing with are not so easy to solve. If it were so simple, somebody would have done it already, right?

Instead of purchasing various hardware components and software from different vendors and integrating them together, Rapyuta does a lot of their work in-house. Jaiyam said, “I think that’s why we’re able to be more flexible, more agile, more nimble, as it were. We can try out various things and quickly throw away things that don’t work, or nobody really needs it.”

Rapyuta’s products include the Pick Assist AMR (PA-AMR), which is a robot works with workers in existing warehouses to help them improve their efficiency, and the Rapyuta Automated Storage and Retrieval System (ASRS), which basically replaces the warehouse with a Lego-like 3D grid structure where items are stored and retrieved by robots. Jaiyam said, “We have a very fresh take on ASRSs that’s found resonance with customers, even people who have tried other systems. We’ve rethought things from the ground up to involve electronics and sensors, and automation where it makes sense. It gives us a lot of creativity.”

Our product is like a bunch of Lego blocks, even a child can assemble it. You don’t need hammers, you don’t even need a screwdriver.”

Jaiyam is currently the systems lead for Rapyuta ASRS solution. He said, “My job is to make sure that the ASRS product deployment is smooth, that all the many components are properly integrated and operate in harmony. At heart, I’m an engineer, but I need to think from the perspectives of the users, the business team, and the project manager. A significant part of my job involves explaining things to non-technical stakeholders and then taking their feedback and translating it into technical terms to the relevant engineers and teams. And sometimes the translation is literal, as a lot of engineers don’t speak Japanese.”

Rapyuta has a diverse team,made up of people from various countries, professional backgrounds, and domains. They believe that different points of views communicating and collaborating together make for better results. Jaiyam said, “The kind of people I have seen succeed here are people who are ready to take on challenges and are also somewhat candid in their communication. We have a very flat hierarchy. Anybody is able to raise their hand and say, ‘this does not make sense,’ or ‘this can be better.’ This is very different from many Japanese companies, where you do what you’re told. At Rapyuta we combine the best of Japanese business culture, and the good traits of more Western culture.”

This is an environment where you can start from anywhere, but you will eventually grow and find your comfort zone, where you fit and the best contributions you can make.

Jaiyam was actually working on a different team when he started at Rapyuta, but kept looking for opportunities where he could work on building products and his efforts paid off. He said, “I started contributing more on the product side, outside my role as a perception engineer and did a bit of electronics, even did a bit of mechanical engineering. Then I was asked to move to the product side full time and then eventually, was asked to lead the systems team, all in a span of one year.”

While some engineers may feel their experience isn’t suited to a robotics company, Jaiyam says “There is a role in Rapyuta for almost any developer. Web developers, front end engineers, back end engineers, QA, are all super helpful and super necessary for robotics. If you like to be with a bunch of highly talented people who will constantly amaze you and drive you to be better, then I think Rapyuta is a great place to work. I recommend Rapyuta to anybody who is interested in working in a multidisciplinary, somewhat challenging environment, because you won’t be working on trivial problems, you’ll be working on problems that really do move the needle in terms of commercial robotics.”

A challenge of working in the robotics industry is that it’s still very young and there are no clear answers. Jaiyam said, “When you’re working with hardware, when you’re working with software and complex systems, things often don’t work the first time or the way you wanted them to work. In robotics, you have a system with like 20 components, not all of them talk to each other or they talk to each other somewhat sporadically and unreliably. And you realize everybody’s in the same boat. Nobody has a magic fairy to call in and fix things for them. So, in that sense, it’s very humbling.”

Once you start working at Rapyuta, you first join the systems team and get a broad overview of the product. Jaiyam said, “From that background, you can jump into your own expertise onto a different team and say, ‘now I’m going to build out the web interface,’ or ‘I’m now going to build out the robot navigation stack.’ But having the experience which you gain in the systems helps them out.”

Sometimes somebody might tell you what to do, but more or less you raise your hand and say, okay, I can do this. And then you find your own role.

For their international hires, Rapyuta offers relocation support and a Japanese language support program. Jaiyam said, “Lots of diverse people are part of the company, and sometimes they even move to Japan specifically for this job. They may want to explore Japanese culture, so Rapyuta offers reimbursement support for learning Japanese.” Rapyuta has welcome parties for new hires, and monthly company wide meetups.

Rapyuta also offers everyone flex time, compensatory leave to make up for overtime, and for some roles, fully remote work, though that is not an option for roles that deal with robot hardware. Jaiyam said, “You can’t fit a warehouse in a suitcase and carry it home. If somebody has to work overtime on specific days, then they can take compensatory leave. For example, last year I took 15 days, but some of them were compensatory, so officially I only took 10 days leave. In my time working here, I have never had a request for leave refused, and I have also never refused a request for leave from anyone in my team, even near critical deadlines. The way we achieve this is that everybody communicates.”

As an engineer, you get to shape the direction of products, even the direction of where the company might go, because the product then drives the company. That really makes me happy as an engineer.

For Jaiyam, the highlight of working at Rapyuta is the chance to work not only on the software, but also the hardware side and deliver the whole product. He said, “Not many perception engineers in the world have gotten a chance to develop their own hardware. Having a say in the team’s design, connecting the dots, from hardware, to application and then how it serves the customer. I’ve been quite lucky to be able to do that here. The only thing I haven’t done is build a complete product from the very beginning. It’s probably like a once in a million opportunity if that were to happen, but if I’m able to deliver that it would be pretty awesome.”

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