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Business

Global Digital Summit promises revolution in transport

Automation-minded execs talk tech that reshapes how people live, work, move

Making deliveries to remote islands is among the drone applications envisioned by Rakuten.

TOKYO -- Automated vehicles and aircraft are rapidly expanding transport options for both goods and people, adding to the ways technology is altering the fabric of daily life, sessions at this year's Global Digital Summit revealed.

Corporate executives from around the world gathered here Monday and Tuesday to discuss the so-called internet of things bringing everyday devices online as well as the innovation and growth promised by that framework. The annual forum was sponsored by Nikkei Inc. and Japan's Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications.

Unmanned aircraft known as drones, a critical intersection of internet of things technology and the logistics sector, took center stage during a panel on "Revolutions in Robotics and Mobility."

Humanity doesn't use airspace up to 150 meters to its full potential, said Hideaki Mukai, CEO of Rakuten AirMap, a joint venture between Rakuten and the California-based AirMap developing drone systems. Rakuten itself uses drones to deliver equipment and snacks to golfers at a course in Chiba Prefecture. The devices eventually could become an effective delivery method on far-flung islands and other places where frequent shopping is a challenge, Mukai said.

Automation is progressing on the ground, too. Yamato Holdings, a shipper struggling to handle a surge in home delivery packages amid a severe labor shortage, teamed in April with internet content developer DeNA to begin testing a fleet of self-driving delivery vans in Kanagawa Prefecture. Though current regulations require a person to go along for the ride, the shipper hopes conditions will be established for unmanned service before the Tokyo Olympics in 2020, said Tsutomu Sasaki, a Yamato executive officer.

CrowdWorks CEO Koichiro Yoshida speaks at a Global Digital Summit panel on May 30.

Airbus looks beyond mere goods to passengers as the European aviation leader aims to create novel modes of transport for major cities, particularly those in Asia experiencing large population inflows, said Frank Bignone, vice president at Airbus Japan. Airbus will begin testing an automated one-seat propeller plane as soon as this year, he said, predicting the technology will be available to consumers within 10 years.

As automated transport changes how people shop and move, the so-called sharing economy alters the ways people work and live. Some 1.38 million people are ready to lend their skills for as little as a day and as soon as tomorrow through CrowdWorks, an online job marketplace, CEO Koichiro Yoshida said in a panel on the "Digital Economy in the IoT Era." Work modes are changing drastically, he said, noting that individuals earn a total of nearly 5 billion yen ($45.1 million) annually through his company's platform.

Airbnb, the world's largest private room- and home-rental service, offers a similar marketplace for the travel sector. Homeowners have listed 3 million properties in 191 countries on the platform, said Yasuyuki Tanabe, head of Airbnb Japan. More people also are offering experiences such as lessons on making bonsai in addition to their homes, he said.

Alon Halevy, CEO of Recruit Institute of Technology in the U.S., made the case for artificial intelligence as a transformative force in a lecture Tuesday. Knowledge of and data on business operations are crucial to unlocking that technology's potential, he said. The institute is the AI research arm of Japan's Recruit Holdings.

(Nikkei)

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