Toyama CityFace Recognition integrated into Toyama City
Introduction: A New Age of Smart Cities
By leveraging many of the key IT solutions of its new I:Delight concept, NEC has created a new suite of digital transformation solutions which has enabled Toyama City to undergo a smart city transformation.
For locals, it can significantly reduce the pains of everyday life and bring them closer to their hometown in unique and different ways. A smart city initiative can also make a place more attractive to tourists, allowing any city to be instantly accessible and convenient for any traveler.
In October 2020, NEC brought its facial recognition system to Toyama City, Japan, a sightseeing region located in the country's Northern Alps and the hometown of NBA star Rui Hachimura. The partnership between the NEC and Toyama City aimed to contribute to the city's economic development by improving the city's payment experience through a facial recognition system.
Creating Social Value Through Facial Recognition
To combat aging and population decline, Toyama City has been promoting a ‘compact city' policy that aims to concentrate public services in the central area of the city. After developing key physical infrastructure within the city, such as a 15.2km Light Rail Transition (LRT), Toyama City has moved towards a smart city transformation with the goal to improve overall efficiency to manage future human resource shortages in administrative functions as well as to enhance the city's attractiveness by using advanced technology.
Utilizing NEC's facial recognition system, users are able to make touchless payments at stores around the city by simply enrolling their face and credit card information on their smartphones and would also be greeted by personalized welcome messages at electronic billboards at the Hokuriku Shinkansen Toyama Station.
Smart city features such as the widespread adoption of NEC's facial recognition system not only provide advanced services to Toyama City, they also help the city create an identity for itself.
Ms. Kaori Tsuchida, Section Chief of the Toyama City Tourism Division's Strategy Officer, said, "Compared to neighboring tourist cities, the central part of Toyama has few historical buildings as many were destroyed during the war. We believe that creating new, cutting-edge services is therefore important for fostering pride and attachment in city residents."
The Charm of City Living and the Tourist Appeal
Toyama City's use of facial recognition systems is also intended to attract and draw visitors to the city. "We think that facial recognition systems, which are still rare in Japan, will be an effective way to enhance the city's charm. If we offer and establish a technologically advanced lifestyle and hospitality services through the use of facial recognition, travelers on their way to other nearby tourist spots may be intrigued and decide to pay us a visit," said Ms. Tsuchida.
The rollout of facial recognition payments was focused on highlighting the city's most attractive establishments that are beloved by locals. Using the appeal of facial recognition to draw people in, the selected locations were then created into itineraries that were built around promoting sightseeing and visiting stores.
Ms. Tsuchida adds, "In 2020, Toyama came first among Japanese cities people want to continuing living in (1). I have always believed that tourism is about the sharing of lifestyles with others, and when visitors come to Toyama and visit locales and interact with our people, it becomes a great tourist resource that is unique to Toyama City."
We believe that creating new, cutting-edge services is therefore important for fostering pride and attachment in city residents," said Ms. Kaori Tsuchida, Section Chief of the Toyama City Tourism Division's Strategy Officer.
Streamlining Tourism Initiatives
The introduction of NEC's facial recognition system also enables the optimization of tourism initiatives, such as the analysis of tourist flow from the Toyama city center to the historic Iwase district that is an up-and-coming tourist destination. Mr. Tomokazu Ishikuro, Deputy Director of the Toyama City Tourism Policy Division, said, "Things that were once based on experience and intuition, such as tourism trends and the psychology of tourists, are now possible to access thanks to facial recognition systems. Visualizing such data may give us completely new insights and organize model itineraries more effectively and may even educate us on how to develop future initiatives."
This analysis is done without compromising on personal privacy and security. All facial recognition data is stored and managed at NEC's data cloud center, which is under the supervision of Japan's highest level of security. No individual can be identified with the collected data, with both NEC and Toyama City ensuring that access to data is only used to the extent necessary to analyze touring trends of users.
Business tourism is another avenue that facial recognition will enhance. "When international conventions can resume, we can offer visitors the chance of having a comfortable stay by doing everything through facial recognition. Nobody will have to take out their wallets or credit cards and overseas visitors won't even have to exchange currency! We want to create experiences that are not available anywhere else," said Mr. Ishikuro.
Creating New Value with Establishments
Payments using NEC's facial recognition system have been deployed to establishments in Toyama City with incredible results.
Deep in the heart of the city center is the ANA Crowne Plaza Toyama Hotel, which adopted the touchless system just as the COVID-19 pandemic began to hit the city and saw immediate results. "Unlike hard assets like buildings which require a considerable investment, introducing facial recognition payments was relatively easy. Such payments, beyond providing an obvious convenience to our customers, also highlight the hotel's technological advancement and represent an effective countermeasure against infectious diseases," said Mr. Koji Kawajiri, ANA Crowne Plaza Toyama Hotel's Accounting Manager. "We hope that facial recognition payments will help alleviate customers' anxieties as much as possible."
Ms. Yumiko Otsuka, the hotel's Public Relations Manager, added that the new facial recognition system allows her to provide a better experience for guests. "I was very surprised by the speed of payments. It saves considerable time, and I'm grateful for the extra time I can spend with my customers."
Further north, the KOBO Brewery has benefitted from the smoothness and accuracy of payment that facial recognition provides. "It's great to be able to make payments easily with just a customer's face. This system is very convenient because it requires no time at all compared to credit card payments," said Mr. Boris Prisoel, KOBO's store manager.
KOBO's brewer Mr. Jiri Kotinek has experienced just how seamless payments using facial recognition can be. "I live nearby and on my off-days I can come to drink beer empty-handed. I don't own a smartphone so I can't make QR code payments, and while smartphones are needed to enroll, I just asked my wife to enroll me on her smartphone!"
Looking Forward to the Future
Payments using NEC's facial recognition system has been deployed to establishments in Toyama City with incredible results.
Many local businesses in Toyama City have embraced Toyama City's strong vision of a smart city, eager to bring residents and tourists unique and new value that is unavailable anywhere else. While only 30 establishments are currently piloting facial recognition payments, the city has reported that they have already received inquiries from multiple businesses asking how they can participate.
Ms. Tsuchida anticipates that facial recognition payments are here to stay and is excited for what the future holds. "When my children grow up and facial recognition payments become more commonplace, I look forward to telling them that I, your mom, was involved in their introduction!"