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At the beginning of September, the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism (MLIT) initiated an experts’ conference jointly with METI. Discussion included the deregulation of drones to allow flight to positions not within the operator’s range of vision. The ability of drones to legally fly for medium or long distances beyond the operator’s line of sight will be essential for their use in transportation or resource distribution. The committee is expected to compile its findings and issue a report by next spring, opening the door to business use.

Currently, drones in Japan are mainly involved in crop dusting or surveying, and the domestic market accounts for less than 10 percent of worldwide use. Should flights beyond line-of-sight become possible, drones could also be used to reach places inaccessible to humans, such as disaster sites. Under current rules, advance permission from MLIT and the assignment of an assistant to the main operator are required.

Ways to facilitate advance permission—and revision of inspection standards based on the aviation law—will also be sought. During the current fiscal year, the main theme was requirements for drone operation in areas where other types of aircraft seldom fly, such as around small islands or mountain valleys. The next step will be to consider the rules for flight over private property.

Following the revision of inspection requirements, standards for evaluation of drone performance—including safety matters such as collision avoidance—will be determined. Another agenda item will be the establishment of “drone ports” by which drones can be guided to a landing via radio signals.

The government’s growth strategy calls for implementation of goods shipments via drone to mountain valley areas to commence by next year, and plans call for full-scale drone operation by the start of the next decade.

METI: Sifting through tweets to grasp economic trends
The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) is moving ahead with development of new economic indices using artificial intelligence (AI) to mine Twitter posts and business sales data to better understand economic trends. The technique will allow economic activity to be tracked in small increments, hopefully leading to more rapid decision-making when it comes to economic policy.

The three indices are: sense of economic conditions; mining and industrial production forecast; and trends at mass retailers of home appliances. METI launched the initiative on an experimental basis on July 19.

Sense of economic conditions will be extracted from analysis of daily Twitter posts such as “I’m tired from overtime work” or “My wages didn’t go up,” and the values will be based on the positive or negative nature of the tweets. METI expects to capture change on a daily basis, something not possible using previous methods of analysis.

Posts related to work or the economy will be applied to production forecasts in the form of so-called “open data,” and utilized by METI to project the mining and industrial production forecast. Both of these will make use of deep learning—a self-teaching form of AI—which elevates decision-making ability by analyzing the content or frequency of tweets.

Trends at mass retailers will be based on point-of-sale data from cash registers. At present, the data from sales at some 2,500 stores nationwide is compiled, with turnover broken down by product type. Beginning next year, sales data from supermarkets and convenience stores will be added.

The existing tabulation method for mining, industrial production, and commercial sales is time-consuming and takes about a month to complete. With the new methods, data can be issued on a weekly basis. However, as the capability to collect data and conduct analysis is still seen as insufficient, improving accuracy will be a future issue.

For its FY2018 budget, METI has requested a six percent increase to ¥1.42 trillion. The ministry has its eyes on a connected industries policy, emphasizing the utilization of big data, which will become a key factor in achieving technological improvements and boosting productivity.

Keizaikai magazine