“Next Generation Mobility Assistive Technology Development Consortium" to Extend its Activities for One Year Promoting the Development of Practical Models and Advanced Technologies Aiming to realize a symbiotic society through social implementation of AI suitcases

  • January 25, 2023

Alps Alpine Co., Ltd.
OMRON Corporation
Shimizu Corporation
IBM Japan, Ltd.

Alps Alpine Co., Ltd. (Headquarters: Ota-ku, Tokyo; President and CEO: Toshihiro Kuriyama; hereinafter "Alps Alpine"), OMRON Corporation (Headquarters: Shimogyo-ku, Kyoto; President and CEO: Yoshihito Yamada; hereinafter "OMRON"), Shimizu Corporation (Headquarters: Chuo-ku, Tokyo; President and Representative Director: Kazuyuki Inoue), IBM Japan Ltd. (headquartered in Chuo-ku, Tokyo; Akio Yamaguchi, President & CEO; hereinafter "IBM Japan"), as full members of the Consortium for Next Generation Mobility Assistive Technology Development (hereinafter "the Consortium"), a general incorporated association that aims to realize a symbiotic society. In order to promote the development of the "AI Suitcase," a navigation robot that enables the visually impaired to move around town independently and smoothly carry out their daily activities, and to further accelerate efforts toward social implementation, the Consortium will extend its activity period, which was scheduled to end on November 30, 2022, for one year, until November 30, 2023. We would also like to report on the progress of our advanced technology development, including the development of a new model with a higher degree of practicality and the implementation of a demonstration test in Nihonbashi, Chuo-ku, Tokyo.

■Current "AI Suitcase"

AI Suitcase

■Efforts to Develop a Practical Model
With the cooperation of bag manufacturer Ace Corporation, we have improved the stability of the practical model when traveling, improved maintainability through the use of a replaceable battery, and reduced heat generation. The software has also been improved to enable continuous operation in urban areas. Using this model, the first large-scale pilot experiment was successfully conducted for one month from September 2022, in which the vehicle moved freely among stores and facilities in the urban area connecting five buildings in the Nihonbashi Muromachi district managed by Mitsui Fudosan Co. and the Tokyo Metro Mitsukoshimae Station underground passageway.

Approximately 40 visually impaired people participated in this experiment, and after a few minutes of practice before the start of the experiment, it was confirmed that they could safely use the system for 30 minutes to one hour. Participants commented that they were impressed by being able to move around without bumping into others, felt a sense of accomplishment in being able to walk on their own, and felt like they were window shopping after walking a long distance, reaffirming the usefulness of this new technology that enables many visually impaired people to walk independently in the city.

■Companies' Efforts for Advanced Technology
The consortium simultaneously promoted the development of "practical models" with improved practicality and the development of advanced technologies.

1. Realization of indoor/outdoor continuous driving technology
IBM Japan developed a technology to realize outdoor driving using RTK-GNSS positioning (highly accurate positioning using satellites) and to continuously drive on routes that span both indoor and outdoor areas.

2. Improvement of technology for predicting the behavior of pedestrians in the vicinity
In order to walk safely on the streets without colliding with oncoming pedestrians, it is necessary to predict the movements of surrounding pedestrians, communicate the situation to the user, and control the movements of the AI suitcase. OMRON has developed a technology that predicts in advance whether pedestrians will go straight ahead or change their direction of travel to avoid them, based on the surrounding pedestrians' line of sight and body movements.

3. Improved indication of direction of travel by suitcase handle
Practical models of AI suitcases use an oscillator on the handle to indicate the direction of travel. The new handle developed by Alps Alpine uses a disk-type direction indicator to provide more accurate and intuitive directions for turning.

4. Promoting research for map-less driving
Current AI suitcases require the creation of wall and obstacle shape data, basic route maps, and store and facility data in advance. In collaboration with Waseda University, IBM Japan has conducted research and development of technology to navigate in environments without such map data while detecting aisle intersections.

■AI Suitcase Technology Exhibition and Hands-on Experience
On January 28 (Sat.) and 29 (Sun.), we will hold a technical exhibition and hands-on experience of the AI suitcase, including such advanced technology, at the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation (Miraikan). The general public is welcome to experience it for free*.
In addition, an outdoor driving model developed at Miraikan with technical cooperation from the consortium will be demonstrated at the Mobility Experience Event hosted by the Tokyo Digital Innovation City Council from January 28 (Sat) to February 6 (Mon).
*Admission is required for some exhibits and hands-on events held on the exhibition floor.

■Future Prospects
The consortium will continue to promote further research and development of advanced AI-based mobility assistive technologies to improve the quality of life of the visually impaired. In collaboration with related organizations, the consortium will also work to establish business models and solve issues for social implementation, such as the development of systems and infrastructure. Through the Consortium's activities, we aim to realize a "symbiotic society" in which people with and without disabilities can live together while recognizing each other's individuality.

<AI Suitcase Consortium official website>

<Contacts For media inquiries>
IR Section, Corporate Communications Department, Alps Alpine Electronics, Inc.

Engagement Communications Department, Innovation exploring initiative H.Q., OMRON Corporation

Shimizu Corporation Corporate Communications Department

IBM Japan, Ltd.

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