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CeBIT2017: The Internet of Things, Connected Cars and Virtual Reality Promise a Bright Future at Japan and Germany's Landmark Partner Year

Event Report

April 28, 2017

Germany and Japan have a valuable trading partnership — particularly in electrical and engineering spheres — but how are technologies such as autonomous vehicles, data analysis and AI helping the nations to tackle both domestic and global social problems together?

With over 200,000 guests and 3,000 exhibitors coming together over 5 days, it's clear why one of CeBIT 2017's key themes is "connectivity", and nowhere is this more apparent than between the host nation Germany and this year's partner country, Japan.

Both leading industry powers, especially in a range of technological fields, Germany and Japan could seem like nothing more than competitors to the untrained eye, but statistics reveal a deep collaboration between the nations in both import/export and development. The fact that Chancellor Angela Merkel personally invited Prime Minister Abe to the conference is testament to this flourishing relationship.

Japan and Germany are barometers for state-of-the-art tech and industrial trends, and are also bound together by the problems they must confront as nations. Both countries are home to an ageing population, but this significant economic issue is actually leading innovation as opposed to stagnation, especially in Japan.

Automotive Trends Demonstrate Differing Outlooks

One way that Germany demonstrated sensitivity toward the nation's growing number of elderly people was Deutsche Bahn's autonomous vehicle — a driverless capsule aimed at helping more isolated or less mobile commuters reach public transport. While this development looked to a self-driving model, the vast majority of German car manufacturers fed into a more traditional, engineering focused approach. For example, German automotive leaders Volkswagen focused on engineering, presenting Budd-E, a futuristic-looking electric vehicle with nostalgic notes of the iconic microbus, boasting speeds of up to 93 mph (150 kph) on the road and fast-charging technology that can achieve 80 percent charge in just 15 minutes.


Meanwhile, in Japan one exhibit where social pressures were visibly driving technology forward was Toyota's, which focused on increasing the mobility of elderly people through a combination of Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS) and automated driving technologies. This socially conscious use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) typifies Japan's aim to realise ‘society 5.0’, a concept that seeks to ensure technology is at the forefront of societal change while simultaneously encouraging industry and a healthy economy.

Whether Japan or Germany's approach to automotive technology will improve the economy remains to be seen, but industry leaders in Germany are looking to Japan for inspiration. Bitkom president Thorsten Dirks praised Japan for embracing digitalisation and technology in all spheres, including the automotive industry, and described Japan as a "laboratory of the future" that Germany can look to when it comes to combating the shared issue of changing demographics. In particular, he expressed a desire to "work together in driverless driving projects".

A Common Attitude to Quality Driven Materials

Other industry leaders such as Shinya Kukita — Chief Engineer at NEC's Global Business Unit — praised Germany for their automotive industry and a "common attitude to the production of materials" that is highly quality driven. When pressed about what Germany could learn from Japan, he ceded Japan could share its "focus on the social issues". One innovative way that NEC is helping to foster a safe society through the use of technology is an amalgamation of facial recognition technology and AI which "can be used to improve security in public spaces" as well as being "applied to more positive purpose to identify VIPs or the most valued customers". This technology, which was built from scratch by NEC, is currently number one in National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) testing.

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