Business / Tech

Firms offer a glimpse of future business models at CEATEC, Japan's biggest electronics trade show

by Kazuaki Nagata

Staff Writer

Japan’s biggest electronics trade show kicked off Tuesday, offering a future peek at how the latest technologies can be integrated into everyday living.

This year’s CEATEC (Combined Exhibition of Advanced Technologies) at Makuhari Messe in Chiba Prefecture is still making a push to cast off the image of being just a home electronics hardware exhibition.

Featuring 725 firms and organizations, up by 58 from last year and with 345 new entrants, all are eager to show off a preview of their possible future business models by combining services with hot technological trends such as artificial intelligence, virtual reality and the “internet of things.”

Convenience store chain Lawson Inc., joining CEATEC for the first time, demonstrated some concepts of its next-generation store.

For instance, visitors can shop at its pop-up store, which uses a QR code payment system, in the convention hall. Electronic tags are attached to the products, allowing the store to keep track of what the shopper picks up and puts in their shopping bag. When customers scan their QR codes and the electronic tags on the items, they receive their e-receipts on their smartphones and can just walk out through the gate with their bag.

Lawson already accepts QR code payment at its stores, but such special tags have yet to debut, according to spokesman Ken Mochimaru.

“Improving efficiency and hospitality is our focus here,” Mochimaru said.

The labor shortage is hitting Japan hard and is expected to continue as the population declines, so cashless payments and special tagging systems will help reduce the burden on workers, he said.

A virtual avatar worker named Mikuru Hoshikage communicates with visitors at the CEATEC trade show Tuesday in the Makuhari Messe convention center in Chiba Prefecture.
A virtual avatar worker named Mikuru Hoshikage communicates with visitors at the CEATEC trade show Tuesday in the Makuhari Messe convention center in Chiba Prefecture. | KAZUAKI NAGATA

“Shop employees spend a lot of time serving customers at a cash register, so reducing this time will be key,” he said.

Lawson is also introducing an anime-like virtual clerk avatar through VR technology. The character is remotely controlled in real time, so it can chat with visitors, who the operator sees through a camera.

The aim of this kind of service is to motivate customers to come to the store in addition to just wanting to shop.

Lion Corp., a newcomer to the event that provides dental products and medicine, has come up with an app that can evaluate one’s risk of an oral malady. Users simply take a picture of their tongue and then an AI analyzes the coating, as it is the culprit behind bad breath.

Lion said it plans to sell the service to enterprises whose business mainly involves plenty of direct communication in order to avoid making the customer feel uncomfortable.

Lawson Inc. showcases a cooking robot that can make gyōza dumplings Tuesday at the CEATEC trade show underway at the Makuhari Messe center in Chiba Prefecture.
Lawson Inc. showcases a cooking robot that can make gyōza dumplings Tuesday at the CEATEC trade show underway at the Makuhari Messe center in Chiba Prefecture. | KYODO

Although CEATEC has been distancing itself from the image of being a home electronics trade show, Sharp Corp. is heavily promoting its superclear image TVs, or 8K TVs.

The Osaka-based firm known for its LCD display technology is set to launch new 60- to 80- inch models soon, as the broadcasting of 8K content is scheduled to begin Dec. 1, starting with NHK.

The 8K, or Super Hi-Vision (SHV), display has a resolution of 7,680 pixels horizontally by 4,320 pixels vertically, or 16 times as many pixels as the standard high-definition display, which has a resolution of 1,920 x 1,080 pixels. Taking advantage of the high resolution, Sharp said it can be used in medical surgeries to show a clearer image of affected areas of patients.

Other home appliances, such as refrigerators, washing machines and air conditioners that are capable of connecting to an internet-based AI are also on display. Calling it AIoT (AI and IoT, or internet of things), these devices learn their owner’s behavior and preferences to try to work in smarter ways. For example, an air conditioner might try to find the most energy efficient way to cool or heat a room.

“With 8K and AIoT, we are proposing a variety of solutions to improve quality of businesses,” said Yoshihisa Ishida, vice president at Sharp. “Sharp has gone beyond the home electronics maker. We want visitors to see this new Sharp.”

Komatsu, a heavy machinery maker, exhibited gigantic construction equipment, as it is developing crawler dump vehicles and excavators capable of self-driving.

Not only will the automation help mitigate the labor shortage, it will also make construction sites safer, since it can reduce the number of human workers, a Komatsu official said.

This year’s CEATEC also features 162 startups and colleges, and 206 firms and organizations from other countries, including the United States, France, Russia and China.

The organizer said it expects to have 160,000 visitors in the four days through Friday.