Internet of Things: Geopolitical Battleground

Akihabara News (Tokyo) — China’s industrial dominance of the Internet of Things (IoT) via tech giants closely linked to the state has been cited as a central national security concern for the West. China considers this stance one of unjust politicization aiming to undermine its success on the global stage.

IoT refers to objects containing components or software which wirelessly share data with similar devices or a central system. It could be something as simple as an automatic alert to refill an empty vending machine to extraordinarily complex systems running a nation’s surveillance camera network, or mechanisms to ensure the efficient management of smart power grids. In all cases, IoT devices regularly collect vast amounts of information.

In July, a cross-party group of about sixty UK lawmakers petitioned their government to ban the domestic use and sale of Chinese surveillance equipment. The legislators argued that the technology’s principal provider, Hikvision, was tied to China’s ongoing human rights abuses in Xinjiang.

Calls for similar action have also been raised in New Zealand, which relies heavily on Hikvison IoT devices.

Speaking to the press in New Zealand, a Hikvison spokesperson responded by criticizing the West’s increased scrutiny on its products: “Any such decisions should be based on credible evidence and due process instead of being driven by a geopolitical agenda.”

These moves in the United Kingdom and New Zealand echo proposed US sanctions on the company and similar Chinese state-owned enterprises.

Beijing has long spoken out regarding similar moves to restrict Huawei and its dominant role within the 5G industry, which is part of the foundational infrastructure for IoT products. In July 2020, Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chunying argued “decisions to ban Huawei are not about national security, but political manipulation.”

For their part, both the United States and United Kingdom have asserted that their policy on Huawei is motivated entirely by national security concerns and is informed by the advice of intelligence and cybersecurity experts.

These Western nations fear that allowing Huawei to exercise control of IoT infrastructure will enhance Beijing’s global influence.

This influence could be, ironically, very much akin to the US National Security Agency’s PRISM, a controversial program of widespread online surveillance achieved by intercepting communications across the IoT industry through companies such as Google.

In other words, the West does not want Beijing to exercise international power in the same way which it does.

Chinese companies Fibocom, Quectel, and the entirely state-owned China Mobile represent over half of the current global IoT market. Their major customers include Dell, Intel, and Tesla, which also use China-made IoT modules and components in their own products.

There has yet to be any publicly proven case of China wielding its IoT influence in an illegitimate manner, though accusations that it is doing so are not few in number.

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Japan Joins British Nuclear Project

Akihabara News (Tokyo) — The Japan Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA) has joined a team assembled by the UK government to create a cutting-edge nuclear reactor.

JAEA will work alongside the United Kingdom’s National Nuclear Laboratory and the nuclear company Jacobs to develop a high-temperature gas reactor (HTGR).

JAEA was selected in part due to its previous experience acquired through the construction and operation of the High Temperature Engineering Test Reactor (HTTR) in the town of Oarai, Ibaraki Prefecture.

Although the HTGR project is based in Britain, the project will include Japanese scientists, providing them practical experience.

There are various differences between the HTGR and conventional light-water reactors. The HTGR will operate utilizing helium as a reactor coolant to generate heat above 900 degrees Celsius (1,650 degrees Fahrenheit). This heat can then be used either to generate power or to produce hydrogen. Despite the extremely high temperatures, the core of the reactor is highly unlikely to melt, even in the case of an accident, as the nuclear fuel is coated with a heat-resistant ceramic material.

One major advantage of the HTGR is that there are fewer restrictions as to where it can be located. This is because, unlike earlier generations of nuclear reactors, it does not require a vast amount of water.

The project is part of Britain’s Advanced Nuclear Fund, which has been allocated £385 million (US$438 million) by the UK government to fund nuclear technology projects. Around £500,000 (US$570,000) of this sum will be used for the Japan-Britain project.

Now that the team has been assembled, the research and testing are set to be completed this year, with detailed designs to be drawn up next year and construction potentially starting in 2025.

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Hydrogen on Two Wheels

Akihabara News (Tokyo) — Toyota Motor and Kawasaki Motors have confirmed that they are working jointly to develop motorcycles that will be powered by hydrogen engines.

For Kawasaki, hydrogen-powered motorcycles offer a potential new market. The prototype engine, which has secretly been under development, is a modified version of the engine used for Kawasaki’s large motorcycle model, the Ninja H2.

The stakes are higher for Toyota, which has agreed to share its hydrogen engine technology with the motorcycle maker.

Toyota President Akio Toyoda has been on a mission to prove that battery electric vehicles are not the only option for future ground mobility. Toyoda is determined to preserve the global market for hybrid vehicles–which the company classifies at “electrified vehicles” in an apparent attempt to confuse policymakers and the public–as well as to suggest that hydrogen fuel cell vehicles or other technologies might also spread on a global scale.

Earlier this month at a demonstration event in Tochigi Prefecture, Toyoda declared that “there should be a variety of options to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. I hope the government will support the output by technological innovations like this, rather than stopping us with regulations.”

The creation of hydrogen-fueled Kawasaki motorcycles assists in furthering these goals.

Most environmental groups are highly critical of Toyota’s reluctance to fully embrace battery electric vehicles–especially its political lobbying efforts in Japan and overseas to prevent governments from adopting laws mandating the end of sales for internal combustion engines, which contribute to the climate crisis.

Proponents of Toyota’s approach point out that global demand for materials such as lithium, cobalt, and nickel needed to produce the needed car batteries far outstrips global supplies, and therefore Toyoda’s demand for alternative technologies is prudent and even necessary.

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Kishida Aims to Expand Use of Nuclear Energy

Akihabara News (Tokyo) — Prime Minister Fumio Kishida recently outlined his policy aiming for increased use of nuclear energy, but details remain sketchy.

On August 24, Kishida oversaw the second GX (Green Transformation) Implementation Council held at the Prime Minister’s Office, a meeting with the broad aim of ensuring secure and stable energy supplies for Japan.

Kishida stated after the meeting, “Keeping our eyes not only on the coming winter, but also on several years to come, we will mobilize every possible measure and fully prepare for unforeseen situations to get over the ongoing crisis of strained balance between supply of and demand for electricity.”

He added, “Regarding nuclear power plants in particular, the government will stand at the forefront of every effort toward the restart of nuclear power stations whose installment permission has been given, in addition to ensuring the operation of ten reactors that have been brought back online.”

The prime minister hopes that at least half a dozen currently suspended nuclear reactors can be brought back online, including some at the most controversial candidate site, the Tokyo Electric Power Company’s (TEPCO) Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Nuclear Power Plant in Niigata Prefecture.

TEPCO was the operator of the disaster-hit Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant and has not operated an active nuclear reactor since that time.

Rising energy prices are also major source of concern for the country, especially in the context of the falling value of the Yen. Indeed, Japan recorded its worst-ever monthly trade deficit in August, ¥2.82 trillion (US$19.7 billion), largely due to energy costs.

In addition, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) continues to fret that Japan cannot meet its energy needs at times of peak demand, prompting it to ask businesses and households to reduce energy consumption as much as possible this winter.

Although the government is aware of this host of challenges, no detailed plan has yet been publicly presented that would accomplish the goals which have been set out.

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Tokyo’s Largest Hotel Entertainment Complex

Akihabara News (Tokyo) — Tokyu Kabukicho Tower is set to open in Shinjuku next year, becoming the largest hotel and entertainment complex in Japan.

Rising 48 floors high, with five basement levels and a penthouse, the tower will boast a luxury hotel, an entertainment hotel, a cinema, a theater, a live venue, and much more.

The live music venue in the basement, Zepp Shinjuku, will have a capacity of 1,500 people. This space will be dedicated to music of a variety of genres, both Japanese and international.

The cinema will take up the 9th and 10th floors of the tower, with eight screens and a total seating capacity over 750.

Floors 6 to 8 will feature the Shinjuku Milanoza theater, with space for an audience of 900 people.

Naturally, there will be restaurants as well, including one area that offers a festival-like environment with a DJ and a stage.

The luxury hotel brands, located on the higher floors, are Hotel Groove Shinjuku and Bellustar Tokyo.

Tokyu Kabukicho Tower is set to open its doors in April next year, though the precise opening date is yet to be announced.

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SkyScape Aims to Shape eVTOL Vertiports

Akihabara News (Tokyo) — Osaka-based drone services provider DroNext is transforming into SkyScape, a new player in Japan’s eVTOL industry. It aims to enter the advanced air mobility vertiport market with financial support from Drone Fund and other investors.

In email communications and an exclusive interview with Akihabara News, SkyScape Founder and President Asa Quesenberry reveals that “while drones, aquatic drones, and our operator teams are a crucial part of our business, our real focus within the sector is on facility and infrastructure development for the advanced air mobility markets here in Japan and abroad.”

He adds, “our team has partnered with some major corporate groups here in Japan to begin testing our first generation vertiport integration platform.” In fact, the name of the company’s lead product will be “VIP.”

The name “Skyscape” was selected to signal that the firm’s ambitions go far beyond the drone industry alone. Rather, the aim is no less than to “shape the skies” as the world enters the new era of advanced air mobility.

Quesenberry says that he is unfazed by the fact that many other firms, domestic and international, have been signaling interest in building out Japan’s vertiport infrastructure.

“The business model we’ve come up with–the way we’re looking at implementing our vertiport development–it doesn’t put us in competition with many people. In fact, it allows us to actually collaborate with a lot of other companies,” he states.

While Quesenberry is not interested in giving away the secret sauce, he does note that SkyScape’s approach to vertiport development will be characterized by “true modularity” as well as affordable prices and the ability to integrate within both existing infrastructure or at greenfield sites.

He also specifies that SkyScape’s business model will not encompass the ownership of vertiports.

SkyScape will soon be be announcing that it has closed its pre-seed investment round with Drone Fund taking the lead, but with several angel investors also contributing. While the precise level of funding isn’t being revealed, Quesenberry characterizes the amount as “enough for us to really get moving.”

Although eVTOL infrastructure is now its lead focus, SkyScape will retain the legacy drone service and consulting clients which it has built up over the past five years.

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Nidec Struggles with Succession

Akihabara News (Tokyo) — Shigenobu Nagamori, the founder and chairman of Nidec, a company which focuses on electric motors, has so far proven to be unwilling to retire from his posts and to hand power over to the next generation, in spite of being 78 years old.

The average age of Japanese company CEO is just over 60 years old.

Nagamori founded Nidec in 1973, and during his remarkable tenure he built it up into a major corporation with annual revenues in excess of US$11 billion, employing over 110,000 people.

Nagamori gained a legendary reputation for his strict discipline and his philosophy of “Stick to Number 1,” meaning that the company’s goal is to become the absolute top firm in every field it competes in.

Perhaps it is because of this perfectionist orientation that Nagamori now finds it difficult to hand over authority to anyone else. He simply can’t find anyone who can reach his lofty standards of leadership.

In April last year, Jun Seki, a former deputy chief operating officer of Nissan Motor, was appointed to take over as the leader of Nidec. However, he only lasted about a year. Nagamori explained, “Since Seki took over as CEO, the corporate culture based on hard work has been lost.” He disapproved of the direction the company was taking, and so he sacked him.

Last month, Seki resigned from the company entirely.

73-year-old Vice Chairman Hiroshi Kobe replaced Seki, but obviously this is only a stopgap measure.

The future of Nidec remains uncertain, but one thing that is clear is that it will be extremely difficult to fill Nagamori’s shoes, at least if Nagamori himself has anything to say about it.

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Osaka Grants Funds for eVTOL Development

Akihabara News (Tokyo) — The Osaka Prefectural Government has provided grants to eight domestic and international consortiums to assist its development of the eVTOL industry ahead of the 2025 World Expo, which to be held on the manmade island of Yumeshima in Osaka Bay.

The application period ran from June 30 to July 29, with the results announced on September 7. In the end, the eight successful consortiums will share a pool of ¥30 million (US$210,000) in funding from the prefectural government, though the precise division of the funds was not revealed.

There were a total of fifteen applicant companies or consortiums, seven of which were unsuccessful.

The firms which received grants from the Osaka government were as follows:

Mitsui & Co.: Mandated to create a platform for an air mobility integrated operations management system. This includes assistance in the creation of an Osaka Kansai Expo Flight Coordination Center, as well as studies and practical experiments aiming to provide a safe environment for eVTOL flights, both under normal conditions and in emergencies. Other members of this consortium are Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), JR West Innovations, Aero Asahi, Ogawa Air, and Terra Drone.

Airbus: Mandated to verify optimal flight routes, including a consideration of necessary equipment. Initially, tests will be conducted via automated helicopters. The routes to be verified include Kansai International Airport to central Osaka, Kobe Airport to Kansai International Airport, and Awaji Island to central Osaka. The other member of this consortium is Hiratagakuen.

Sumitomo Corporation: Mandated to conduct eVTOL flight simulations using an unmanned aircraft control system. This project includes the 3D visualization of flight routes to identify potential problems in operations. Flight simulations will involve three potential routes: Yumeshima Excursion; Kansai International Airport to Yumeshima; and Yumeshima to Umeda (a central Osaka commercial district). The other members of this consortium are Japan Airlines (JAL) and OneSky Systems.

Orix Corporation: Mandated to conduct a feasibility study for placing vertiports within central Osaka, including on rooftops. The survey will include an examination of wind conditions and the costs for construction and maintenance. Other members of this consortium are Mitsubishi Electric Corporation, Kansai Electric Power Company (KEPCO), Aero Facility, and All Nippon Airways (ANA).

Kanematsu Corporation: Mandated to investigate candidate sites for vertiports in Osaka Prefecture. This investigation intends to find the optimal sites for vertiports that will service the 2025 Expo. This project aims to establish a vertiport management system that will possess long-term business viability. Other members of this consortium are Skyports, Nippon Koei, and Chuo Fukken Consultants.

Marubeni Corporation: Mandated to conduct experiments aimed at enhancing public acceptance of eVTOLs, and also examining the business case for air taxi services. This includes the provision of a helicopter transportation experience to some members of the public at the estimated ticket price of future eVTOL services on routes connecting Osaka and Wakayama prefectures. A later experiment will use the Hexa eVTOL developed by Lift Aircraft. Other members of this consortium are Chodai Co., Nankai Electric Railway, Tokio Marine & Nichido Fire Insurance, Vertical Aerospace Group, Sompo Japan Insurance, and Lift Aircraft.

SkyDrive: Mandated to conduct lectures and surveys related to increasing social acceptance of the eVTOL industry. In the lecture series to be held at various locations around Osaka Prefecture, this consortium will present attendees with presentations on the theme of “a future with flying cars.” Other members of the consortium are Obayashi Corporation, Kansai Electric Power Company (KEPCO), Kintetsu Group, and Tokio Marine & Nichido Fire Insurance.

Volocopter: Mandated to hold an exhibition aimed at increasing public acceptance of the eVTOL industry. Volocopter is planning to hold an event early next year in Osaka to display a full-scale model of its VoloCity aircraft and to conduct classes on urban air mobility for elementary and junior high schools. Other members of this consortium are Japan Airlines (JAL), Mitsui & Co., Mitsui Bussan Aerospace, and Century Tokyo Leasing Corporation.

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Space Travel Insurance Presents Unique Risks

Akihabara News (Tokyo) — As commercial space travel becomes more accessible and appealing to some members of the public, the provision of space travel insurance is an issue that has come to the fore.

The space travel industry is predicted to achieve significant growth within the current decade, says Australian business management consultant company Milliman. Several estimates reveal that it could become “a US$10-$15 billion industry annually.” Such growth, especially in demand, means that a new market for insurance could be opening up.

Following the record number of civilian space travelers in 2021, three major insurance projects by Japanese companies were revealed to the public earlier this year.

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and Mitsui Sumitomo Insurance are currently cooperating in the creation of insurance products for civilian space travelers. JAXA will be responsible for providing actuarial information, including the causes and likelihood of space mission accidents. Mitsui Sumitomo will then use this data to provide insurance-related expertise to potential customers.

The organizations added that covering the costs of property damage is also being considered in addition to bodily damage travel insurance.

Tokio Marine & Nichido Fire Insurance (TMNF) has also revealed plans to join the space travel insurance market. In April, the company announced that it had entered into a development project with Beazley PLC, a UK insurance company described as “one of the major players in the international space insurance market” by the Japan Space Law Association.

This project will focus on supporting lunar exploration missions, an area in which “risks are still unmitigated, however, no specially-designed insurance products have emerged” to address the challenge, said TMNF in a statement this year.

TMNF will be providing their insurance product to project Yaoki, organized by Dymon, a Japanese aerospace company. If successful, it would become “the first private entity in the world to complete a lunar exploration mission.”

Finally, Sompo Japan Insurance announced in March that it has entered into an alliance with Synspective, a Japanese company specializing in the development and operation of satellites.

Sompo Japan claims that it is motivated by the fact that “space activities are exposed to various risks that we have not experienced on Earth, and there is an urgent need to develop insurance coverage for these new risks.”

The information collected and analyzed from the alliance will allow Sompo Japan to “further enhance and develop its space-related insurance products and services.”

However, the lack of historical data, increasing amount of debris in Earth’s orbit, current expenses in space travel, and the wealth of the most likely customers make providing insurance both complicated and risky.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) reported last year that the amount of orbital debris has increased dramatically over recent years.

This presents several major risks which insurance companies will need to evaluate. Last year, NASA warned that “the rising population of space debris increases the potential danger to all space vehicles, including to the International Space Station and other spacecraft with humans aboard.”

Richard Parker, the co-founder of Assure Space, a unit of AmTrust Financial, told Reuters last year that “it may start to get difficult to get [low Earth orbit collision damage] coverage in the near future as more insurers realize that this is a significant risk that we can’t even get our arms around.”

University of Mississippi Professor Joanne Gabrynowicz mirrored this concern in a statement reported by Space Safety Magazine: “two of the most pressing issues faced by insurance companies hoping to cover space tourism is… lack of a track record upon which a statistical analysis can be made” and “a large enough pool of funds that needs to be available in the event a claim is made for which a payment has to be made.”

Currently, spaceflight companies such as Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin are not legally required to offer any insurance to their passengers.

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GE Turbines for Aomori Wind Farm

Akihabara News (Tokyo) — GE Renewable Energy has announced that it will be the supplier of wind turbines for an onshore wind farm in Fukaura town, Aomori Prefecture.

This wind farm will be built by Green Power Investment (GPI), a Tokyo-based developer and operator of renewable energy assets.

GE Renewable Energy will provide nineteen of its 4.2MW onshore wind turbines for a total installed capacity of 79.8 MW.

GE Chief Commercial Officer of Onshore Wind International Gilan Sabatier, stated, “We have already had the opportunity to work together with GPI in Japan, so this project is a tremendous next chapter in our growing relationship. Working with GPI, we believe that this project will strengthen Japan’s ambitious carbon neutral commitments and provide Japanese consumers with affordable, reliable, and clean energy for the future.”

The site is located in Japan’s snow country along the Sea of Japan coastline. The turbines are being specifically designed to withstand extreme coastal wind conditions.

The installation of the wind turbines is set to start towards the end of next year, with the facility due to be operational in 2024.

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Software Hinders Japan Electric Cars

Akihabara News (Tokyo) — In its heyday in the 1980s and 1990s, Japan’s government and big business viewed hardware as the key to the future and was a world leader in the field. However, software engineering is an area where Japan has largely been left behind.

There are various factors which contributed to Japan’s lag in software development.

In a podcast with Akihabara News, Yan Fan, cofounder of the coding bootcamp Code Chrysalis, outlined some of the factors that contributed to the country falling behind in software engineering. She explained that Japanese universities continue to focus on electrical and mechanical engineering departments rather than computer science. Japanese employers have also tended to devalue their own software sections.

Consequently, there are not enough software engineers in Japan, nor sufficiently capable software firms, meaning that the country has tended to depend on foreign expertise.

Fan also highlights the fact that Japanese women have traditionally been steered away from careers in engineering, depriving the country of this pool of talent as well.

One area in which Japan is now witnessing serious impact from such deficiencies is in its development of electric cars.

Experience in China and in other nations has revealed that the development of electric cars in particular is closely linked to advanced software, in the sense that many of the services which contemporary drivers expect are software-based technologies.

This means that Japan, which has long prided itself as a global leader in the automotive industry, is at a serious disadvantage due to its lack of facility with advanced software.

Observers are watching Japanese automakers closely to see what measures they take in an effort to close the software gap.

Japan Startup Megaphone: Yan Fan on Japan Software Engineers.

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SkyDrive’s Outpost in South Carolina

Akihabara News (Tokyo) — Japanese eVTOL maker SkyDrive has established a temporary office in South Carolina as it scopes out the giant US urban air mobility market.

SkyDrive is taking advantage of an office hub program in Beaufort (along South Carolina’s Atlantic coastline between Charleston and Savannah, Georgia) called the Landing Pad.

The Landing Pad is a collaboration between a number of local interests including Beaufort County Economic Development, the city of Beaufort, and the Southern Carolina Regional Development Alliance. Its mission is to assist companies from around the world that are considering investing in the region for the first time.

For ninety days, SkyDrive will be provided free office space and assistance from local agencies and businesses to accustom itself to local conditions. When that period ends, SkyDrive is not obligated to stay in Beaufort, but of course local officials are attempting to convince the Japanese firm to make this city of about 13,400 people its American home.

SkyDrive is the first company to take advantage of the Landing Pad, having been introduced to the program by the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO).

William Fugate, SkyDrive’s US business development manager, is leading the company’s mission in Beaufort.

For their part, local officials are enthusiastic about the opportunity to host SkyDrive. Speaking to The Island Packet, a Hilton Head Island-based media outlet, Beaufort Mayor Stephen Murray calls the eVTOL maker’s arrival “pretty darn exciting.”

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Universal Regains Control of Okada Manila

Akihabara News (Tokyo) — Tokyo-based Universal Entertainment Corporation won a round against its founder Kazuo Okada when the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR), backed by the Philippine National Police, seized back control of the major casino resort, Okada Manila.

The event was nearly as dramatic as those from May, when Kazuo Okada’s allies, led by Antonio “Tony Boy” Cojuangco, forcefully took control of the property. Dozens of red-capped assailants, representing Universal Entertainment’s interests, scuffled with a similar number of hotel security officers. It was reported that the Cojuangco group also attempted to disable the elevators and shredded documents in a hotel room.

These dramatic scenes were teed up by a decision from the Philippine Department of Justice that the April 27 Supreme Court ruling, which called for a return to the status quo ante of 2017 before Kazuo Okada had been ousted from his leadership role, was not intended to provide him full control of Okada Manila, but rather that he should be restored to the board of directors.

In line with the Department of Justice decision, PAGCOR ordered the Cojuangco-led board– including Dindo Espeleta, Maximo Modesto Joel Flores, Tetsuya Yokota, and Hiroshi Kawamura–to “cease and desist from discharging their functions in connection with Okada Manila’s casino operations.”

In the wake of the raid, a new board representing Universal Entertainment’s interests and led by Byron Yip has taken over day-to-day management of the casino resort.

While Universal Entertainment has clearly regained the upper hand, the battle is not over. Kazuo Okada is back on the board of directors and the Philippine courts still need to untangle the corporate ownership and management status on a permanent basis.

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Hong Kong Firm Buys Huis Ten Bosch

Akihabara News (Tokyo) — Huis Ten Bosch, the Dutch-style theme park in Sasebo, Nagasaki, is to be sold to PAG, a Hong Kong-based private asset management firm, throwing a new twist into plans to build a major casino resort at the same location.

Until now, the theme park has been owned by a consortium of Japanese interests led by the travel company H.I.S. The sales price is ¥66.7 billion (US$480 million).

The once-troubled Huis Ten Bosch prospered for a decade in the hands of H.I.S. Having opened originally in 1992, the cost of construction and weak visitation landed the theme park in bankruptcy in 2003. But when H.I.S. took over in 2010, it soon became the largest tourist attraction on the island of Kyushu.

Without the backing of one of Japan’s largest tourism companies, presumably the plan is to rev up visitation from Hong Kong and China once international tourists are free to return to Japan.

It is unclear how the sale of Huis Ten Bosch might affect the licensing process for the Integrated Resort (IR) including a casino. The Hong Kong investors will not have any direct stake–at least initially–in the Casinos Austria-run facility, but naturally the two businesses will share a lot of common interests should the IR be built.

The sale does suggest that if there is a Nagasaki IR, its prosperity will be tightly connected to its draw of Chinese visitors.

As for H.I.S., its leader Hideo Sawada had long signaled his doubts that a Nagasaki IR would produce profits that would justify the multi-billion dollar costs of building the casino wonderland. With the additional financial hit stemming from the pandemic, he apparently decided that this was the opportune time to withdraw from the Dutch-style theme park which he had transformed into a major tourist attraction in western Japan.

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Tesla Installs Powerwalls in Okinawa

Akihabara News (Tokyo) — Tesla has installed a virtual power plant (VPP) on the island of Miyakojima, Okinawa Prefecture. This set of rechargeable lithium-ion batteries is known as a Powerwall; it is one of many similar projects Tesla has been rolling out across the globe.

Although the project has only just been revealed to the public, Tesla began development last year. Local homeowners received monetary incentives to install Powerwalls connected to rooftop solar panels on their homes. This has evidently been successful, since 300 Powerwalls have already been installed on the island.

As part of the agreement, the local utility, Miyakojima Mirai Energy, can use the solar power generated by the rooftop panels as part of the Tesla VPP. This reduces reliance on the grid by storing excess energy from households and making it readily available when required.

Powerwalls facilitate the use of renewable energy and serve as a backup power source in the case of emergency. Miyakojima will thus have greater grid security and stability.

Tesla intends to expand use of Powerwalls in Japan with a goal of installing 600 by 2023.

Toyota recently unveiled its O-Uchi Kyuden System, which will be a direct competitor in the Japanese market to Powerwalls.

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Creating Traffic Safety Maps

Akihabara News (Tokyo) — LayerX, a startup promoting digital transformation in various industries, and Aioi Nissei Dowa Insurance, part of the MS&AD Insurance Group, began offering data analytics services in July 2022 intended to contribute to traffic safety.

Anonify, which is a technology developed by LayerX, is utilized in connection with car driving data gathered by Aioi Nissei Dowa Insurance.

The service is an example of “telematics,” a word combining the terms telecommunications and informatics. Telematics is an interdisciplinary field encompassing telecommunications, vehicular technologies, electrical engineering, and computer science.

In this case, the telematics service aims to reduce the number–or entirely prevent–car accidents. This stands in contrast to ordinary car insurance which focuses on payments after accidents have happened.

Using Anonify, Aioi Nissei Dowa Insurance has created traffic safety maps based on car driving data collected from public organizations on accidents at various locations. It even carries data that highlights higher risks due to factors such as the time of day and people’s ages.

Anonify empowers the traffic safety map with a combination of the extensive original data and Artificial Intelligence projections.

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Japan’s Approach to Offshore Wind Energy

Akihabara News (Tokyo) — In a bid to increase its use of renewable energy sources, Japan is focusing on enhancing offshore wind power through the establishment of a national centralized system, and the Renewable Energy Institute (REI) has offered some suggestions in a new report.

With a long coastline, Japan has significant offshore wind power potential. Many analysts believe that offshore wind could emerge as one of the most effective renewable energy resources.

According to REI, approximately 21GW of offshore wind power was installed globally last year.

In this context, REI has provided suggestions for how the Japanese government might improve its harnessing of offshore wind power.

Specifically, REI emphasizes the importance of creating a centralized system in Japan in order to control the costs and efficiency of offshore wind power development, though noting that it is important to construct the system carefully.

According to the report, a lack of control over data collection is one of the potential pitfalls of the system which the national government has proposed. If this flaw is left unaddressed, it could lead to inaccuracies and redundant studies by multiple developers of the same offshore zones.

There are also unclear guidelines as to who will be responsible for managing grid security and the installation of necessary power lines in designated areas, which itself could place unnecessary burdens on local communities and the environment.

Further ambiguity arises from the lack of concrete start dates and the parameters of the zones which the new system will cover.

REI therefore recommends that the national government take direct responsibility for leading and implementing preliminary site investigations, grid security, and the establishment of development timelines.

REI emphasizes the importance of the national government conducting adequate investigations as early as possible and making its findings available to all potential developers, rather than allowing them to work independently with local governments and conducting their own assessments.

Above and beyond the foregoing, REI recommends that there should be a strong focus on improving the lines of communication between developers, local fishery cooperatives, local governments, and the national government so that they can work together more effectively.

REI predicts that 2025 is the earliest feasible time that the system could be implemented.

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One Pilot Flying Multiple Drones

Akihabara News (Tokyo) — KDDI Corporation and Japan Airlines (JAL) have announced that they are working on a project that will allow a single pilot to simultaneously operate multiple drones.

This initiative, formally known as “Developing Basic Technologies for Airframes and Systems That Will Realize ‘One-to-Many’ Drone Operations,” was launched on August 9 with the backing of the governmental New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO). The initiative comes under the auspices of the Realization of Advanced Air Mobility Project (ReAMo).

The two companies explained in their joint release: “With the lifting of the ban on beyond visual line of sight flights in inhabited areas (Level 4) scheduled to come into effect in December 2022, drones will be used by companies more frequently in situations such as logistics, inspections, security, and disaster response. It is expected that they will be used as a new kind of aerial infrastructure by both businesses and local governments.”

The plan calls for the development of a flight control system that can effectively and safely carry out “one-to-many” drone operations, as well as to demonstrate its viability through multiple practical tests. Envisioned use cases include drone delivery, security operations, and disaster response.

The firms will also study the economic impact of such a system for private businesses.

Additionally, the companies note that the development of this system for drone flights will have important future applications to the eVTOL industry.

KDDI and JAL first unveiled their intention to work in partnership on drone system development in February.

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Timber High-Rise to Go Up in Tokyo

SNA (Tokyo) — An innovative high-rise built partly of timber will soon go up in central Tokyo. Tokio Marine Holdings, a multi-national insurance giant, has recently revealed the eyebrow-raising designs for its new head office.

The timber-based high-rise will become home to the company’s wholly-owned subsidiary, Tokio Marine & Nichido Fire Insurance. As of now, both firms have temporarily relocated to another building in preparation for FY2028, when the new building is expected to be ready.

Construction of the timber high-rise is scheduled to commence in December 2024.

It is anticipated that this project will become the largest wooden hybrid structure in the world at the time of its completion, consisting of 23 floors and standing approximately 100 meters in height.

Located in the Marunouchi district between Tokyo Station and the Imperial Palace, its natural aesthetic is intended to compliment the area’s prestige and elegance.

There will be a rooftop garden, decorative greenery, and a glass cube surrounding the building which changes its appearance with each season.

Italian architect Renzo Piano created the designs. Some of his firm’s previous projects include The Shard in London, a prominent glass-clad pyramidal tower, and the New York Times Building in New York.

With a goal to “use as much wood as possible,” Tokio Marine and its subsidiary have pledged to use a large amount of domestically-sourced, fire-resistant timber. This means that the wood-based building will not only possess disaster-resilient features, but also support the local timber industry.

As highlighted by the 2020 Global Status Report for Buildings and Construction, 38% of the world’s total energy-related carbon emissions can be attributed to the construction sector. Homegrown wood will aid in combatting this reality as an eco-friendly alternative to more detrimental materials such as steel, according to the company.

In fact, in its press release, Tokio Marine claims that by “utilizing domestic timber… it is estimated that this wooden structure and other [carbon] reduction measures can reduce the embodied [carbon] of the building by approximately 30% compared to regular construction.”

Although not on this scale, this project is not the first in Japan to venture into the utilization of timber.

As of April, the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries recorded 29 planned or completed wooden buildings over six stories tall. This includes a seventeen-story office tower to be built in Tokyo’s Nihonbashi district by Mitsui Fudosan and Takenaka Corporation.

Japanese architectural firm UENOA has also created an origami-style wooden office with no walls. Although not a high-rise, this is another striking example of the increasing popularity of timber construction in an urban setting.

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Small Modular Nuclear Reactors’ Radioactive Waste

Akihabara News (Tokyo) — As the government promotes nuclear power as an alternative to fossil fuel energy sources, small modular nuclear reactors (SMRs) have met a divided response as a possible way forward.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) defines small modular nuclear reactors as those that produce around 300MW of electricity. The reactors are “modular” because they can be assembled and transported as whole units to their intended locations for relatively fast installation.

These reactors have been praised by some analysts as being environmentally friendly as well as efficient, safe, and economically advantageous.

NuScale Power, a US company that specializes in the designing and marketing of small modular reactors, reported in 2020 that “the global [small modular reactor] market is estimated to be more than US$100 billion by 2035, based on best-case estimates by the Nuclear Energy Agency.”

According to the World Nuclear Association, the reactors require fewer safety systems than their larger counterparts due to their small and compact build. The size and modularity of small modular reactors further means that their manufacturing can follow higher quality standards while still allowing for lower costs and faster construction.

Locating such structures underground or underwater is also possible. Indeed, the reactors have the potential for better protection from natural or manmade disasters, such as tsunamis and aircraft crashes.

The IAEA explains that small modular reactors have reduced fuel requirements. Refueling is needed only once every three-seven years, rather than every one-two years, as is standard for larger power plants.

Some critics, however, argue that the claims of these proponents are entirely wrong.

For example, the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit, an independent advisory organization in the United Kingdom, argues that the economic advantages of increasing size and output is precisely what led to large nuclear reactors achieving much of their commercial success. As such, “[small modular reactor] economics should overall be worse than those of large reactors.”

Michael Barnard, strategist at Agora Energy Technologies, further disputes the claim that small modular reactors are less costly than traditional nuclear plants. Barnard notes that “decommissioning a nuclear reactor is a billion dollar, 100-year venture.”

Some research has also concluded that small modular reactors may produce more radioactive waste than most conventional nuclear power plants.

According to an article published by three researchers in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, small modular reactors “will produce more voluminous and chemically / physically reactive waste than [conventional reactors].” They add that “water-, molten salt-, and sodium-cooled… designs will increase the volume of nuclear waste in need of management and disposal by factors of two to thirty.”

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