CEATEC electronics show illustrates broader cross-industry alliances

Asia’s largest electronics and information technology convention kicked off Tuesday near Tokyo with a broader than usual range of firms participating, as this year’s event shone the spotlight on growing cross-industry collaboration in the technology sector.

First-time exhibitors from the retail, housing, machinery, auto and healthcare industries joined major electronics makers such as Panasonic Corp. and Sharp Corp. at the Combined Exhibition of Advanced Technologies, or CEATEC, to present a glimpse of how the latest technology will shape the future.

In addition to exhibiting new appliances, devices and equipment, this year’s four-day trade show through Friday at Makuhari Messe convention center in Chiba Prefecture seeks to demonstrate how the use of leading-edge technology can provide solutions to challenges in society such as the aging of the population and labor shortages.

“For construction sites to become safer and achieve higher productivity, we need to collaborate with various partners,” said Tetsuji Ohashi, president and CEO of major construction machinery maker Komatsu Ltd, which took part in the fair for the first time.

In the keynote speech, he cited examples of collaboration with information technology ventures, such as using drones to efficiently survey construction sites.

“We are open to innovative ideas to introduce technology that will change the way we do our work to address the labor crunch and aging of skilled workers,” he said.

The fair comes as many industries are developing artificial intelligence and “Internet of Things” networks, where services related to various aspects of people’s lives are connected via the internet, spurring partnerships regardless of industry sector.

Lawson Inc, the first retailer to take part in the event, is presenting its concept for the convenience store of 2025. It features a system with electronic tags attached to items allowing customers to shop without lining up at the cash register and a cooking robot that customizes meals for purchasers.

Panasonic has no electrical appliances at its booth, focusing instead on sensor technologies that can detect human stress levels through odor, expressions and other biological information.

Preferred Networks Inc, one of the few Japanese “unicorns” — an unlisted technology startup valued at more than $1 billion — unveiled a fully autonomous in-home cleaning robot. The AI venture, founded in 2014, has drawn investments from companies such as Toyota Motor Corp and industrial machinery maker Fanuc Corp.

“We hope that the CEATEC will lead to new collaboration and encounters as the exhibitors communicate various strategies to achieve growth,” Masaki Sakuyama, chairman of the Japan Electronics Show Association, an organizer of CEATEC, said in his opening remarks.

This year’s expo has a new section grouping exhibitors, mainly start-ups, from 19 countries and regions, including the United States, France and Italy, to entice overseas visitors after their number fell to 1,844 last year from 2,135 in 2016, said Kiyoshi Shikano, the association’s executive vice president.

“Honestly, we had not been able to meet expectations from foreign firms, such as to offer chances to create new business opportunities. We need to work more on this aspect,” he said.

A total of 725 companies and organizations, including 345 newcomers, are gathering at the show this year, up from 667 last year, with 160,000 people expected to visit.

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