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Japan looks beyond Industry 4.0 towards Society 5.0

Peter Sayer | March 21, 2017
At the Cebit trade show in Germany, Japanese businesses want to go beyond smart factories, deploying industrial technologies to build a smart society

Japan has a long-standing reputation for microelectronics, but not all the innovations on show at Cebit are about miniaturization.

Komatsu has brought its latest intelligent excavator. While still leaving its human operator to direct the broad sweeps of the bucket, the PC210LCi-11 compares its movements with a digital version of the construction project to prevent the operator from digging outside of the defined area. That can mean less work in staking out the construction site, and in surveying the finished excavation. The whole thing is monitored via a touch-screen display. Showgoers can experience what it's like to operate one in a simulator on Komatsu's stand.

If you carry a smartphone, you probably spent a significant part of the day wondering when best to recharge it -- and that's for a battery containing a few watt-hours of energy, at best. When your battery is a thousand times as big, intended to store up renewable energy and power your home or workplace, then the decision when to charge and discharge can be thousands of times more complicated. Companies like Tesla and Toshiba want to make such big batteries commonplace, and Toshiba is also thinking about how to get the most value out of every charge. It will be showing the first fruits of a research project into distributed energy resource aggregation for virtual power plants, which attempts to balance local energy demand and energy supply from renewable sources such as photovoltaics to decide when to draw on its 10kWh fixed storage batteries. By using a distributed array of such batteries to smooth out dips in generation and peaks in demand, it hopes to reduce the need for centralized generating capacity, and plans to bring the service to market in October.

Knowing what's going on across a power network helps Toshiba reduce power plant costs and improve reliability -- and Fujitsu hopes to do the same for industrial plant. Its Intelligent Dashboard gives an overview of what's going on in a factory, highlighting problems and offering guidance on preventive maintenance. The same company is also showing Ubiquitousware, which employs some of the same technologies found in fitness wearables to monitor location, body position and vital signs, learning the wearer's movements so as to identify anomalies such as falls, drowsiness or ill health. Fujitsu sees applications in industry, transport (driver safety) or in health care, where the devices could be worn by staff and patients alike.


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