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Advancements in Antarctic Observation: What employees dispatched by the NEC Group can do to keep pace with technological progress

Over one hundred years have passed since explorers first reached the South Pole on December 14, 1911. Now, humanity is working hand in hand to learn about the Earth's past, present, and future by observing natural phenomena in the Antarctic region. The NEC Group is also assisting the Japanese Antarctic Research Expedition (JARE), with employees being temporarily dispatched to the National Institute of Polar Research to be part of the JARE. In recent years, NEC's contributions have evolved to include conducting demonstration tests for new communications systems. We spoke with members of the JARE to learn what unique contributions can be made by the NEC Group.

Providing versatile support to Japan, the world leader in Antarctic observation

Japan's ties to Antarctica date back to 1912. Since the establishment of the Syowa Station in 1957, Japan has been leading the world in Antarctic observation, including the world's first discovery of the ozone hole (1982). The National Institute of Polar Research plays a pivotal role in managing the JARE engaged in Japan's Antarctic observation efforts, which are a collaboration between industry, government, and academia.

The NEC Group first dispatched employees to serve as members of the JARE in 1971, providing technical and systems support. Following the installation of a multi-purpose satellite data receiving system (multi-purpose antenna) for receiving data from satellites and radio waves from space, team members hailing from the NEC Group have been primarily responsible for the operation and maintenance of the multi-purpose antenna.

The multi-purpose antenna measures 11 meters in diameter, and its main role at present is to receive radio waves from space and use them for space geodetic observation. Since there are few antennas for this purpose in the Antarctic region, this antenna is crucial for geodetic observation. For example, the discovery 40 years ago that the distance between Japan and Hawaii is lessening by about 10 centimeters per year is thanks to space geodetic observation.

The business cards carried by team members dispatched by NEC Networks & System Integration Corporation say "Wintering Party, in Charge of Multi-Purpose Antenna." Tetsu Ochiai (age 31), an employee who served as the JARE member for the 61st JARE from November 2019 to February 2021, reflected on his time there, saying, "It would probably be more accurate to say that I was in charge of 'multi-purpose' duties rather than the multi-purpose antenna."

Aurora Borealis and a snow vehicle
(Photo provided by the National Institute of Polar Research)
The Japanese icebreaker, Shirase, as seen from a helicopter
(Photo provided by the National Institute of Polar Research)

Proven technical capabilities capable of making Local 5G and the development of Syowa Station into a Smart City a reality

In addition to maintenance of the multi-purpose antenna, those responsible are also somewhat of a jack-of-all-trades when it comes to electrical equipment and systems, including the handling of minor equipment malfunctions for other members. They also deal with new technologies and items. Drones were introduced starting with the 58th JARE, which led to facility inspections previously carried out visually being conducted with drones. This prompted Ochiai to obtain a drone operating license.

Recently, efforts have also begun to transform Syowa Station into a Smart City. Through a joint research project by the National Institute of Polar Research and NEC Networks & System Integration Corporation, the 63rd JARE installed local 5G equipment. The world's first demonstration trial of local 5G in the Antarctic region began in February of this year.

With the introduction of local 5G, it will be easier to determine the location of fellow team members because both parties can talk at the same time—something not possible with transceivers. It will also enable monitoring of the station from afar and the provision of observation support from Japan within the country using video, thereby improving not only the safety of team members but also observation efficiency. The ability to transmit massive amounts of data at high speeds—a defining feature of local 5G—will also make it possible to contribute to the advancement of research.

"There is still so much more we can do to learn about the earth and safeguard its future. And our missions in the Antarctic continue to expand as technology evolves," said Ochiai emphatically. Going forward, the way in which the NEC Group contributes to creating social value and promoting a more sustainable world—the Purpose of the NEC Group—will continue to evolve.

Once again this year, there were team members filled with great anticipation as they began their journey. On November 11, 2022, the 64th JARE departed the Port of Tokyo. Makoto Inoue (age 37) of NEC Networks & System Integration Corporation was temporarily assigned to the National Institute of Polar Research to participate.

The antenna
(Photo provided by the National Institute of Polar Research)
Ochiai at Syowa Station
(Photo provided by the National Institute of Polar Research)

Making a childhood dream come true by honing one's ability to adapt to change

As a child, Inoue would gaze at a globe with wonder at the great white continent. In fact, it was his desire to travel to the Antarctic that led him to join NEC Networks & System Integration Corporation. That childhood dream came true on his second attempt.

According to Inoue, the post he was assigned to was not directly related to the kind of tasks necessary to go to Antarctica. But what it takes to be part of the JARE is cooperativeness and the ability to adapt to change, which is necessary to act collectively for long periods of time in a harsh environment. He worked hard on the job in front of him, heeding advice from former expedition crew members. His most recent involvement was in new business launching, which of course has nothing to do with maintenance technologies. But the experience and knowledge he gained through the process of thinking about what solution, business, or value creation was needed to solve customer issues became significant strengths in his application to join the expedition.

"The local 5G trial is now under way, and a new challenge is before us. It is truly an honor to be involved."

While there, Inoue is testing evolving communications technologies and contemplating how the Syowa Station can be changed in the future. The ability to not only perform maintenance on and operate what is right in front of you but also approach it from multiple perspectives and with various technologies is what the NEC Group excels at and is therefore something at which its members excel as well.

Another thing he is looking forward to is sharing his experiences in Antarctica with children. During his stay in Antarctica, he will report on his activities on a website called "Updates from the wintering party in Antarctica." Former expedition members who have returned to Japan also give lectures on their experiences to children. He can't wait to teach about Antarctica at his eldest daughter's elementary school next spring. He intends to come up with many interesting stories to share from his Antarctic adventure.

Penguins seen from the ship
(Photo provided by the National Institute of Polar Research)
Photo of Inoue before his departure

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