The Journal The Authority on Global Business in Japan

Translation of article in Diamond online by William H. Saito @whsaito

The automobile world is yet another sector in which the Internet of Things (IOT) is progressing rapidly. However, awareness of this has been slow to penetrate in Japan.

While attending a conference on the theme of Tokyo in the year 2030, I felt a strong sense of uneasiness when a participant raised the question: “Where should hydrogen refueling stations be located?”

The automobile continues to metamorphose into a computer on wheels and, without a doubt, in the future through the IOT, it will undergo the greatest change of all.

Just as motorization transformed the world’s cities in the past, incorporation of the IOT can be expected to transform cities yet again.

Once we take this into account, it stands to reason that any concerns over where to situate hydrogen stations are irrelevant.

Hydrogen stations are merely a substitute for recharging batteries, and as auto battery technology continues to evolve, costs will drop sharply as performance improves.

In debates concerning automobile driving, more remarks have been cropping up to the effect that “Japan is lagging behind.”

With the emergence of such firms as Apple Inc. and Google Inc., automated driving has become conspicuous.

At present, I’m aware of the variety of opinions on this subject, and the growing debate over its pros and cons is hardly surprising.

On scenic roads such as along the Shonan coast in Kanagawa Prefecture, one can see groups of middle-aged men riding Harley-Davidson motorcycles.

It may be wrong to call it idle curiosity, but these fellows go riding out of neither necessity nor material benefit as such but, rather, for sheer pleasure.

Twenty years from now, I suppose the share of people who operate cars by themselves may be reduced to a small minority, perhaps akin to the middle-aged gents who go for leisurely tours on their Harleys.

Twenty years from now, I can imagine scenarios like this: A fellow makes a date, with a gal he likes, to go shopping in the Omotesando district of Tokyo.

He uses his cellphone to reserve an automated sports car from a car sharing service, and picks her up en route. She hops in, and on their arrival in Omotesando, the Ferrari drives itself back to the garage of its own accord. After shopping to their hearts’ content, they go to an upscale food shop to buy cheese and fresh produce.

Weighed down by their purchases, this time they summon a self-driving minivan to drive to her apartment, where they enjoy preparing an epicurean meal. Wouldn’t spending a day off like this appeal to you?

In a world where automated cars are part of the IOT, there will no longer be a need for huge parking facilities at entertainment areas or shopping centers. And gas stations, not to mention hydrogen stations, will have gone the way of the horse and buggy.

Some people may ridicule this as a pipe dream, but just look at Uber, a car dispatch system that makes it easy to move about without owning a single vehicle. And car-sharing services that enable users to unlock vehicles utilizing smartphone recognition systems already exist and their number are growing.

I suppose driving on expressways will undergo changes as well.

When a vehicle in the passing lane moves too slowly, Bitcoin, or some other Internet-based settlement system, will be utilized to communicate the request “Please move out of the lane.” And, in response to the driver’s mood or style, car passengers will be able to make a selection that prioritizes time savings on the one hand, or fuel consumption and the environment on the other.

With automated driving, we can anticipate a progressive decline in the number of traffic accidents. Big data gleaned from large volumes of vehicles will relieve traffic congestion, thus making it useful for boosting social efficiency.

At a company where I worked some years ago, I undertook development of a delivery system for a transport firm. By means of analysis of address data from deliveries, we developed software to ensure that deliveries would be made in the most efficient order.

In the United States, as you know, vehicles move on the right and at most intersections right turns are permitted when the signal is red.

In other words, it’s more efficient to plan a delivery route having more right turns.

If the most efficient route can be decided before the truck goes out to make its deliveries, it can be loaded according to the order in which deliveries are to be made, making for even greater efficiency.

This is just one example but, through the right use of big data applied to vehicles on city streets, we can expect to resolve numerous problems, and this, in turn, should boost the efficiency of society in a multitude of ways.

These days, where smartphones have become ubiquitous, I hear about the IOT with growing frequency.

Even when reduced to “linking things to the Internet,” this holds the promise of amazing things for the average businessperson.

As a second-generation American of Japanese descent who has made innovation his specialty, as well as from the perspective of an author involved in Japanese and American government programs, I am now in the process of writing an unconventional introduction to the IOT that also explains its newest technologies.