This is a guest post authored by “Tex” Pomeroy. He is a Tokyo-based writer specializing in ICT and high technology.
This is a part of our coverage of Tokyo Motor Show 2015.
The Tokyo Motor Show 2015 opened for its two-week run on October 28th. “Innovation” was pegged as the central theme this year, with an opening discussion by executives from the main players in the Japanese automobile market regarding this issue from the industry’s standpoint. The content of the show which followed did indicate that – in reflection of the first-ever tie-up by this show with the consumer electronics confab in Tokyo earlier in October – there were major shifts in driving technology, with a marked gravitation towards things electric and electronic/info-tech. As Dr. Heinz Goddar, the German doyen of the patent world on a visit to Tokyo this time noted, there seems to be “game-changing moves” in the automobile sector.
One very high-profile topic this year at the Tokyo Motor Show is automotive safety. Although the past several shows did in particular highlight the safety aspect as related to “intelligent transport systems” – especially with the holding of 2013 ITS World Congress in Tokyo – this year has seen much activities weaving the sensor/IoT system into vehicle operations.
It appears in the wake of Google’s Self-Driving Car concept unveiling in 2014, along with convergence of “robotics” with the motor industry thanks to increased electrical platform usage, the trend toward automated driving has been jumpstarted.
Not only major car manufacturers like Subaru and Toyota that are leading the push for “collision-free” vehicles but also intrapreneurial moves at smaller firms as exemplified by U-SHIN (TSE:6985) were showcased this time around. The Hiroshima car parts provider has now taken on the challenge of developing sensors that ensure safe operations as well as open the trunk or hatchback when a person has one’s hands full. Moreover, it has realized door lock sensors that the driver/passenger can easily gesture to unlock automatically, with minimal error rate such as from mistaking the movement of falling raindrops. Furthermore it is attempting to develop a compact car-use radar system.
U-SHIN actually is following the trend begun by international CES 2015 show in Las Vegas this January. The usual staple over the past several years of smartphones, tablets and “K level” TVs was shored up by the appearance of connected cars and drones as well as “the Internet of Things” (IoT). In particular the connected cars appeared ready to take center stage henceforth, as borne out by Volkswagen Golf Touch R‘s popularity at Las Vegas. Though VW has taken a low profile in Tokyo “dieselwise,” others are building upon the gesture control and connected features conceptualized by the German carmaker.
Apparently the Smart City initiative pushed for the third time by the show sponsor Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association (JAMA) finally hit the mark by channeling in firms aiming to plug themselves into the “grid” and the clean energy cycle. New entrants like the venture business “ex machina” all-electric concept car were trying to match Toyota group counterpart efforts looking to link in Kirobo as a “navigation aid.” Others were seeking to leverage the tech prowess they gained under the traditional auto industry setting, finding applications from Augmented Reality to Vehicle Information Communication System for “personal transport units” among other items.
In addition to automobile manufacturers the Smart City section had entities running the gamut from Asahi Glass marketing its bus/train-use products to Tokyo FM touting its broadcasting services for travelers intent on in-car entertainment participating in the section, along with such companies as those involved in assisting the elderly as well as the disabled in terms of mobility (more of this in a earlier story centered on startups in this field).
Returning to the “Connected Car” concept this year, major manufacturers like Toyota and Mercedes Benz were – beyond resorting to use of robots – promoting the use of the car body (including window panes) as well as accessories as means of being linked to information from both outside the vehicle like upcoming traffic or potential hazards plus inside such as in-car environ, engine and tire conditions. Obviously the Cloud has increased the selection of services much more.
However the idea of “connected” in some cases have gone beyond to that of having the automobile become part of the setting, as with Daihatsu producing a concept car which could be altered into a pseudo-“park bench”… an extension of its “Universal Design” Noriori car. As regards the Noriori concept car, it enables facilitated transport of wheelchairs as well as baby strollers and of course those temporarily on canes and crutches, not to mention others wanting to make accessibility available to those physically challenged.
In reference to the disabled drivers an automated driving system including voice command would of course go a long way to assisting them in terms of increased mobility. But, there were also many efforts aimed at preventing the elderly drivers from misoperating the vehicle, not just be making traffic signs and directions clearer but also by making it more a deliberate process.
One Japanese gear manufacturer turned the manual gearshift into a “turntop” style (think “childproof bottle cap”) that gives the elder driver to think about the operation. Meanwhile ZF of Germany exhibited a car that can park at an angle due to the extreme angle at which the front wheels can turn; it is a common problem among elderly drivers to try parking on smaller lots.
Forward-looking activities abound this year as well, with the TPP agreement apparently having stimulated activities in Canada for it to have a motorcycle outfit showcase northern-made vehicles.
Yamaha also unveiled its buggy-type machine, seen being used in more rugged terrains. Speaking of rugged terrains, other manufacturers with line-ups of such equipment like Suzuki and Honda (in the latter’s case even publicizing its U.S.-made jetplane – unlike Kawasaki, doing a dismal job at publicity this time where queries were met with a blank stare and “Too bad, no info here.”) were quite frenetic, while Jeep taking up the “space exploration” image was actively promoting its cars, along with other Fiat group lines. Hopefully by the next Tokyo Motor Show more start-ups and intrapreneurs will be participating in this wideranging sector.