EDGE&LINK Linking people to the future with OMRON’s perspective on cutting edge technology

"I'm going out for tea with my friends" using meemo, a community-based MaaS ~This Mobility Assistance App Connects People's Hearts and Minds~

Changes in the environment of Japan's regional cities because of a declining birthrate, aging population, stagnant local economies, and weakened local communities, have led to a movement to make local cities establish a new kind of appeal. Under these circumstances, Maizuru City in Kyoto Prefecture, which is promoting the creation of a city that is easy to live in, is actively introducing advanced technology in cooperation with OMRON SOCIAL SOLITIONS Co., Ltd. (OSS). Both are working together to realize a convenient and enriched rural lifestyle (Maizuru Version Society 5.0). In this article, we will introduce some of their collaborative projects, such as "Inclusive", which aims to connect people in need to those who are willing to help them in the local community, and existing transportation service providers (buses and cabs) with a system that works in tandem to solve the issues of the local government, local service providers, and residents, based on the spirit of "Supporting Each Other" in a local city.

Technology Enables Residents to Have a Voluntary Ride-share Service

In Maizuru city, the number who uses public transportation services were decreasing due to the decline in population, and was unable to meet the needs of its citizens due to the aging of its drivers and the shortage of workers. In the past, when relationships in the community were close, people who wanted to go somewhere would ride in the car of someone close to them, but this is becoming more and more difficult today as relationships in rural areas are becoming weaker and weaker.

Then a young generation with the intention of creating a new community where people can deepen their relationships with each other by using technologies came in to the picture. As a result, a change was made, and an experiment was started with a focus on "helping each other". As part of this effort, OSS developed meemo, a MaaS (*1) application for local communities. This application, a collaboration between Maizuru City, OMRON and Nihon Kotsu (a transportation company), allows residents to get to their destinations by combining multiple means of transportation, including offering pick up and drop off service by residents, public transportation such as buses and cabs. The experiment was conducted from July to September 2020 in some districts of Maizuru City. Specifically, when you search for a route on meemo, it determines the best combination of three modes of transportation - bus, cab, and pick up and drop off by residents - and suggest it to the user. In addition, people who used meemo can send a thank you in the form of "mee" points to those who helped them, and the accumulated "mee" can be sent to others as an appreciation.

One of the key points of this project was to realize "transportation between residents," which is a way to rebuild the community and deepen the relationship between the people who live there through the power of technology.

*1: "MaaS" is an abbreviation for "Mobility as a Service," and refers to a system that allows people to move around conveniently and efficiently by linking transportation models including buses, trains, cabs, ride-shares, and shared bicycles through IT.

meemo App to Arouse Residents' Proactivity and Spread People-to-people Connections

Of course, there were hurdles to overcome in the actual operation of this app. meemo is an app that generates movement and creates encounters with people, just like its underlying concept of "move more and meet more", but some of the participants of the experiment said that they had no intention to use meemo because they didn't have a place they wanted to go in the first place, and that they didn't have any hobbies and didn't know when to use it. Therefore, OSS project members intentionally tried to travel around the city with the residents, such as going to a 100-yen store to buy a smartphone cover or going out for tea, which they named "Operation Accompaniment." This strategy worked and led to the realization by the users that they remembered that they did have a desire to get around. They have started using it for many occasions, which also led to an increase in the use of transportation between residents.

Since the target users of the "people in need" were seniors in their late 70s to 90s, only about 10% of them owned a smartphone. Almost all of them had never used a meemo-enabled model before. As a result, teaching them how to use the smartphones was a quite struggle for staff members. However, staff members were more than happy to hear from people who had mastered the technology, "I'm going out to have a tea with my friends using meemo." Even before the trial period, the staff members in charge of the project made a sincere effort to explain the operation of the system by visiting individual houses in addition to the trial session and twice-weekly consultation meetings.


Residents receiving an explanation of the operation from OSS staff member

In this demonstration experiment, we first worked on solving the "movement of people in the community". And in the future, we are planning to expand mutual aid in the community to solve issues in various aspects of life.

For example, in the "supporting each other" society that Maizuru City aims for, it is envisioned that residents will work together to support child-rearing, school children, smartphone classes, or weeding, and we hope this will take root. In such joint work, an "inclusive community" relationship in which residents help each other out, such as taking care of their children instead of getting a ride to somewhere, could be considered. As a mediator of such different forms of appreciation, meemo and mee exchanges will be useful.

Thus, the value gained by meemo is characterized by the fact that it cannot be exchanged for "goods" like other local currencies. This is because it aims to promote mutual aid and create opportunities for people to meet and connect with each other. In other words, meemo and mee are keys to the integration of the monetary and appreciation economies, and they are designed to be used as a way to repay the "thank you" of people for their help.

In fact, as these steady efforts continue, meemo's app is helping to expand the connections between the people of Maizuru City.


Residents receiving an explanation of how to use the app in the car

The Newly Born Spirit of Supporting Each Other and Sense of Togetherness Promotes "Building a System of Inclusive".

As a result of this demonstration experiment, the relationship between the users and the resident drivers was not just one of being picked up and dropped off, but also changed to one of going out together and becoming friends. In other words, the spirit of supporting each other and a sense of togetherness, which had been lacking in the local community, has been renewed, and a feeling of helping and coexisting among the residents has emerged. What meemo connects is not just the beginning and the end of a journey, but the hearts of people. As people were connected, residents realized that they had to make their own town by themselves, and this led them to take action. Now, we have started a system of "meemo supporters" where five or six residents get together to think for themselves about meemo management.

Maizuru City's section chief Mr. Mori, who is in charge of this project, says, "In Maizuru, where the spirit of 'supporting each other' is deeply rooted, we want to create a new system to promote human connections and helping each other by using cutting-edge technology, with the aim of becoming a sustainable regional city of choice that can serve as a model for other cities nationwide.

About OMRON's Efforts with Maizuru City

In order for local cities to enhancing the standard of living of their residents and realize an affluent lifestyle for the future, it is important for them to establish a stable local economy and create a sustainable "autonomous society" by encouraging people to interact with each other. From this perspective, Maizuru City and OSS signed a comprehensive cooperation agreement in April 2019 to resolve local social issues with a view to 2030.

Based on this agreement, the two parties have positioned "a city where people can live in the countryside in a convenient and enriching way" as Maizuru Society 5.0. To achieve this goal, the two parties are collaborating measures to "increase self-sufficiency in renewable energy", "promote a cashless society throughout the city", "realize a symbiotic society through matching", "create a safe and secure society that is watched over by AI" and "promote the migration and settlement of IT personnel focusing on young generation."

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