June 13, 2021


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IoT Devices Tackle Japan’s Quality Assurance, Labor Shortage, and Senior Care Issues

In 2018, Japan’s 3 largest mobile carriers will introduce telecommunication services dedicated to Internet of things (IoT) devices used by corporations. It is hoped that the new service will break through the barriers that have prevented the adoption of IoT devices: cost and energy consumption. IoT devices use low volumes of data and slow speeds, so they are too expensive to use with traditional smart phone plans. The new low-speed services will likely reduce service costs from tens of dollars a month to a few dollars a year. In addition, the equipment will be much more energy efficient, such that two AA batteries can power a device for over 10 years. Sensors and transmitters will have miniature batteries or draw power from factory equipment. The low costs and energy consumption will likely make the use of IoT devices more profitable and drive adoption in more fields.


Several data falsification scandals in Japan’s manufacturing industry have provided IoT device makers a new way to introduce their products. In September 2017, regulators found that Nissan Motor was performing inspections improperly, which led to a recall of nearly every car it produced in the previous three years. In October 2017, Kobe Steel admitted to falsifying data on the strength and durability of several of its products. The companies are adopting technological solutions and investing in IoT devices to eliminate the falsification of data by employees. For example, Kobe Steel will spend about ¥10 billion ($88 million) on IoT equipment and solutions to record inspection data automatically and prevent tampering by employees. Although Japan’s manufacturing sector is highly automated, it lacks the digital solutions used in the US and Europe. Experts believe that cloud software and IoT solutions will help not just with efficiency, but also quality control.


Retirement of skilled workers, lack of replacements, low productivity, and rising wages have led to a one quarter drop in construction personnel in the past 15 years. Still, construction demand is high due to the reconstruction after the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and preparations for the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. Japanese construction companies are turning to artificial intelligence, cloud computing, and IoT devices to increase productivity in the face of this large labor shortage. Komatsu, the world’s second largest manufacturer of construction and mining equipment, introduced intelligent and connected bulldozers and excavators with automated blades and buckets in 2013. A few years later, it initiated its Smart Construction system, which uses drones to conduct 3-D site surveys, combines the information with blueprints, and then sends the data to equipment via satellite. In combination with connected equipment, the system now guides novice operators to increase efficiency and reduce the requirements for skilled labor.


As a country, Japan likely has the highest proportion of elderly citizens. It is estimated that about one third of the population is over the age of 60, and one fourth is over 65. While care robots for seniors are under development, smart sensors are a more affordable option for most. IoT cloud platform company Z-Works is creating sensors to monitor older family members. A lightbulb to be installed over a bed measures heart rate, breathing, and movement. Another sensor uses lighting, temperature, humidity, and movement to detect motion. A third sensor can be placed on a door to determine whether it is open or closed. The company purposely avoided using cameras, as privacy is a major concern in Japan. The company would like to make the sensors and data open to other companies and is working on a system to send notifications to caregivers in certain situations.
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Also published on Medium.


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