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Japanese, German players taking IoT beyond factory floor

European tech fair highlights push toward a smart society

HANNOVER, Germany -- As Europe's largest technology exhibition kicked off here Monday, Japanese and German companies showcased innovations aiming to take the "internet of things" outside the manufacturing sector and into everyday life.

CeBIT drew more than 3,000 exhibitors from some 70 countries this year, with a near-record 118 coming from Japan.

"We view digitization as a solution for a wide range of social problems," not just a way to improve manufacturing, Hitachi President Toshiaki Higashihara said at an event the night before the exhibition opened.

Nippon Telegraph and Telephone exhibited new technology for VIP areas at soccer stadiums. Glass in front of the seats is used as a transparent display that can show scores and replays. Special microphones pick up the sound of the ball being struck, making spectators feel as if they are right next to the action.

Mitsubishi Electric showed off systems that create 3-D maps and provide precise positioning data, both necessities for autonomous driving. NEC displayed face recognition technology that has received high marks overseas.

IoT venture Cerevo has teamed up with German software giant SAP on sensors for bicycles. Cerevo sensors collect information on how the bike moves, which is then processed by SAP software.

Japanese businesses worry about a lack of name recognition abroad. With the market for information technology services expected to stagnate after the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, overseas expansion is urgently needed to ensure continued growth after that point.

German companies and research organizations have been pioneers in manufacturing-related IoT, thanks to the combined efforts of the public and private sectors. But many businesses here are now exploring a broader variety of applications.

Deutsche Telekom exhibited an IoT solution for boosting parking lot occupancy in cities. Wireless systems for each parking space detect whether a vehicle is present. This information is fed to a smartphone app that drivers can use to find open spaces as well as pay parking fees.

SAP showed a prototype system that can instantly collect information at airports, ranging from planes and stores to foot traffic, making it easier to see patterns and come up with improvements.

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