The "Autonomous Movement Support Project," a grand project in which the government will construct a national social infrastructure in which one can receive useful information on moving about by means of embedding IC chips in roads, and, further, by attaching electronic markers to streetlights, pedestrian bridges, and guard rails, and, still further to all sorts of things that exist in roads, has finally begun.
The purpose of creating this infrastructure is first to support freedom in which all sorts of people, including with people handicaps and the elderly, will be able to autonomously go to a place they need to go to by means of receiving appropriate information. For example, as far as the visually disabled are concerned, because they were not able to understand road signs without the help of people up to now, if by means of this type of infrastructure, information from the road signs ride a digital signal and is sent to a handheld terminal, then they will be greatly helped in regard to autonomous movement.
However, for example, if one ends up going to a place that he/she knows nothing at all about, a mechanism not limited to the handicapped in which this type of "place" transmits necessary information even to the able-bodied is useful, and it serves a purpose for everyone.
In order to realize this, it is necessary to lay down the devices that will serve as infrastructure. That having been said, there is a difficulty in that only through the power of the nation will we provide all sorts of facilities. For that reason, I believe that even though we make the system architecture open, and even though the nation lays down information transmission equipment for national buildings and public roads beginning with the national highways, a way of thinking that makes it possible for anyone to assign information to a "place" if they want to do something else is important.
For example, if we make it possible to transmit information connected to customer purchases to people possessing a Ubiquitous Communicator by installing transmission equipment in department stores, and if the facilities are not an excessively large sum, then the department store will probably lay down the facilities by bearing the costs on their own. For that very reason, in the case where we are spreading social infrastructure of this type, a design that cannot be used outside of a specific purpose is not desirable, and making it so that everyone can use it for a variety of purposes by means of making even the facilities of the nation open is important. By implementing universal design through the construction of infrastructure, things will be useful not just for the disabled but also for the able-bodied, and the purpose also will not just support movement, but rather it will come about that the facilities can be used for multiple purposes, in the manner of serving also as a tourist guide, or of being of possible use also as evacuation route guidance in the case of an emergency. When a train is late, if we spread information on such things as what the latest status is and how much later the next train will come, or what the status of passenger transfer is, then the people utilizing the station will be able to quickly amend their movement plans. In addition, if we also enter information concerning the links among the transportation organs themselves, such as when a bus will come, whether it's late, and information on connections, then convenience increases.
If we link together this type of infrastructure system concerning "place" together with a ubiquitous computing system of "things" beginning with foodstuffs and medicines, it will be possible to automatically record information for the purpose of traceability, such as at what location a certain thing was produced and where it came from, and thus the ubiquitous computing environment will go on to become something that is even more complete.
This type of experiment, began with the carrying out of the pre-opening trials in Kobe this year, and next year we will conduct large-scale verification trials in the same place. After the technical standards are established, within the span of 10 years, we will go on to spread this way of thinking nationwide. And then, furthermore, we will go on to spread that technology even to the world. That type of grand project is in fact what has begun. We are the first in the world to create this type of infrastructure system, and I believe that by promptly releasing it to the world, a great contribution to the social infrastructure of the entire world will be possible.
As for the T-Engine Forum, thanks to you, two years has elapsed since its establishment, and as of July, it has become a great forum related to embedded device development and ubiquitous computing in which 420 firms from throughout the world are participating. In addition, we will hereafter also widely promote the construction of infrastructure based on open architecture, beginning with this Autonomous Movement Support Project. Because exactly two years have elapsed, in this issue we have done a special feature on the T-Engine Forum. I would like you pay attention to our very rapidly progressing activities in the future also.
The above opinion piece by TRON Project Leader Ken Sakamura appeared on page 1 of Vol. 88 of TRONWARE. It was translated and loaded onto this page with the permission of Personal Media Corporation.
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Copyright © 2004 Sakamura Laboratory, University Museum, University of Tokyo