IoT/M2M Expo Special Session
Co-creating the future of IoT: Digital industrial revolution envisioned by NEC
Solving the social issues faced by the world and Japan through the power of ICT
”Orchestrating a brighter world”
NEC has formulated this brand statement to express our intention to create a better society together with our partners and customers in our endeavor to solve the social issues.
Forecasts indicate that world population will exceed 9 billion by 2050. In particular, the population in cities is estimated to grow by 1.8 times the current number—from 3.5 billion to 6.3 billion. This massive growth in population is bound to cause various social issues. For example, from 2030 to 2050, the transport of physical things is estimated to increase in volume by 2.4 times, which will result in drastic increase in CO₂ emissions. Also, demand for food is estimated to increase by 1.7 times, with the volume of waste disposal increasing by 2.1 times.
Japan, on the other hand, is undergoing a steady decline in population in contrast to the global trend, wherein the country’s population is estimated to go down to approximately 88 million in 50 years. This population decline, however, will not be accompanied by a scaling down of social infrastructures, such as railways, expressways, and sewage systems. Thus, there is a need to create a safe and secure society while maintaining the existing social infrastructures, with a population and tax revenues less than the current level.
NEC aims to solve these social issues faced by Japan and the whole world using the power of ICT.
Major changes in the field of ICT
Dramatic changes are currently taking place in the field of ICT. Processing performance of computers and transmission speed of mobile networks have drastically improved over the last 20 years. And, with the advent of IoT, the total volume of electronic data throughout the world in 2020 is estimated to swell to 6,500 times the amount of data in 2000. A time will come when one person will own an average of four devices, and 30.3 billion ”things” will be connected to the Internet.
With the uptake of IoT, our society will be comprised of connections between ”people to people,” ”people to things,” and ”things to things.” I believe this connectivity provides the hints into how we can solve the social issues we face.
AI has also been gaining wide attention. In 1997, AI was able to defeat humans in chess, and 16 years later in 2013, AI had reached a level matching the ability of a professional Shogi player. At that point it was said that it would take a much longer time before AI could defeat humans in Go, which is much more complex than Shogi, but in fact AI was able to defeat a master Go player less than 3 years later. This demonstrates the astounding speed by which AI is evolving.
The relationship between NEC’s “Seven Themes for Social Value Creation” and the United Nation’s ”Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)”
As mentioned above, NEC has put forward the ”Orchestrating a brighter world” message in the light of what’s happening in society and how technology is evolving. Moreover, we have also formulated ”Seven Themes for Social Value Creation” as areas in which the company will fully leverage the power of ICT—particularly digital technologies such as IoT and AI—to solve global-scale social issues.
Safer Cities & Public Services
Quality of Life
NEC will endeavor to carry out each of these themes through our Solutions for Society. Recently, the formulation of themes for dealing with social issues has become a major global trend; foremost are the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by the United Nations to be achieved by 2030. The SDGs include 17 goals to be pursued globally, which are broken down further into 169 specific targets. These SDGs are closely compatible with NEC’s “Seven Themes for Social Value Creation”, thus we believe our Solutions for Society can contribute to the achievement of the SDGs.
Promoting ‘visualization’ using the world’s most advanced AI technologies
Next is about the values offered by NEC. To convert digital assets into value and make use of them in the real world, we need to be able to ”visualize” the current state of society and delve into the digital world. NEC has named its lineup of cutting-edge AI technologies, which include ”visualization,” as ”NEC the WISE.” This suite of technologies include face recognition, crowd behavior analysis, object fingerprint, optical vibration sensing, among other technologies that will be combined to offer value in accordance with the customers’ specific needs—a distinct feature of NEC the WISE. It goes without saying that underlying this distinctive line-up are NEC’s core technologies.
One of the visualization technologies worthy of mention is face recognition. NEC’s face recognition technologies are widely recognized around the world and have garnered first place four consecutive times in benchmark tests measuring performance conducted by the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). Significantly different from the previous three tests that evaluated performance based on still images, the latest tests were based on video images.
There are two types of face recognition; namely, ”cooperative recognition,” in which matching is carried out in cooperation with the subjects, with their faces directed at the camera, and ”non-cooperative recognition,” in which matching is carried out for individuals unaware of the presence of cameras. Thus, in non-cooperative recognition, subjects may be facing sideways or downward, or hidden in the shadow, making recognition particularly more difficult. As a result of research aimed at establishing technologies geared for practical use, NEC was able to achieve first place even in the latest tests that used video images for face recognition. Going forward, NEC hopes to apply the technology in an even wider range of fields, such as entertainment and marketing, in addition to public safety and other security-related fields where the technology has been mainly used thus far.
Another example of the application of ”visualization” technologies is ”crowd behavior analysis.” During earthquakes and other disasters, evacuees must be led correctly and safely to exits and escape routes. To provide support in these situations, NEC has built a comprehensive disaster control system that monitors and detects congestion and irregularities from crowd footage taken using disaster prevention cameras in Toshima City, Tokyo.
Home to Ikebukuro station, one of Japan’s largest railway terminals, Toshima City was ill equipped to implement swift measures to deal with the unprecedented number of commuters stranded in and around the terminal during the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011. Learning from that experience, the city introduced the comprehensive disaster control system built by NEC. The city installed 51 disaster prevention cameras in emergency relief centers, near major train stations, and along arterial roads. These cameras are designed to collect real-time information on the state of damage during disaster occurrence and to automatically detect overcrowding and stagnation using crowd behavior analysis, making it possible to carry out swift initial responses, such as dealing with stranded commuters.
Case studies of NEC’s initiatives to create social values for the age of digital industrial revolution
The following are three case studies of NEC’s initiatives in providing Solutions for Society.
The first is about our smart city initiatives. Wellington City, the capital of New Zealand, as part of its economic and technological strategy for 2040, is aiming to become a ”Smart Capital.” In support of the Smart Capital concept for cities, NEC has built a Cloud City Operations Center (CCOC) in Spain. CCOC is the core platform for utilizing ICT and IoT technologies, for example, to grasp the flow of various types of vehicles to aid the formulation of urban development and road rehabilitation plans; or to collect temperature, humidity, CO₂ levels, and other environmental information using sensors to be used for building better cities.
The second case study is in agriculture. NEC has collaborated with Kagome to optimize cultivation methods and maximize yields of processing tomatoes. Tomato is one of the world’s seven most widely planted crops and is the most highly produced vegetable in the world. In response to the growing demand for tomatoes resulting from the increase in world population, Kagome is developing new agricultural technologies to increase the yield per unit area in existing farms, and cultivating tomatoes in new areas and countries that are not major tomato producers. For its part, NEC conducts computer simulations of the actual conditions in farms using satellite images and data from production areas in order to predict the most suitable planting schedules, fertilization and irrigation methods, and harvesting times. NEC is working together with Kagome to maximize harvest, achieve efficient cultivation methods, as well as optimize yields and harvesting seasons.
The third case study is on demand forecasting in collaboration with Asahi Breweries. Asahi Breweries uses AI and IoT in forecasting the demand for new products—a task that is generally difficult to carry out—by forecasting market demand behaviors that occur upon the launch of products with anew concept, based on product features, regional attributes, climate data, and various other factors. This innovative forecasting procedure has resulted in correct demand forecasts at significantly low error rates of 1 to 10%. Going forward, the company will use this technology to optimize its production, inventory, and distribution operations.
NEC alone could not have achieved any of the above successes. ”Co-creation” is therefore imperative in solving social issues going forward. The same thing can be said for achieving the SDGs set by UN to realize a sustainable society.
As the sphere of IoT, AI, and the cloud continues to expand, the era when a single company exercises tremendous power in proposing values to society has come to an end. Henceforth, it will be crucial for companies to work together with consumers, business partners, and other stakeholders in making our world sustainable. In this regard, NEC is committed to pursuing “co-creation” to achieve the goal of sustainability.
NEC will endeavor to support a sustainable society through co-creation with our customers and partners.
(February 28, 2020)