press enter to search

Hiroshima: a thriving innovation hub

Yuliasri Perdani

The Jakarta Post

Hiroshima, Japan  /  Thu, March 7, 2019  /  06:58 pm
Hiroshima: a thriving innovation hub

Speed and precision: Workers assemble machines at Mazda manufacturing complex in Hiroshima, Japan. The automotive company was founded in Hiroshima in 1920. (The Jakarta Post/Yuliasri Perdani)

From a baby breathing detector to high-tech lemon farming, Hiroshima Prefecture is tapping into the Internet of Things to improve quality of life and boost the local economy.

Many new mothers, at some point, feel the urge to constantly check if their baby is still breathing over fear of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). A project in Hiroshima, Japan, aims to address the concern – and most importantly the risk – of SIDS by developing an innovative sensor.

One of Japan’s largest childcare providers, AiGran, and tech startup UniFa utilized the Internet of Things (IoT) to create a coin-sized sensor that closely monitors children’s breathing.  

“This little sensor checks a child’s breathing every minute and the child’s face up or down position,” AiGran chief executive, Taizo Sigemichi, said recently in Hiroshima.

Every breath you take: By attaching the sensor to a child’s clothes, childcare workers can monitor the child’s breathing and position at all times.
 
Every breath you take: By attaching the sensor to a child’s clothes, childcare workers can monitor the child’s breathing and position at all times. (The Jakarta Post/Yuliasri Perdani)

Sigemichi said the sensor would mean so much for AiGran, a chain of 397 childcare facilities, and the rest of the childcare industry.

As the country is grappling with an aging population and a shrinking workforce, many Japanese women are going to work.  

“This has led to an increasing demand for nursery services to accommodate working mothers. The current issue is taikicido, a term to describe kids on the nursery waiting list. They [nurseries] don’t have enough space.”

AiGran obliges its workers to check the children’s breathing every five minutes to prevent SIDS. The task is becoming very burdensome as the workers are handling an increasing number of children.

With the sensor, the childcare workers can monitor the condition of multiple children through a computer tablet. The sensor will send an alarm if it detects an abnormality in a child’s breathing and position.

Sigemichi hopes the technology will attract more individuals to work in the childcare industry.

“The number of childcare workers has been stagnant. With this sensor, I intend to invite former childcare workers to return to the industry,” he said, adding that he planned to rent the sensor to mothers.

 

Hiroshima Sandbox

The sensor is one of nine projects developed under Hiroshima Sandbox, a platform for companies and universities to solve issues using the IoT and artificial intelligence. Hiroshima prefecture initiated the tech incubator last year and has set aside 1 billion yen (US$8 million) of financial assistance to be disbursed within three years.

“We wanted to create an environment where people don’t hesitate to do what they want to do. A place where they don’t feel afraid to make failures,” said Atsuhito Uemaru, the chief of Innovation Promotion at Hiroshima Prefectural Government.

After experiencing great devastation in World War II, Hiroshima quickly rebuilt itself to become one of the largest industrial prefectures in western Japan.

It is home to shipbuilding, iron and steel, electronic and automotive companies – including Mazda which was founded in Hiroshima in 1920 and still manufactures cars at a 2.23-square-kilometer manufacturing complex that spreads 7 km along Hiroshima bay.

Soaring high: Hiroshima-based Luce Search builds high-performing drones for land mapping, the inspection of bridges across Japan, and analyzing the land structure in the aftermath of Hiroshima flooding last year. Soaring high: Hiroshima-based Luce Search builds high-performing drones for land mapping, the inspection of bridges across Japan, and analyzing the land structure in the aftermath of Hiroshima flooding last year. (The Jakarta Post/Yuliasri Perdani)

The prefecture’s drive to innovate got a significant boost after Stanford graduate Hidehiko Yuzaki was elected Hiroshima governor in 2009.

He served in the Ministry of International Trade and Industry since 1990 and earned his MBA from Stanford Graduate School of Business in 1995. In 2000, Yuzaki founded ACCA Networks, a broadband telecom carrier in Japan.

“He has a very unique character because he knows and has been successful in the government and the business fields. So many of our unique policies are by his initiative,” Uemaru said.

Under Yuzaki’s leadership, Hiroshima has started a slate of technology initiatives, including Innovation Hub Hiroshima Camps, the Manufacturing Digital Innovation Program at Hiroshima University, a partnership with Silicon Valley and Hiroshima Sandbox.

 

When life gives you lemons

Two Hiroshima Sandbox projects interestingly focus on the prefecture’s famed commodities: lemons and oysters.

Hiroshima is Japan’s number one lemon producer. As demand for lemons rises steadily, the farmers in Kure, Hiroshima are beginning to find ways to increase the productivity of their graying farms.

Tangy: Hiroshima lemons boast strong sour and sweet flavors. Tangy: Hiroshima lemons boast strong sour and sweet flavors. (The Jakarta Post/Yuliasri Perdani)

To address this challenge, lemon farmers grouped under Tobishima Citrus Club are partnering with a utility communications provider, Energia Communications (EneCom).

Backed with financial support from Hiroshima Sandbox, Enecom is developing a solar-powered sensor that gives real-time information on the lemon trees’ condition, temperature and humidity. The analysis of the data will help the farmers predict yield, and determine the right fertilization and irrigation.

Many lemon farms in Hiroshima are on steep ground. Therefore, the sensor will significantly reduce the burden of many aging farmers.

Hiroyuki Takeda from EneCom also plans to utilize drones and robots for the project.

“Drones will provide imagery of the lemon farms. For the harvest season, we have a plan to use four-legged robots that can carry 20 kilograms of lemons up and down steep ground,” Takeda said.

 

Looking for more oysters

Similar high-tech solutions will also be applied to Hiroshima’s oyster farming. Oysters are an inseparable part of Hiroshima.

It is not hard to find big, juicy oysters in Hiroshima. You can enjoy freshly grilled oysters from street vendors, or deep-fried ones in restaurants.  

One slurp is not enough: Hiroshima is one of the top producers of oysters in Japan. One slurp is not enough: Hiroshima is one of the top producers of oysters in Japan. (The Jakarta Post/Yuliasri Perdani)

You can easily spot oyster rafts floating on the waters of Hiroshima. In fact, the prefecture is the top oyster producer in Japan. However, oyster production has been fluctuating in the past few years – which many experts attribute to climate change.

To tackle the problem, a consortium comprising electronics maker Sharp, the University of Tokyo and drone company Luce Search has devised a strategy to help oyster farmers monitor and analyze oyster rafts.

The strategy includes the use of a sensor that reads the water temperature and salinity, a drone to gather aerial images of the rafts, and a smartphone application.

-----------------

The Japanese government recently invited a group of journalists, including The Jakarta Post's Yuliasri Perdani, to go on a four-day trip to Hiroshima.