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Rise of IoT may revitalize Japanese hardware makers

TOKYO -- The "internet of things" is set to take center stage at Japan's leading electronics trade show opening Tuesday, presenting a fresh opportunity for a domestic industry that has fallen on hard times.

Expo regains vitality

At the Chiba Prefecture venue opened to media Monday, a big Hitachi logo stood out. The company is returning to the Combined Exhibition of Advanced Technologies for the first time in four years, seeking to bring together such advanced information technologies as data analysis and artificial intelligence to propose IoT applications in infrastructure and other fields.

The company will showcase the Emiew3 customer-service robot as well as the Ropits single-passenger mobility-support robot, developed with seniors in mind. The Ropits utilizes sensors and the global positioning system to pick up and drop off passengers.

"This year's key words are connect and create together," says Hitachi CEO Toshiaki Higashihara, who also serves as chairman of the event's co-sponsor, the Japan Electronics and Information Technology Industries Association. Noting the importance of collaborating with startups, as well as global and cross-industry collaboration, he expressed hope that the expo will help accelerate cooperation with foreign partners.

The "IoT Town" at the center of the hall underscores the event's focus on that system. Various companies including financial giant Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group, security services provider Secom, toy maker Tomy and travel agency JTB will demonstrate their respective strengths.

Exhibitors are increasing for the first time in four years, to 648 -- up 20% or so from a year earlier and the highest since 2008. The tally had peaked at 895 in 2007. Attendance also is seen rising 13% on the year to 150,000, growing for the first time in two years.

New opportunities

Still, some major electronics companies are absent. Sony is skipping the event for the third straight year, and Toshiba for the second.

Big manufacturers have been forced to restructure over the past few years. Sharp, for instance, was bought out by Taiwan's Hon Hai Precision Industry after bleeding losses in liquid crystal displays. And Toshiba took a hit from its accounting scandal, which delayed some reforms. Too much attachment to hardware such as televisions, LCD panels and mobile phones led to declines in global competitiveness, a securities analyst says.

SoftBank Group CEO Masayoshi Son calls the internet of things "a paradigm shift" for the next generation amid a maturing smartphone market.

Japanese companies lost out to western rivals in central processing units and operating systems for smartphones. Now, with the rise of IoT technologies, they may be able to tap into their strength in robotics and electronic components to flourish again.

(Nikkei)

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