Japan’s biggest IT-electronics trade show is at a crossroads.

The annual Combined Exhibition of Advanced Technologies, or CEATEC, kicked off Tuesday in the city of Chiba. Though it earned fame as a major exhibition of consumer electronics such as TVs and home appliances such as washing machines, it now seems to be leaving that image behind.

The show’s organizer is shifting the focus to the so-called internet of things and related technologies including artificial intelligence and cybersecurity, while also aiming to facilitate business tie-ups between companies in different fields to foster innovation.

“When you think of value in our society now, there is not so much value in just releasing some new products,” said Hisato Nagao, president of Japan Electronics and Information Technology Industries Association, one of the organizers of CEATEC, which runs through Friday.

“The important thing is that those products connect to various things (such as smartphones), and how they can enrich people’s lives.”

Simply showcasing the latest TVs, home appliances and other gadgets at the show doesn’t mean as much as it used to, Nagao said. CEATEC will no longer be an electronics show just for consumers.

The internet of things, the notion of connecting everyday items to the internet to leverage the benefits of big data, is now so pervasive that exhibitors need to demonstrate the ability of a product or technology to mesh with others, such as smartphones, he said.

Word that CEATEC would be pivoting toward the internet of things began to spread last year, when the event saw only 531 exhibitors, the lowest since it started in 2000.

This year, that number climbed to 648, and looking around the Makuhari Messe venue this year, participant firms apparently heard the organizer’s message loud and clear.

Panasonic Corp., which in past years heavily promoted its TVs, is a notable example of the shift.

In a first for the Osaka-based firm, none of its TVs are on display. Instead, Panasonic is showcasing the vanguard of its technologies, prototypes still under development.

“Before, we saw CEATEC as Japan’s biggest exhibition to display consumer electronics, but since this year’s theme is the internet of things, we’ve changed our focus,” said Takumi Tachibana, who works at Panasonic’s brand communication division.

For instance, Panasonic is showing off a prototype of a wireless and batteryless switching device, which, once installed in the cushion of a seat, will turn surrounding electronic devices such as lights, stereos or computers on or off when someone sits down or stands up. The product has wide applications for internet of things devices.

Tachibana said Panasonic has a variety of technologies under development.

“We wanted to show them to visitors. We’re hoping they’re interested in maybe working together to come up with new products,” he said.

That is precisely what the organizer of CEATEC had in mind — business matchmaking not just among electronics companies, but also among players from other industries, startups and overseas firms.

And as internet connectivity creeps into more and more consumer products, a wider variety of participating firms have been noted at CEATEC in recent years, including automakers such as Toyota and Honda.

The change this year, however, is notably more pronounced.

For instance, Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group is making its CEATEC debut, a first for a financial institution.

On display is a robot that serves customers in some branches, and an AI-based asset management service.

Ayaka Masaki of the digital innovation division at the Bank of Tokyo Mitsubishi UFJ said the bank decided to join this year to seek more connections with companies from other industries.

“Open innovation is becoming more important in the financial industry,” she said.

As a concept, open innovation is something like the opposite of compartmentalization. The idea is for a range of organizations, including firms from multiple industries as well as universities and colleges, to work together on innovation.

Tomy Co., a Tokyo-based toymaker, is also participating first for the first time.

Takayuki Kimura, general manager of new products planning at Tomy, said the organizer asked his firm to join this year because it manufactures an IoT-type communication robot called OHaNAS.

“We want to provide a bit of a futuristic experience with our toys,” said Kimura, noting the overlap with the show’s newfound new focus on internet of things.

Like other companies, Tomy is also looking for potential partners at CEATEC to create more new products, Kimura said.

The organizer also said the number of participating startups has more than doubled to over 100 compared to last year, including about 30 from abroad, including Israel.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.