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TOKYO: CITY OF INNOVATION

Labelled as the most innovative city in the world, Toyko is truly at the cutting edge

Team NPG recently visited Tokyo, the capital of the land of the rising sun to check out all things property, technology and placemaking, hoping to learn more about how innovation will shape the smart buildings, places and cities of the future.

Tokyo currently has the honour of being the most innovative city in the world, knocking previous winner London off top spot in 2018. The city is also in the midst of preparing to host the Rugby World Cup 2019, and perhaps more significantly The Olympic Games in 2020. There’s a tangible feelgood factor in the air, with many Tokyo natives justifiably proud of their city’s progress to date and excited for what’s next in the not too distant future.

After three hectic days immersed in the city and all it has to offer, touring Tokyo’s most important commercial, mixed use and retail destinations in addition to meeting Japanese proptech suppliers and property stakeholders, it’s safe to say we arrived back in the U.K. with many ideas we’re committed to exploring further for the benefit of our clients and customers.

The first of our Tokyo blog series focuses on our technology and innovation highlights from the trip.

Miraikan: The Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation

Spread across seven floors in the Koto District, this is the biggest and most visited public technology and innovation facility in Japan. Miraikan curates the best innovations from public and private Japanese enterprises to give visitors a glimpse into how these emerging technologies will change the world for the better. And with an entire exhibition dedicated to new technologies in the building and construction space, what better time to buy a ticket and get stuck in.

 

We got to meet Asimo, one of the world’s first fully autonomous bipedal robots developed by Honda. During the 20 minute display, Asimo sang to us in Japanese and even backed up the performance by communicating the corresponding lyrics in Japanese Standard Sign Language, a task which includes intricate and precision movement of arms, fingers and facial expression.

After also having our coffee served by a robot at the Henn-Na Hotel earlier in the day, we can see the current possibilities and limitations, and equally the vast near and longer term potential, of robotics and artificial intelligence in the service sector to provide quick, frictionless service solutions working in harmony and collaboration with humans.

After meeting Asimo, we were introduced to one of the most realistic humanoids in the world, named Otanaroid. Unlike Asimo, Otanaroid is remotely tele-operated and is used by the museum as another member of the visitor service team, giving lectures and offering advice on the various live exhibitions. Developed with the ambition to be as human-like as possible, her skin is designed to age like that of an actual human being. Take it from us, listening to a completely lifelike android about the evolution of the internet is an unforgettable experience which conjures mixed emotions.

Another exhibition challenged us to think about our vision for the future, and consider what six technologies would be the most important in supporting delivery of this vision from a bank of pre-defined choices. We never need an excuse for a spontaneous ideas session, so we set to work to select which technologies might be of most value in the future for all in the property industry.

Our six priority tech choices were virtual reality, fuel cells for clean energy, artificial intelligence, the internet of things and the futuristic sounding ‘touch transmission’ and ‘memory modules’, which theoretically could be used in coming years to give humans the capability to store, command and exchange data between themselves. Miraikan encourages visitors to first examine the big picture when thinking about the future, and not be restricted by current possibilities.

“Instead of answers, focus on questions. This is because the future itself is a question whose answer might change”.

Here at NPG, one of our five key business principles is to always interrogate the status quo, be curious and ask questions, so this was music to our ears.

We left Miraikan with an understanding of where AI and robotic technologies are at right now, and perhaps more interestingly the direction they are heading in.

Team Borderless Digital Art Museum

Our stop at the Team Borderless Digital Art Museum was one of the highlights of the trip. The first digital art museum in the world, the venue uses an innovative combination of lights, sounds and scents to create a multi-sensory art experience which really captures the imagination.

 

With the help of the Team Borderless App, we spent an entire morning exploring the various stations with the help of Augmented Reality, such as the ‘Athletic Forest’ and ‘Butterflies’.

This is undoubtedly a destination for the social media generation and visitors were busy taking photos and videos of all kinds and posting them to social media. As you’d expect, we joined them and hashtagged away.

The future of art is immersive, engaging and accessible to all, and it was great to physically experience first-hand the potential to enliven spaces of all kinds through use of digital projection hardware and programming. If you’re ever in Tokyo on business or for pleasure, we highly recommend squeezing in a visit.

Toyota Mega Web

A short hop from the Team Borderless Digital Art Museum is the ‘Mega Web’ showroom of Japan’s biggest vehicle manufacturer. Toyota is the Official Vehicle Partner to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, and the Toyota team talked us through the technologies incorporated into the vehicles that will carry athletes, support teams, officials and dignitaries at the Games, and what this means for transportation, efficiency, sustainability and safety moving forward into the future.

The Toyota ambassadors explained that the aim of the T-Connect package of technologies, which will be built into the fleet of official vehicles, is to create a safer environment for drivers, passengers and the public during the busy, congested and bustling Games period.

Toyota’s vision is for the cars to interact seamlessly with the environment based on location and changing traffic situations. The vehicles will utilise a combination of on-board sensors which will alert the driver to the presence of a nearby emergency vehicle, guiding the driver to a safe and suitable stopping position, clearing the road for police, ambulances and fire & rescue crews. The cars will also acknowledge and recognise red lights, automatically slowing down the vehicle and helping the driver come to a controlled halt.

In the Hibiya district we also stumbled upon the Lexus boutique, ‘Lexus meets Hibiya’. A well planned, merchandised and designed store featuring the latest and concept Lexus models, as well as a range of branded lifestyle products including clothing, stationary, glassware and even carbon fibre clothes hangers.

Their VR experience was one of the best and most realistic we’ve seen. Users could choose from a fast and furious style, exhilarating Fuji Speedway drive from the passenger seat, or take in the scenic and panoramic views of a fictional snowy bridge road setting as the driver.

Love them or hate them, as those of you that have visited Japan will know, we couldn’t visit Japan and not mention Japanese toilets. In case you were wondering, they get the thumbs up from team NPG…

Looking further into the horizon, Toyota are building on their reputation as one of the most sustainable car manufacturers around to create a series of next generation electric vehicles and proof of concept models, enhancing, range, speed and safety.

Around Tokyo

Upon touchdown at Tokyo Narita airport, after logging in to the free WIFI in the arrivals hall we were greeted by our Narita ‘Robot Travel Buddy’, a customer service platform powered by chatbot-based AI. Using this facility we found the specific arrival amenities we needed, bag carousel, exit and onward connection to central Tokyo with ease. A rare real-life example of a relevant and frictionless AI customer service platform which we’ll be investigating further to enhance our own service capabilities in the near future.

In the Hibiya district we also stumbled upon the Lexus boutique, ‘Lexus meets Hibiya’. A well planned, merchandised and designed store featuring the latest and concept Lexus models, as well as a range of branded lifestyle products including clothing, stationary, glassware and even carbon fibre clothes hangers.

Their VR experience was one of the best and most realistic we’ve seen. Users could choose from a fast and furious style, exhilarating Fuji Speedway drive from the passenger seat, or take in the scenic and panoramic views of a fictional snowy bridge road setting as the driver.

Love them or hate them, as those of you that have visited Japan will know, we couldn’t visit Japan and not mention Japanese toilets. In case you were wondering, they get the thumbs up from team NPG…