Only about 65 Sony employees worked alongside PlayStation creator Ken Kutaragi to build the now-iconic gaming system. For perspective, the company now has thousands of employees working on the next-generation Ps5.
So, to usher the product successfully to launch in 1994 year, Kutaragi had to look externally and work with partners outside of the electronics behemoth. Now he's trying to implement a similar strategy at Ascent, the robotics startup he joined in September as CEO — while forgoing a salary to save capital.
"We want to collaborate with as many smart people" as possible, the so-called 'father of the Playstation' told Business Insider. "It's very similar to when I started to work on PlayStation."
Ascent is aiming to create industrial robots that can transport heavy pallets and assemble products, among other use cases, as well as software that can help power self-driving cars. And its goal, per Kutaragi, is to use partnerships to innovate more quickly, instead of focusing too heavily on academic research without a path to commercialization.
"We place strong emphasis on the 'co-creation process' with external partners who yield cutting-edge research and development that is the most relevant to commercially viable solutions," he said in an emailed response to follow-up questions.
The strategy is one that puts Kutaragi and Ascent at odds with Japan's tech scene more broadly. While once a global powerhouse, the country has fallen behind China and the US due to, among other reasons, a long-standing desire to create custom software and a focus on perfectionism versus incremental advancements.
It's also because many Japanese companies "tend to chase fragmented vertical solutions, which makes it difficult for them to keep up with rapid technological changes across a holistic system, and to make good business decisions at pace," said Kutaragi.
Now, as Kutaragi looks to scale Ascent's offerings to compete in a crowded global marketplace, he is focusing on creating systems that can work collaboratively with humans — as opposed to more conventional robotics that are designed to manage simple tasks like product assembly.
It's a push that Kutaragi says is even more important now amid the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.
"Robots must be more intelligent, autonomous and integrated in order to support the new normal," he said. "In addition to robotic systems that have been optimized for conventional mass production, advanced intelligent robots and mobility systems are also needed that are capable of cooperating with humans and handling a wide variety of products."
The firm has raised roughly $18 million to-date and while Kutaragi declined to comment on specifics, he said Ascent is "communicating with potential investors on an ongoing basis for the next funding round."