Fumio Harashima spent more than three decades pushing the boundaries of power electronics and mechatronics in his lab at the University of Tokyo. At the same time, he was volunteering for IEEE and recruiting thousands of new members in Japan and throughout Region 10, the Asia Pacific region.
Harashima was the first member outside the United States to become president of the IEEE Industrial Electronics Society, a post he held in 1986 and 1987. He was IEEE secretary in 1990, and through the early part of that decade he was on several IEEE boards. At the same time, membership in IEEE Region 10 increased by some 10,000 members and participation in the local Industrial Electronics Society chapter skyrocketed. Harashima also has helped establish new IEEE societies, conferences, and journals.
For his dedication to IEEE, he was awarded the 2015 Haraden Pratt Award “for outstanding leadership in globalization and diversity of IEEE communities.”
A GLOBAL RESEARCHER
Before he became an IEEE volunteer, Harashima’s innovative research laid the foundation for mechatronics, a field that merges mechanical engineering, electronics, and computer science. The field has led to invaluable inventions including industrial and medical robots as well as antilock brakes, cruise control, and other automotive technologies.
In his lab at the University of Tokyo in the late 1960s, Harashima explored cutting-edge concepts in power electronics. In the early 1970s, he was one of the first researchers in the world to apply microprocessors, then a nascent technology, to motor drives, a core component of manufacturing equipment, vehicles, and robots. His work has had a tremendous impact on manufacturing and industrial automation.
His groundbreaking insights that power electronics and mechatronics systems could be treated as similar mathematical systems gave researchers new ways of making intelligent machines. He advanced robotics by working on computerized motors and controllers for robotic arms; on visually controlled robotic systems that track and then grasp objects moving on a conveyor belt; and on collision-free navigation for mobile robots. He also helped establish the discipline of human-adaptive mechatronics, which involves designing intelligent machines that adapt to the skill level of their human operators. An example is a prosthetic arm that relies on sensor data and brain signals to adjust its motion.
Harashima became acquainted with IEEE while eagerly reading its transactions in the University of Tokyo library as an electrical engineering undergrad. “I was deeply impressed by the world-leading research topics,” he says. “However, as a student, I could not afford the IEEE membership dues.”
He joined once he became a professor at the university, and in 1974 he attended his first IEEE conference, the Annual Conference of the IEEE Industrial Electronics Society (IECON), in Philadelphia. At the time, a major focus at IECON was the industrial application of micro- and minicomputers, Harashima’s research topic. His experience at the conference sparked a lifelong dedication to IEEE. Harashima invited researchers from Hitachi, Mitsubishi Electric, Toshiba, and other Japanese manufacturers to join IECON activities—which helped increase conference attendance and resulted in new IEEE members.
As a researcher, he traveled to universities and laboratories around the world, and he regularly invited scientists from other countries to visit his lab. “Researchers must understand different cultures, and respect them,” he says. “IEEE provided me with excellent opportunities to pursue global research. I joined nine IEEE societies so that I could build professional relationships with people from different backgrounds and experiences.”
He eagerly took on leadership roles in the societies, prompted, he says, by a desire to help determine the direction of technology. His leadership as president of three different universities, as well as the IEEE Industrial Electronics Society, the Institute of Electrical Engineers of Japan, and as chair of the IEEE Tokyo Section and Japan Council has helped grow Region 10. The region now has nearly 74,000 members, roughly 44,000 more than when he started volunteering.
Harashima helped establish the IEEE Power Electronics Society and the IEEE Robotics and Automation Society, and he helped launch two conferences: the IEEE International Conference on Emerging Technology and Factory Automation and the IEEE/RSJ International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems, which is now one of the largest robotics conferences. In 1995, he was the founding editor in chief of IEEE Transactions on Mechatronics.
In honor of his contributions, the Intelligent Robots and Systems Fumio Harashima Award for Innovative Technologies was established in 2007 by the IEEE Robotics and Automation Society. The annual award is given to a researcher who has “pioneered activities in robotics and intelligent systems.”
NEVER STOP LEARNING
Harashima was born in Tokyo in 1940. “My only hobby when I was a child was reading books,” he says. He spent several hours a day at the school library, aspiring to write novels. In high school, his parents and teachers told him his talents lay more in math and science. Realizing that being a writer would not get him far in what, after World War II, was one of the world’s poorest countries, he decided to study engineering.
He earned bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees in electrical engineering from the University of Tokyo in 1962, 1964, and 1967. His doctoral research was in servomotor control, the use of error-sensing feedback signals to correct the performance of motors, such as controlling their speed and position.
After he earned his Ph.D., Harashima was hired as a professor at the University of Tokyo Institute of Industrial Science.
He became president of the Tokyo Metropolitan Institute of Technology in 1998. In that role, he led the nationally funded Interaction and Intelligence Project, which ran from 2000 to 2005. The project aimed to establish parameters for a society in which humans would live in close contact with intelligent machines and robots.
Next came a stint as president of Tokyo Denki University, from 2004 to 2008. There he initiated the Human Adaptive Mechatronics program, which focused on technological development and the cultivation of talented researchers.
He left Tokyo Denki to join Tokyo Metropolitan University as president and retired in March 2015.
Mechatronics is an interdisciplinary field that requires not only technical knowledge but also an understanding of psychology and social science. To that end Harashima has encouraged young engineers to have as broad an academic background as possible, and never to stop pursuing their dreams. He himself is doing just that: He is studying archeology as an undergrad at Nara University, in Japan. During his acceptance speech for the Haraden Pratt Award at the 2015 IEEE Honors Ceremony in June, he joked, “It’s the first time IEEE presented one of its major awards to an undergraduate student.”
“Receiving the Haraden Pratt Award just after I retired from my professional life at the age of 75 is a great honor and encouragement,” he says. “I am enjoying my new life as a student of archeology.”
The Haradan Pratt Award is sponsored by the IEEE Foundation.