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Fusion of Information, Energy and Services leads the revolutionary change towards Smart Society

Advanced Collaborative Research Organization for Smart Society (ACROSS)

Based on the future vision called Visions 150 commemorating what will be Waseda University’s 150-year anniversary and Waseda University’s aim to increase its global presence as a research university, eight research organizations have been established through a top-down approach, and a competitive, openly recruited program has been implemented with the objective of creating new fields through collaborative research leveraging Waseda’s strengths as a general university. Since 2009, 24 issues (project research institutes) have been selected as key research initiatives. In July 2014, the Research Institute for Advanced Network Technology (RIANT) was selected as the only project research institute, and with the RIANT as the core organization, the Advanced Collaborative Research Organization for Smart Society (ACROSS) was established as the ninth research organization and first organization based on a bottom-up approach.

Various projects are being actively implemented around the world pursuing future social systems based on the concentration of advanced technologies with IT as the cornerstone, called smart cities or smart communities. Among these projects, RIANT focuses on research and development of the so-called smart grid, in other words the development of smart technologies for the field of electrical energy. The Great East Japan Earthquake has resulted in the acceleration of electricity deregulation in Japan. RIANT’s activities include not only research, but cover a large scale aimed at promoting reform in collaboration with industry, academia, and government to achieve an ideal electrical energy supply system for Japan.

This advancement to a research organization status reflects not only research capabilities as a research institute, but also its contribution to the firmness of Waseda University’s social leadership in this field. We interviewed Yasuhiro Hayashi about initiatives aimed at further expanding the scale of academic collaborative research. Yasuhiro Hayashi is a Professor on the Faculty of Science and Engineering who serves as the Director of RIANT and was appointed as the first Chairperson of ACROSS.

Professor Yasuhiro Hayashi serves as Chairperson of the Advanced Collaborative Research Organization for Smart Society

Advanced Collaborative Research Organization for Smart Society foundation ceremony and commemorative lecture (July 4, 2014, Waseda University’s Ibuka Masaru Memorial Hall)

Five fields of activity and seven research institutes

As symbolized by how big data has recently become a key word, the remarkable development of ICT (information and communication technology) has made possible the smart integration of large volumes of data and systems unevenly distributed in society and the utilization of this data through various new services. Smart technologies are fundamental technologies that make social systems and social infrastructure more efficient and effective in all domains, including the lives of people, business, industry, education, and social welfare.

There are seven research institutes established within this new research organization framework that conduct collaborative activities in five domains (activity areas) while pursuing various types of collaborative research (Figure 1). The organization is participated in by professors from various fields including science and architecture, medical care, transportation, and information, as well as professors that specialize in economics, economic analysis, and industry-related areas. Many leaders of each project research institute have already conducted research collaboration in the CREST (Japan Science and Technology Agency Strategic Basic Research Program entitled the “Development of Technology for Collaborative Energy Management System and Foundation for Versatile Demonstrative Research and Its Evaluation” (scheduled for 2012 to 2016)) project that Professor Hayashi served as the Research Director for.

“While it is not always easy for researchers that have become accustomed to a specialized field to implement these types of interdisciplinary projects, all of the leaders of this organization have conducted joint research with the intent of creating next-generation social systems aimed at development into a smart society, and we often jokingly refer to ourselves as the ‘Seven Samurai’ based on our devotion to these goals. Another characteristic is the number of young leaders in their 40s that are involved in the project.” (Professor Hayashi)

Figure 1. Five domains and seven project research institutes of the Advanced Collaborative Research Organization for Smart Society

The five domains are smart food, smart mobility, smart health support, smart houses/apartments/buildings, and the smart grid. Research is conducted on next-generation food supply center and plant factory EMS (energy management systems) for smart food, research is conducted on next-generation vehicles and environmental compatibility for smart mobility, research is conducted on comfortable living environments and the quality of sleep for smart health support, and research is conducted on zero-energy house experiments and interfaces linking together energy with resident comfort and health for smart houses/apartments/buildings. In terms of the smart grid, the core research areas for smart society technology such as distributed collaborative electricity networks, solar power generation systems, and wind power generation systems are conducted. Of course EMS is also a subject that involves all research domains for next-generation social system as an infrastructure system.

“While clothing, food, and shelter are necessities, the areas of transport, food, and shelter can be considered the three pillars of modern life. While combining these life domains, we aim to achieve innovation in service that some have said is one of Japan’s weak points. While people tend to focus on energy when talking about smart cities, our stance is to seek a broader concept consisting of community building, urban development, and living services while linking this with energy systems that will serve as the supporting infrastructure.” (Professor Hayashi)

Figure 2. The zero-energy house proposed by Professor Tanabe and his research group: Nobi-Nobi House—Layered Housing
The photo to the right displays a model house that was exhibited at the Energy Management House 2014 exhibit sponsored by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry.

Figure 3. Next-generation car being developed by Professor Kamiya and his research group (left: the electric vehicle WEB-4, right: fuel cell vehicle)

Industry-academia collaboration to achieve collaborative social reform

The basic policy of ACROSS is to pursue collaborative research through industry-academia collaboration. One of the defining characteristics of ACROSS is the launch of two joint research platforms called the Promotion Association for Smart Society Technology and the Study Group for Smart Society Technology as industry-academia collaborative organizations for participation in various joint projects focused on leading companies from a wide variety of industries.

“Because we are conducting research on social technology, we cannot afford to conduct research simply for the purpose of writing papers. We aim to conduct cutting-edge research, apply research through demonstration experiments, and implement this research in social systems. For this reason we are conducting discussions with not only industry players, but also key people at related governmental organizations so that we can be involved in recommending and implementing policies.” (Professor Hayashi)

Smart Society Image Study Group 1 (August 1, 2014) A workshop was held with participation of key people from various industries, including electric power companies.

Through the activities of the RIANT, Professor Hayashi and his associates have already installed equipment and conducted demonstration experiments for advanced energy simulation necessary for electricity deregulation and the development of a smart grid in Japan. They have also actively envisioned new businesses and services through industry collaboration and provided policy recommendations to the government.

For example, in a smart grid project, RIANT has begun to receive aid from the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry for demonstration experiments on a system that pays compensation to users for power-saving actions taken during period of peak demand, called demand response or negawatts. A demand response system that incorporates not only power-saving actions consisting of manually turning a switch on or off, but also automatic power-saving actions such as air conditioning temperature control, has been established at the EMS Shinjuku Demonstration Center, and RIANT has participated in demonstration experiments that go up to the stage of actual payment of compensation to users.

“In 2016, electricity retailing will be fully liberalized, and any consumer will be able to freely purchase electricity from anyone they want to. While 350 businesses are already registered as electricity retailers, it is expected that the market will be entered by even more businesses from a variety of industries. The true value of new businesses resulting from the liberalization of electricity is the new added value that will be generated through collaboration with various other services.” (Professor Hayashi).

For example, mobile phone companies could enter the market and sell power in combination with mobile phone charges. Through the distribution of the new conversion value of power-saving as expressed by negawatts, a new market will be created through energy in which power-saving points could be exchanged for things like shopping coupons. This is no longer just a theoretical discussion. In the next few years, completely new business models based on the collaboration of information, energy, and services will arise, and social changes as a result of the introduction of new social systems will advance. There are high expectations towards the pioneering initiatives of ACROSS.

Left: ACROSS seminars are regularly held to provide information on the latest internal and external trends related to smart society technology. At the first seminar, a guest speaker from a US professional body called the EPRI (Energy Power Research Institute) was invited, and the Considering a Smart Society form the Latest Energy Control Movemnet in the US and Japan seminar was held. (September 26, 2014)

Right: The Second Nikkei Smart City Symposium at Waseda University (October 10, 2014)

Related links

Advanced Collaborative Research Organization for Smart Society
Research Institute for Advanced Network Technology (RIANT)
Research Institute for Building Environmental Design
Research Institute of Electric-driven Vehicles
Research Institute of Photovoltaic Power Generation System
Research Institute for Power and Energy Systems
The Smart Life Science Institute
Institute for Economic Analysis of Next-generation Science and Technology