Mazda drawing attention with award-winning hot-selling models
Hiroshima prefecture is the leading industrial center in the Chugoku-Shikoku-Kyushu region, as the home to clusters of various manufacturing industries including automobiles, shipbuilding, steel, chemicals, and machinery. One particular company that has notably increased its brilliance in recent years is Mazda Motor Corporation, a Hiroshima-based automaker. Albeit a second-tier automaker in size, Mazda has developed and delivered a series of successful models by continuing to refine its unique technology.
At the New York International Auto Show in March 2016, Mazda's all-new, fourth-generation MX-5 (known as Mazda Roadster in Japan) emerged as a double winner, selected as the World Car of the Year and the World Car Design of the Year (Note 1). An international jury panel of automotive journalists commended the new MX-5 for achieving a significant decrease in weight compared to its predecessor as well as for its excellence in fun-to-drive features, environmental and safety performance, and design. Prior to this, the MX-5 was awarded the 2015-2016 Car of the Year Japan in December 2015, which marked the second consecutive win and sixth overall for Mazda. Furthermore, it has successfully developed a clean diesel engine featuring enhanced fuel economy, quietness, and greenness, releasing a series of new models installed with this new engine. The success of Mazda has given a boost not only to the local economy but also to the Japanese and world automobile markets.
Increasing move toward industry-academia-government collaboration
There has been an increasing move toward industry-academia-government collaboration in Hiroshima prefecture, with one initiative after another sprouting up with Mazda as the pivotal player in an attempt to bolster automotive-related local industries thereby achieving regional revitalization. As part of this endeavor, Mazda, the Chugoku Bureau of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI Chugoku), Hiroshima prefecture, Hiroshima city, the Hiroshima Industrial Promotion Organization (HIPO), and Hiroshima University jointly developed a 2030 vision for industry-academia-government collaboration in June 2015, which calls for: 1) turning Hiroshima into an automotive sanctuary where people pursuing ingenious automotive technologies and culture agglomerate and develop them sustainably; 2) making a concerted effort to foster innovative human resources and enhance well-being in the local community through the manufacturing industries; and 3) making the industry-academia-government collaboration initiative in Hiroshima a lead model of regional revitalization and turning it into a global benchmark. At the same time, in order to realize this vision, a joint council was established to promote specific programs, such as organizing human resources training seminars and formulating measures to revitalize local suppliers (Note 2).
In addition, a couple of larger-scale industry-academia-government collaboration projects are currently underway in Hiroshima with endorsement from the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) as shown in the table below:
Table: Leading Industry-Academia-Government Collaboration Projects in Hiroshima
||Hiroshima Medical Engineering Collaboration MONODUKURI Innovation Project
(MEXT's regional innovation strategy support program)
|Center of KANSEI Innovation Nurturing Mental Wealth
(MEXT's Center of Innovation (COI) Stream Program)
||Five years starting from 2011
||Nine years starting from 2013
||Promote innovation using technologies of manufacturing industries in Hiroshima , such as automotive and shipbuilding industries, with knowledge and human resources in the area of medical services
||Develop technologies for visualizing information about kansei (pathos or sensibility) and building a brain-emotion interface (BEI) to establish connections between humans and between humans and things through kansei, and apply them for practical use in various segments of society.
|Research and Development Themes
1) Research project for the development of automobiles utilizing human medical engineering technology
- Research on the effects of electromagnetic waves, research and development of high-efficiency power electronics, etc.
2) Research project for the development of high-functionality products utilizing biomedical technology and informatics
- Research and development of next-generation advanced medical equipment utilizing advanced medical image processing technology
- Research and development of telemedicine support and telesurgery systems utilizing high-definition image transmission technology
3) Research project for advanced medical treatment such as cell therapy
- Research and development of cell therapy and regenerative medical techniques utilizing cell processing centers as well as stem cell banks including those designated for use in case of emergencies such as radioactive exposures.
* The initiative also includes the development of relevant human resources who can serve as catalysts for regional innovation (e.g., medical ergonomists, cell culture technicians, innovative manufacturing experts)
1) Development of kansei visualization technologies
- Identify the brain mechanisms governing kansei by utilizing magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and electroencephalogram (EEG) techniques and then develop kansei visualization technologies that are based on brain science and applicable for practical use by simultaneously measuring brain and physiological data
2) Development of perception visualization technologies
- Identify relationships between perception (primarily five senses) and kansei
3) Development of real-time sensing technologies for kansei information
- Develop sensing devices that emulate the five senses of the human body, such as a high-sensitivity and high dynamic range camera, by utilizing optical technologies, and contribute to alternative technologies needed to put a BEI into practical use.
* The eventual goal of this initiative is to develop a prototype for practical use by building on the technologies described above.
||[Business] Chugoku Economic Federation, Hiroshima Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Mazda and four other companies
[Academia] Hiroshima University and six other universities
[Government] Hiroshima prefecture, Hiroshima city, HIPO, and two other public-sector organizations
[Financial] Hiroshima Bank
|[Core Base] Hiroshima University, National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST), Mazda, Hiroshima prefecture, and other 10 organizations
[NIPS COI-Satellite Base] National Institute for Physiological Sciences (NIPS), NTT Data Institute of Management Consulting, Inc., and three other organizations
[Optical Technology Development COI- Satellite Base] Shizuoka University, Hamamatsu Photonics K.K., and six other organizations
|Source: Created by the author based on publicly available materials.
Hiroshima Medical Engineering Collaboration MONODUKURI Innovation Project, which has been undertaken since 2011, is an "all-Hiroshima" initiative where the industry-academia, government, and financial sectors in the prefecture have joined forces to generate new innovations by combining the manufacturing technology of businesses and the medical knowledge and expertise of universities. For instance, research is being undertaken on the effects on the human body of electromagnetic waves emitted by automotive power electronics, with an aim to develop highly efficient devices to minimize such effects. One notable characteristic of this project is that it includes human resource development programs to develop and nurture the talent needed to turn the regional innovation initiatives into reality. Leading examples of such programs include the development of medical ergonomists equipped with expertise on human medical engineering technology for the development of materials for barrier-free automobiles that enable everyone to travel safely and comfortably and that of innovative manufacturing experts capable of mastering manufacturing know-how and techniques and handing them over to the next generation.
The other large-scale, longer-term project is an initiative called the Center of KANSEI Innovation Nurturing Mental Health (Note 3), which has been selected as one of the projects under the MEXT's COI Stream Program and with Hiroshima University and Mazda designated as the core bases. The project is envisioned to create a spiritually enriched society, promoting a shift in people's sense of values from the conventional one that pursues material affluence to the one that pursues spiritual affluence or an enhancement in spiritual values. More specifically, it aims to develop BEI technologies that can visualize and quantify various sensations—such as "waku-waku," a pleasant feeling of excitement and anticipation, and "iki-iki," a sense of liveliness—based on the latest knowledge of brain science. It is expected that the development of such technologies will bring about transformation in various aspects of people's lives including food, clothing, and housing. Potential applications are diverse and include serving dishes cooked to match each individual's taste and proposing plans for a residence in which dwellers would feel settled and comfortable. Putting any of such applications into practical use takes more than just visualizing kansei. It involves overcoming many other technological challenges including the visualization of perception such as the five senses of human nature. However, it is exactly such difficulties involved that make industry-academia-government collaboration all the more needed in undertaking those vision-driven research and development projects.
Industry-academia-government collaboration as an open innovation initiative
The government's 5th Science and Technology Basic Plan (FY2016-FY2020), adopted earlier this year, calls for implementing vigorous pro-innovation policy measures to realize a "super smart society (Society 5.0)" (Note 4) in light of rapid advancement of technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT) and artificial intelligence (AI) in recent years. As an approach to achieving that end, the concept of open innovation is attracting much attention.
Generally, open innovation refers to business-to-business or business-university collaborative initiatives in which participants team up, engage in joint research, or form a consortium for their common goals. In easier-to-understand language, it is to allow for the free flow of ideas and people across the boundaries of companies so as to promote innovation more effectively (Note 5). It is often pointed out that Japanese companies have typically pursued a closed innovation model, which relies on internally developed proprietary know-how and technologies to develop new products. However, in today's world where technologies from diverse areas integrate and change rapidly, it is no longer possible for any one company to do it all on its own in each and every case. This makes open innovation—in which a company engages in strategic interactions with third parties in pursuit of profits in non-core business areas while keeping core technologies to itself—an effective approach for companies. Amongst all, industry-academia-government collaboration, which combines the business community, universities, and the government sector, is the ultimate form of open innovation that can bring together all sorts of knowledge and expertise. Given this, it is quite understandable that the government's latest Science and Technology Plan has defined open innovation as its overriding theme, thereby calling for tearing down walls to bring together businesses, universities, and the government sector to share a future vision and proactively collaborate for its realization (Note 6).
Nationwide momentum for industry-academia-government collaboration
Momentum is building nationwide for industry-academia-government collaboration as a vehicle for promoting open innovation. In a bid to create new areas of innovation, Keidanren (Japan Business Federation) is proposing measures to enhance joint research activities under the framework of industry-academia-government collaboration as a means to accelerate open innovation (Note 7).
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) announced in March 2016 that it will establish five Global Open Innovation Centers across the country by the end of the year to serve as a base for industry-academia-government collaboration in each area. The initiative involves the participation of national research institutes such as AIST. By allocating financial, human, and other resources intensively, the government aims to help translate promising technologies—in particular those in the fields of robotics and materials in which Japan has a competitive advantage—into practical applications.
We are seeing the nationwide momentum for industry-academia-government collaboration just at a time when the vision of a future society to be realized through innovations enabled by IoT, AI, or else is gradually beginning to take shape. This presents a one-in-a-million opportunity for Japan to make a great leap toward the forthcoming new society. It is my earnest hope that various local revitalization initiatives in Hiroshima and elsewhere will deliver their intended results and their stories will be disseminated throughout the world as a successful made-in-Japan model.
May 6, 2016