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Technology

Toshiba to form IoT alliance with SoftBank, KDDI and others

Platform aims to spur innovation at Japanese companies struggling to keep up

 An elderly resident looks to a Pepper robot during a presentation at the August-Stunz-Altenzentrum senior care facility in Frankfurt, Germany. SoftBank is among 100 companies joining hands to create new consumer services through the internet of things.   © Getty Images

TOKYO -- Japanese electronics conglomerate Toshiba will launch an "internet of things" platform next spring that will include companies like SoftBank Group, wireless carrier KDDI and utility Tokyo Gas.

Toshiba will create an association of roughly 100 Japanese companies called ifLink Open Community, the company announced on Tuesday. The group will be established by the end of March.

The global internet of things market totaled $646 billion last year, according to U.S. researcher IDC, and is forecast to surpass $1 trillion in 2022.

It is a significant step for Japanese companies that are struggling to break into the growing technology sector. More than 90% of Japanese businesses say they lack information technology specialists, according to a recent government white paper.

The IoT market is currently dominated by companies like General Electric, Hitachi and Siemens, which offer their own proprietary systems.

Businesses participating in Toshiba's new platform will not have to design their own services from scratch. Prototypes can be developed in one or two days by combining products from other companies, reducing the time needed for commercialization.

The group will follow Amazon.com's model, which offers connection kits to manufacturers developing smart devices that use the company's Alexa artificial intelligence tech. Over 85,000 products have emerged through the program.

Backers of Toshiba's initiative say it could help combine existing technologies in new ways, such as placing weight sensors in front of museum artwork to automatically start offering guidance when visitors are detected, and houses that activate their own lights and air conditioning at the turn of a key.

The diversity of the alliance's prospective members shows how the arrival of faster 5G wireless networks is stimulating innovation across traditional industry lines.

Toshiba will also develop a website for consumers that will display products developed by alliance members. Shoppers will be able to mix and match offerings even if they possess no programming knowledge.

Companies and organizations in the ifLink community will pay annual fees between 30,000 yen and 3.6 million yen ($277 to $33,260) depending on their size and other factors.

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