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Panasonic aims for 1,000 AI engineers within 5 years

Electronics giant banks on new technology to revive sales

Yoshiyuki Miyabe, director of Panasonic's new business innovation division, explaining the company's research and development strategy.

OSAKA -- Panasonic will focus its research and development on artificial intelligence and the "internet of things" to drive growth in hopes of reversing the decline in group sales.

The company plans a tenfold increase of AI-related engineers from the 100 currently employed within five years, executives announced at a news conference Wednesday outlining the strategy.

All hands on deck

Securing manpower has become an issue in the competition against American IT companies. Panasonic will triple its ranks of AI engineers to 300 in the next two years and aims to have 1,000 within five years, said Yoshiyuki Miyabe, director of the company's new business innovation division. The division, established April 1, will have a hand in the AI push.

Panasonic has also been busy tapping outside talent. Wataru Baba was hired from Germany's SAP to serve as vice president of both the business innovation division, and of Panasonic North America, based in Silicon Valley. In addition, the business innovation division has just brought on board Tadahiro Taniguchi, an associate professor in Ritsumeikan University's department of human and computer intelligence. University faculty in Japan are able to work at companies on the side.

AI for business

Japanese companies are differentiating themselves from American rivals like Google and Amazon by applying AI to business. For example, Hitachi and Fujitsu are both championing AI that improves operations by coordinating it with people. Demonstration tests to improve the efficiency of warehouses and reduce congestion in downtown areas have gotten good results. NEC is working on introducing to businesses its AI technology that can explain, in words, the reasons for its analysis.

Panasonic has not formally developed AI but has integrated it into products like vacuum cleaners. Panasonic has a wide array of businesses besides home electronics that can benefit from AI and internet of things technology such as housing, automobiles and electronic devices. Panasonic's breadth and depth provide an advantage because it can easily connect research results to various fields. For example, it is exploring how to apply AI to self-driving cars at its research center in Yokohama.

Big data that uses AI is also a promising business. It is possible for Panasonic to gather, analyze and control data from its countless products and connect that system to practical applications. The business innovation division will not stop at developing products but will also look for new services that can be provided.

The new division "is responsible for grasping the keys to growth," said Miyabe, who seeks to create a business on the scale of tens of billions of yen.

The business innovation division will be the centerpiece of Panasonic's centennial in 2018. Future growth rests on whether headquarters can steer the new businesses that will become Panasonic's engine of growth.

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