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AI, IoT top Japan R&D chiefs' priority lists

Big spenders often seeking to make up for lost time

TOKYO -- Japanese corporations hold the highest expectation for artificial intelligence and the internet of things when it comes to fields for investment, a Nikkei survey shows -- areas where many got off to a slow start.

Research and development chiefs at 307 major companies rated technological areas on a five-point scale. AI received the top average score of 4.5, followed by the internet of things at 4.4. Robots/drones and new materials shared third place at 4.1 points. The rating for AI topped the result from the previous poll.

Japanese companies are increasing investments in these areas to boost global competitiveness. Panasonic -- which ties Sony as the fourth-biggest R&D spender in fiscal 2017 out of 268 companies in the survey -- lags behind western peers in AI and IoT applications. This year, the company established a new division that brings together hitherto scattered researchers to create new businesses out of proprietary technology.

Sony is also channeling investment into AI and robotics, while 16th-ranked Fujitsu has designated cloud technology, IoT, AI and security as areas essential for growth.

Automakers are also pumping money into cutting-edge tech pursuits. As part of its AI research push, top spender Toyota Motor established the Toyota Research Institute in multiple U.S. locations last year.

Eleventh-ranked Mitsubishi Electric and Honda Motor, the second-biggest spender, are among the growing number of blue chips engaging in open innovation that involves collaboration with startups, universities and research institutes.

Yet many Japanese companies are failing to produce profitable technological advances despite the stepped up investments. The Nikkei survey shows that 41.4% of respondents reported the competitiveness of their company's R&D has improved compared with five years earlier. That is barely above the 38.3% who said it remained flat or declined. Lack of research personnel and a bias toward short-term investments are cited as the main causes of the lackluster performance.

(Nikkei)

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