IoT’s Potential In Japan

Semicon Japan report: Big growth opportunities in wearables, health care and energy control and monitoring.

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Going to Semicon Japan was a real treat this year. The event was held at a new location, the weather was sunny, and the exhibits/presentations were engaging. During my walks around the exhibit floor I was drawn to the metrology and material characterization tools. Those booths seemed to have the most interesting information to share. Talking with companies like Rigaku provided insight into the precision required for the creation of finFETs. Rigaku’s life science and material x-ray systems are finding their way into the non-destructive, full wafer mapping applications necessary at 14nm and beyond.

The theme for this year’s Semicon Japan was no surprise: the “World of IoT.” However, the discussions provided interesting insight into the Japanese perspective. It is well known that over the past decade Japan’s market share in the worldwide semiconductor arena has dropped. Except for semiconductor equipment and a few key material suppliers, Japan’s contribution to the semiconductor market growth has been lackluster. But the IoT is viewed as a gateway that could turn things around. Automotive, robotics, industrial applications, wearables and medical are considered core competencies for Japanese companies.

Semico’s Jim Feldhan presented at two Semicon Japan venues. He highlighted several key growth areas for IoT.

  • By 2018, wearables will be the second largest connected device market behind the smartphone.
  • As the worldwide chronically ill reaches 860 million people, IoT in the healthcare market becomes a necessity.
  • IoT provides an efficient way to monitor and control energy use while at the same time offers home security systems to the more than 2 billion households worldwide that are expected by 2020.

The areas that IoT is expected to impact are in segments that are significant to the population, infrastructure and industry in Japan. More than 14% of the population in the United States is age 65 or older. According to the World Bank, that number is 25% and rising in Japan. Electronic devices are needed to enable aging in place and provide a welcome relief to the government sponsored healthcare system in Japan.

Depending on the ranking criteria, Japan has three to four companies on the top 10 list of automobile manufacturers: Toyota, Honda, Nissan and Suzuki. The supply chain that leads to increased electronics in automotive applications can only help the current Japanese semiconductor suppliers.

Even before the tsunami in 2011, Japan was conscientious in its energy use, but since the closure of all nuclear plants in Japan, the need for energy conservation is even more critical. Japan views IoT as a way to reduce consumption while causing the least amount of noticeable impact.

Along with Japan’s population, the infrastructure is aging. Monitoring of bridges, high rise buildings and efficient use of rail and subways all provide opportunities for IoT. Although human-like robots aren’t catching on as quickly as expected, the use of robotics in drones for infrastructure monitoring and autonomous driving are all expected to be a big part of technology adoption in Japan.

And speaking of infrastructure, the new venue for Semicon Japan was quite impressive. The Tokyo International Exhibition Center─more commonly known as Tokyo Big Sight (pronounced by the Japanese as Tokyo Biggu Saito) ─was built 18 years ago but is still very space-age (top left). Add the Fuji TV building (bottom left) and a giant transformer figure at a local mall and it’s like walking into a sci-fi movie with anime characters included. The only thing missing was the flying taxi cabs.

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The use of MCUs and sensors, including image sensor technology, in IoT provides a path for Japan’s semiconductor players to get back in the game. The growth opportunities in these sectors have energized key Japanese players. Although the focus is on a worldwide market, it is interesting to note that the growth of these sectors are targeted at Japan’s internal needs. IoT is not just a buzzword in Japan, but is viewed as a solution to a variety of local issues. It is expected to provide some much needed technology for Japan’s aging population, energy conservation, and crumbling infrastructure while at the same time stimulate the semiconductor industry.

For more information on aging in place, the future of IoT, and the chips that will drive these markets, contact Rick Vogelei at <a href=”mailto:[email protected]”>Rick Vogelei</a>.