Monday, December 7, 2015

No. 887: Automotive industry is making a step forward for the next 100 years (2/2) (December 7, 2015)

It is said that a vehicle loaded only with an engine cannot survive in the future. Toyota plans to decrease sales of vehicles loaded only with an engine to zero by 2050. Following Toyota, Honda will introduce fuel-cell vehicles, and preparations for mass production are under way in its plant in Tochigi Prefecture.

Future vehicles change the entire industry structure

Information technology
Artificial intelligence decides the destination.
Sensors avoid a risk
Automated driving spreads, and taxies and buses will be automatically operated.
Driver’s license will not be required for driving.
Parts and components
Progress of automotive parts will change part and component formation drastically.  
From gas station to charging and hydrogen stations
Instead of iron, resin and carbon will increase their shares.
From gasoline engine vehicles to motor-driven like EV and FCV

As the above table shows, the automotive parts industry needs to prepare for the drastic change. NipponPiston Rings, one of Japan’s leading manufacturers of piston rings, is diversifying its business by producing aluminum parts for semiconductors and dental implant. According to a survey company, economic effect created by fuel cell vehicles will amount to 4.4 trillion yen in 2030.   

Toyota i-road test driving in Tokyo

Toyota i-road test driving

Saturday, December 5, 2015

No. 886: Automotive industry is making a step forward for the next 100 years (1/2) (December 5, 2015)

ZMP, a venture company developing autonomous driving, is increasing its presence in the automotive industry quite rapidly. Because the government laid down a policy to ease the regulations on autonomous driving, it is highly likely that experiments on autonomous driving will be conducted on the public road in 2017. The company has already founded Robot Tax, which operates unattended taxies, in alliance with DeNA, to connect airports and venues by taxi by the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Under the initiative of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the Japanese government is supporting companies with the challenging spirit in their attempts to create innovations. Insurance companies are quick to respond to the move toward the experiment of autonomous driving. MitsuiSumitomo Insurance and Aioi Nissay Dowa Insurance jointly developed an insurance product that covers damage caused in the experiment of autonomous driving for the first time in Japan. 

 Toyota's intelligent driving

Nissan's intelligent driving

Saturday, November 14, 2015

No. 885: Hitachi unveils its first prototype autonomous driving vehicle (November 14, 2015)

Hitachi built its first autonomous driving vehicle as a concept car. Based on Subaru’s vehicle, Hitachi’s prototype vehicle carries such important parts as control unit and sensors that are totally made by Hitachi. They include stereo camera, sound camera to tell the situation of the four areas around the vehicle, various sensors like long distance surveillance radar, a high-precision map that can tell the lanes on the express way precisely in coordination with GPS, and inter-vehicle communication device to detect the situation ahead.

Hitachi’s strategy is to be an Intel of the autonomous driving technology, saying “Hitachi inside.” Leading automakers are developing the autonomous driving technology independently, but Hitachi wishes to sell its system to small- and medium-size automakers. The autonomous driving market is expected to grow from 300 billion yen in 2015 to more than 1 trillion yen in 2020. Hitachi plans to increase its share in the autonomous driving market from the present  5% to 20% in 2020. 

Hitachi's autonomous driving technology

Toyota's autonomous driving technology

Nissan's autonomous driving technology

Monday, November 9, 2015

No. 884: Reducing the price of an LED material to one tenth (November 10, 2015)

Rengo, Japan’s leading cardboard manufacturer, is scheduled to start mass production of an LED material, which is one tenth in price of the existing material, at the beginning of 2016. The company successfully developed a fluorescent material to make LED lighting red without using rare earths. Combined with purple LED, it can create white color close to natural light.

The new product is a fluorescent material that grows red when it absorbs ultraviolet light. An LED light bulb uses several milligrams of this new product. It is created by applying the technology to mix lots of silver with zeolite that is used to make cardboards antibacterial. Traditionally, it costs much to produce the same kind of product because rare earths are required, and the traditional product is too hard to process. Because the new material can be mass produced without rare earths, it can simplify the production process of LEDs and will be applied to create anticounterfeit ink. 

Rengo's advanced technology active in business

Rengo's advanced technology active in logistics 

Sunday, November 1, 2015

No. 883: Smart forestry is growing widespread (November 2, 2015)

Smart forestry that utilizes information technology to forestry is growing widespread. Sumitomo Forestry has decided to exert more energy in forest management consulting in alliance with Nakanihon Air Service and a data analysis firm. Laser beams are irradiates form a helicopter to know the number of trees and forest density, and data and photos are analyzed constantly. A database is constructed and submitted to local governments to help them formulate guidelines for their forest management policies. Using Geographical Information System (GIS) is also increasing popular. The University of Tokyo started to survey using GIS with Jitsuta that is a survey company in Matsuyama of Shikoku. With the help of 3D scan system, they measure the number and figure of trees with three times more operating efficiency than in the past. Kamaishi Forest Owner’s Association actually used this system and found that the data amount increased three to four times bigger than in the past. The system currently costs 180,000 yen per hectare, but the cost is expected to go down as it grows more popular.  

Japanese forest land is 25 million hectare, and the volume of wood is 4.9 billion cubic meters that is 20% bigger as compared with that of 10 years ago. The number of forest workers was about 70,000 people, about 30% smaller than in 1990. Smart forestry is expected to make up for the decrease of forest workers. Iwafuji Industrial developed a system to several trees simultaneously using wires. This system increased the transportable amount of trees from 300,000 cubic meters to 500,000 cubic meters per day.

What is smart forestry?

High school students are learning about forestry.

No. 882: Nihon Kohden’s latest technology to keep watching the elderly (November 1, 2015)

Nihon Kohdan that is Japan’s largest maker of automated external defibrillators will launch a service named “Sukoyaka (Being healthy)” on November 30 to participate in the service to keep watching the elderly. A sensor installed inside the house detects such actions as standing up, getting seated, and walking of the elderly and digitalize them. The figures will be divided into 100 levels and uploaded on the special site every day. A figure that goes down suddenly indicates possible trouble, and an e-mail will be sent to family members to inform them of the possible trouble. The sensor is a little bigger than a PET bottle. Because it can also measure room temperature and humidity, it can prevent family members from suffering heat stroke. It comes with a meter to measure the amount of activity that can be carried whenever leaving home. It will be distributed by Yamada-Denki, Japan's largest distributor of home lectronics, that has already started to sell the service by subscription. The service is 89,800 yen excluding tax for the system, and the basic usage charge is 2,980 yen excluding tax per month is needed.

Secom that is Japan’s largest security company is scheduled to launch a wearable terminal in 2-3 years for keeping watching the elderly. The company has already started the service to keep watching the elderly for 24 hours in alliance with Tsukui that is one of the leading nursing service companies in Japan. When a user pulls a string, Secom’s terminal will be activated and security staffs will be dispatched. Japan Post will start demonstration experiments of a service for the elderly in alliance with IBM. The elderly respond to a question coming from the tablet “Have you taken medicine?” The answer the elderly make by pushing buttons will be transmitted to family members living apart to let them confirm the health of the elderly. Hitachi collects consumption of electricity and water supply of a household, and immediately informs people concerned of an irregularity whenever it occurs.  

 Nihon Kohden's electrocardiogram

Secom is active around the world

No. 881: TDK develops a highly heat resistant magnet without rare earth (October 31, 2015)

TDK developed a rare earth-free highly heat resistant magnet for the first time in the world. The new magnet does not deteriorate its property even at such as high temperature as 130 degrees centigrade. The company succeeded in eliminating the necessity of dysprosium that is very expensive because of limited source of supply: Dysprosium was close to 3,000 dollars per kilogram in 2011 because China is virtually the only source of supply. It improved the structure of materials and heat treatment process, and thereby it successfully made the new product entirely without dysprosium. Because the existing product can stand the heat up to 90 degrees centigrade, it can only be used for motors of hard disc drive. But the new product can be applied to electric power steering of vehicles because it does not deteriorate the property of magnet even at 130 degrees centigrade. The company already started the commercial production for several tons per month.

The market of magnets for industrial purposes is estimated at 100 billion yen worldwide, and Japanese companies, such as TDK, Hitachi Metals, and Shin-Etsu Chemical, have strong presence in the world market. Magnet manufacturers are actively involved in developing magnet with increased heat resistance. A magnet that can stand the heat up to 180 degrees centigrade can be used for motors of electric vehicles.   

The world of TDK products

TDK's advanced techology for HDD heads

Monday, October 19, 2015

No. 880: Controlling flood damage with the aid of information technology (October 19, 2015)

Responding to the increasing number of flood disasters lately, leading IT companies are accelerating their efforts to develop IT-based disaster prevention systems. NTT Data has developed a system to manage disaster information on such issues as landslide quickly using its cloud technology. Fujitsu made it possible to forecast the place where sewage flood occurs and predict the time when it occurs.

The system developed by NTT Data collects weather data by dividing the target area into one-kilometer square and displays such data as rainfall on a PC or tablet. Thereby, local residents can collect data with their terminals as soon as they foresee a possible landside and flood disaster to sound a red alert well in advance of the arrival of the disaster. By utilizing cloud computing and smartphones, the company succeeded in reducing the construction cost of the system to one third of the existing product to about 100 million yen. It is planning to sell this system not only in the domestic market but also in foreign markets.

Fujitsu developed a system to detect damage caused by water flown out from sewage in big rainfall. The system installs a measurement device with sensor on the sewage pipe at intervals of about one kilometer and measures level and amount of water in real time. Collected data will be analyzed and used to predict place and time of flooding to call on residents to evacuate. The annual running cost of the system is 10 million yen for every 1,000 measuring devices. The running cost is less than one tenth of the current level.

Major companies working on the control of damage caused by global warming
Company name
It developed a system to estimate flood of sewage
It developed a system to detect a landside disaster
NTT Data
It developed a disaster management system combined with elaborate weather forecast. It has already put this system on the market.
IBM Japan
It developed an integrated system that can manage disaster information and products in evacuation centers.
It is conducting demonstration experiments of a system to predict flood and torrential rainfall.
Some researchers predict that world damages caused by flood will increase 170 times from 2015 to about 1 trillion dollars in 2050 unless measures are worked out. 

What reaction do people show when they get an alarm mail on their smartphones?
An experiment in Osaka that covered more than 8 million people

Restoration activities after the Great East Japan Earhthquake

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

No. 879: Increasing the competitive edge of Japanese agriculture (October 8, 2015)

It goes without saying that Japan has to increase the competitive edge of its agriculture to cope with the agreement on the picture of the PPT negotiations. Hitachi and the Softbank Group have jointly announced that they will launch the “e-kakashi (scarecrow or bird scanner), which is the support system to help farmers confirm crop’s growing environment, on the 14th of October. Farmers can confirm easily the growing environment of their crop by installing a device that incorporates a senor in their fields to secure the quality of their products.

The new service asks farmers to install a special device with a sensor to measure such data as temperature, amount of insolation, and soil moisture. Collected data will be transmitted to cloud automatically and farmers can see them with their smartphones. No initial setting is required, and what farmers have to do is just switching on the system. Every farmer can operate this system quite easily. The special device can run continuously for three years on the condition that it measures the environment every 10 minutes. Farmers can pick the function to show the optimal environment depending on such growth stages as seeding and sprouting. The system is available for 749,600 yen and up excluding tax, and users have to pay usage charge of 7,980 yen per month. Hitachi builds the device using its internet-of-things technology.

Yano Research Institute, one of Japan’s leading research firms, predicts that the Japanese domestic market of smart agriculture, which is supported by IT technology for better efficiency, will increase to about 31 billion yen in 2020, five times bigger than in 2013. The JAKurikyo in Miyagi Prefecture is scheduled to introduce the system on trial ahead of other agricultural cooperatives with the expectation that the system will help stabilize crop’s quality. 

Smartphone to manage rice cropping

Science changes agriculture and fishery

Thursday, July 30, 2015

No. 878: Transforming a house into a hydrogen plant (July 30, 2015)

Focusing on the next stage of photovoltaic cells, Panasonic will develop a technology to generate hydrogen at home using the photocatalyst technology. The existing photocatalyst technology works only under ultraviolet light, and sunlight contains only a small amount of ultraviolet light. The company developed photocatalyst of the niobium system, and it has already confirmed that the self-developed photocatalyst can generate hydrogen responding to the visible light that has the largest amount of energy among sunlight.

Panasonic’s panel equipment to generate hydrogen
direcdty form natural energy 
Panasonic will conduct research to increase the generation efficiency of hydrogen in alliance with New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO) and Kyoto University. Niobium is abundant and relatively free from price fluctuation as compared with silicone, and its supply is more stable than silicone. Besides, the mechanism to generate hydrogen is simple, opening the way to generate hydrogen at low cost. The company plans to generate sufficient amount of hydrogen to supply energy for household use, excluding energy for vehicle, by hydrogen alone using panels on the house roof. Panasonic wishes to put this technology into practical use by 2030.  

Toshiba’s Hydrogen Energy Research and Development Center 

Monday, June 8, 2015

No. 877: Transforming carbon dioxide to fuel gas in one second (June 8, 2015)

Prof. Choji Fukuhara of Shizuoka University and Cataler, a catalyst maker in Shizuoka Prefecture, jointly developed a technology to transform carbon dioxide to fuel gas at a high speed. Carbon dioxide flowed in a narrow tube to which catalyst is applied is transformed to methane gas in about one second.

Prof. Fukuhara’s research team applied a porous material that contains nickelic nanoparticles to aluminum narrow pipes, each of which is 5 cm long and several millimeters in diameter, and combined them to build a pipe. A mixed gas made of carbon dioxide and hydrogen flowed in from one end of the pipe initiates a chemical reaction when it is heated, and methane gas is flows out from the other end. The research team successfully transformed 1.5 ml of carbon oxide into methane gas per second using a pipe 2 cm in diameter. The yield is 90%, and mass production will be available by increasing the number of narrow pipes.

The chemical reaction to produce methane from carbon dioxide and hydrogen has long been known in the academic circle, but it was very hard to increase the transformation efficiency. The research team successfully increased the transformation efficiency by developing the method to make the mixed gas contact nickel nicely. It plans to locate partners for joint research and verify the technology in a demonstration plant. The technology is expected to contribute to the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions. Japanese government plans to reduce greenhouse gases to 26% below 2013 level by 2030.  

Introduction to Cataler  

Thursday, May 7, 2015

No. 876: Supporting Southeast Asian countries in their attempt to improve infrastructure with the help of information technology (May 7, 2015)

Business trend:
Japanese companies are strengthening their efforts to help Southeast Asian countries improve their infrastructures using information technology. The Japanese government will provide them with indirect support. A syndicate led by Honda Motor will start demonstration experiments of a system to relieve traffic congestion in the Philippines. The system to be introduced in the Philippine is the Vehicle Information and Communication System (VICS) that has already been introduced in Japan. It tells how much the road is congested using the information available from the positional information of vehicles and transmits the information on traffic jam to smartphones and car navigation systems via data broadcasting. JVC Kenwood, Zenrin that is Japan’s map publisher, and Sumitomo Electric joined the syndicate.  

Dentsu that is Japan’s largest advertising agency is to build a business infrastructure that merges broadcasting and communications in alliance with the national broadcasting company in Vietnam. It is developing a system to transmit disaster prevention information to smartphones. Hitachi will start educational-support business that utilizes tablets. NTT Data is scheduled to launch a system that supports air traffic control this month. NEC and Fujitsu will focus on systems to notify information on natural disasters like flood and earthquake and those to detect cybercrimes.  

List of business Japanese companies develop in Southeast Asian Countries
Honda and others
Plan to conduct demonstration experiments of a system to relieve traffic congestion in the Philippines in alliance with leading Japanese companies in car navigation and map publishing.   
Develops a system to deliver TV contents via the Internet in alliance with the national TV broadcasting company in Vietnam.
Plans to start educational-support system using tablets making the best use of it successful business of digital textbooks in Japan.
Has delivered a system to the disaster prevention bureau in Jakarta, and plans to collect information on the level of river water from citizens to formulate flood actions.  
Develop human resources to cope with cybercrime in alliance with the Singaporean government.
NTT Data
Scheduled to put a system that supports air traffic control on the market on May 11.   

The Japanese government reached an agreement with the Thai government to strengthen the relations between the two countries in the field of info-communication technology. Japan made a success in the export of IT infrastructure to South America: A total of 17 South American countries adopted the Japanese terrestrial digital broadcasting system. Japanese companies are expected to upgrade their efforts to export technology and service in addition to hardware including equipment in the field of IT infrastructure. 

 A driving support system for express highway

Fujitsu's RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) sensor