Business / Tech | CEATEC 2019 Special

SOCIETY 5.0

Connecting realities through cyberspace

by Minoru Matsutani

Staff Writer

One of the highlights of this year’s CEATEC (Combined Exhibition of Advanced Technologies) is Society 5.0 Town, an exhibition area where companies from diverse sectors such as retail, banking, construction, transport and local governments will showcase their technologies to connect people, information and things to enhance people’s lives.

Society 5.0 is a concept created in Japan and is defined as “a human-centered society that balances economic advancement with the resolution of social problems by a system that highly integrates cyberspace and physical space,” according to the Cabinet Office website.

The town’s theme is in line with Japan’s push to become a global leader in utilizing technology to create a community that maximizes energy efficiency and residents’ convenience, as well as welfare.

Dozens of predominantly Japanese companies will participate in Society 5.0 Town at CEATEC, to be held at Makuhari Messe in Chiba Prefecture from Oct. 15 to 18. Participants range from ANA Holdings Inc., Mitsubishi Estate Co. and Taisei Corp., among others.

Airline company ANA Holdings will showcase Avatar, a remote-access robot.

“We are a company about mobility. We want to solve mobility-related challenges. If you want to go somewhere, you have to go to an airport and fly. Avatar saves people from having to do that,” said Akira Fukabori, director of the Avatar Division.

One of the most affordable models suspends a tablet-sized monitor at face level with a thin pole as a body. It can move across flat surfaces and is priced “equivalent to a notebook PC,” said Fukabori. The model is currently being tested in an Oita Prefecture household where a husband and wife can speak to their daughter in Tokyo via video; the catch is that their daughter can control it remotely with a computer or smartphone.

Additionally, unlike messaging apps, their daughter is able to see and hear her parents without them answering calls, allowing her to act as a caretaker despite being across the country.

ANA Holdings is planning to make Avatar commercially available around April 2020.

The company is also collaborating with technology companies to enhance Avatar’s functions by, for example, adding robotic hands.

ANA Holdings has also developed Avatars that can fish and perform other tasks. In one test case, the company gave an individual with Lou Gehrig’s disease the task of operating a waiter Avatar at a cafe, allowing him to have a remote part-time job.

Anticipated demand for Avatar is expected to range from business conference calls and remote participation in school lectures to watching sports events, just to name a few possibilities.

Visitors to ANA Holdings’ CEATEC booth will be able to try using various types of Avatars, Fukabori said.

Meanwhile, major real estate developer Mitsubishi Estate will exhibit its transformation of the Marunouchi district in Tokyo’s Chiyoda Ward. The company has recently revamped the area, generally considered home to large traditional companies in the last century, as an interactive hub of startups and large established corporations.

While Marunouchi is home to more Fortune Global 500 companies and publicly listed companies than other business areas in Tokyo such as Shinjuku, Nihonbashi and Shinagawa, the area is also a base for smaller companies.

Egg Japan, Finolab and Inspired.Lab — all located in Marunouchi — serve as rental offices for entities with up to 20 individuals. Each also offers various services such as networking events.

On the security front, Mitsubishi Estate is looking to showcase cutting-edge technologies designed specifically with offices in mind, created in collaboration with technology startups and corporations.

For example, Mitsubishi Estate plans to exhibit SQ-2, an automated security robot developed by Seqsense Inc. SQ-2 was first used in the Otemachi Park Building on Aug. 29, marking its first step into the commercial market. When patrolling, SQ-2 records and analyzes images and sounds in real time to detect suspicious objects and individuals. It can also make conversation.

In terms of architecture, construction company Taisei Corp. aims to use data from structures it has built and currently maintains to propose design updates and changes for both existing and new buildings.

For example, Taisei collects data such as worker movement patterns in factories and tasks artificial intelligence with calculating the most ideal blueprint for similar factory projects in the future.

“Until now, construction companies have been involved in the first and last part of the life of a building — construction and dismantling. However, we can collect valuable data and be involved in the middle, longest part in the life of a building — operation,” said Toshihiko Ueda, acting general manager of the company’s Artificial Intelligence and “internet of things” Business Promotion Department.

At Taisei’s booth, one of the exhibits visitors can experience is to analyze virtual renderings of Shinjuku streets displaying different data sets with human icons illustrating movement patterns.

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