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Robotic Insights vol. 1 – Preparation is key

April 12, 2024

Edited by: Yuya Sone
Staff Editor of SEISANZAI Japan; Editorial Desk of robot digest

What will happen to the 2024 Problem? 

We have entered the dreaded fiscal year 2024. The reason I am writing in a slightly negative way is because of the unresolved issue known in Japan as the “2024 Problem”. 

This refers to concerns arising from the restriction of overtime work hours for professions such as truck drivers to 960 hours annually, which is supposed to exacerbate the already severe driver shortage. 

While this issue has been identified for some time and some companies have taken proactive steps to address it, it remains largely unaddressed at the national level, which is a significant problem. 

Robots can make a significant contribution to solving the 2024 problem. One factor that contributes to longer hours for truck drivers is the time they spend waiting for cargo. Tasks such as load preparation, loading, and unloading are time-consuming and result in longer wait times. Streamlining these operations with automated equipment such as robots can significantly reduce driver wait times. 

Solutions already exist 

Looking back at the articles in robot digest, there has been a notable emphasis on proposals tailored to logistics, including warehouses. This trend has been evident not only this month, but in recent years as well, prompting the launch of the “Evolution of Logistics” serial feature in 2022, driven by increased interest from businesses in logistics automation solutions. 

The term “2024 Problem” was first introduced in robot digest in September 2022 in “Evolution of Logistics vol.1.” Since then, the term has appeared in numerous articles, and there is no doubt that the Japanese robot industry has been proactively developing proposals to solve this problem. 

The solution is already there. The problem lies in the adoption of these solutions. 

Human psychology is inherently predisposed to what is known as “normalcy bias,” where individuals tend to downplay or ignore inconvenient information. This bias manifests itself in behaviors such as failure to evacuate despite disaster warnings, and is an area of ongoing research in fields such as disaster psychology. 

In addition, Japanese society is said to have a strong “conformity bias,” with individuals often assuming that if those around them are not taking action, it must be unnecessary. 

These biases appear to contribute to the lack of progress in implementing solutions despite the visibility of the problem. 

Overcoming these biases is no easy feat. It requires a deep understanding of different biases, an ability to look at data objectively, and a constant questioning of one’s own judgments for biases.  

A catalyst for change in awareness 

After the 2024 Problem, there is the looming “2025 Problem” in Japan, stemming from the aging of the baby boomer generation into the late elderly. Even if we manage to overcome the 2025 Problem, future challenges such as the “2030 Problem,” “2040 Problem,” and “2054 Problem” are looming ahead. 

Similar to the heightened awareness of natural disasters in the past decade, where attitudes changed to take Tsunami warnings seriously and respond appropriately, I hope to see a societal shift in awareness of labor shortages. I hope that the 2024 Problem will help to foster a societal awareness that “we should prepare for the worst-case scenarios and invest in automation in advance to be prepared”.


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