[LINK] Fwd: vip-l: Tagging Tokyo's streets with no name

Jan Whitaker jwhit at melbpc.org.au
Thu May 10 22:20:42 EST 2007

Now *that's* an infrastructure project!

>Tagging Tokyo's streets with no name
>By Michael Fitzpatrick
>The Guardian Unlimited: Technology (UK), May 10, 2007
>The famously baffling metropolis is home to an experiment in ubiquitous
>computing that could transform the city
>Extract: "Clearly, one benefit of the project is the embedding of tags in
>existing "tactile walkways" - such as bumps at the side of the road
>indicating a pedestrian crossing - for the blind. Sakamura demonstrated in
>his lab how a white cane equipped as an RFID reader could become a
>directional sensor, interacting with information being beamed by the tags
>embedded in the street."
>If you have ever enjoyed frustration-free, satnav assisted drives or the
>hissing serenade that preceded an important fax, then you can thank the city
>with no street names - Tokyo.
>A capital city without road names is a huge handicap. Collectively, the
>Japanese (especially trainee post workers) and bewildered visitors have
>spent decades lost in Tokyo's labyrinthine arteries - most, literally,
>without a name.
>But rather than just name the streets and number the buildings, the locals
>had a uniquely Japanese answer to the problem: improve an existing
>technology, in this case the fax, to send maps and directions to visitors.
>In the 1980s Japan shrank fax machines, making them popular and affordable,
>and later repeated it with the satnav to ease the headache of getting from A
>to B.
>Alas, Tokyo's complex subway still remains a challenge even to residents,
>something your correspondent pondered while making his uncertain way to a
>laboratory in western Tokyo. The lab is home to the Tokyo Ubiquitous Network
>Project, where scientists are planning a computer infrastructure that they
>say will fill such information gaps for good and enable us to give our maps,
>guidebooks and A-Zs that longed-for heave-ho.
>Heading the project is Tokyo University professor Ken Sakamura -who, with
>the aid of the Japanese government, is well on his way to building the
>world's first truly public ubiquitous computer network. It's "an
>infrastructure for the 21st century", he says, adding that it will see our
>everyday landscape guide us, inform us and generally hold our hand in an
>increasingly puzzling world.
>Sakamura foresees scenarios resembling those in the film Minority Report,
>where the hero passes intelligent ad boards and shops in the mall which
>acknowledge him by name and try to flog him stuff. However the real-life
>version, in Japan at least, will be less intrusive, Sakamura insists.
>Complete control
>"With this system the user is in complete control. As a user of such a
>network we will see our enviros us," Sakamura says. "We seek only to chip or
>tag objects and the environment, never people. With this system you can
>choose to read which you wish. The ubiquitous communicator - the pocket
>device you use to read the information around you - can only read and write,
>which means your identity is protected."
>Japan's government sees enormous benefits from making every object readable
>this way. Improved guidance for the blind is one, painless interactive
>guidance for the tourists Japan desperately yearns for is another, and even
>salarymen and befuddled gaijin reporters trying to get around hostile cities
>will benefit from the scheme. Working with Sakamura's outfit and Japan's top
>technology companies such as Hitachi, the country's Information Ministry has
>just spent %1bn (#4.2m) on a month-long field trial that covered several
>blocks of the famousGinza shopping district.
>During the trial last month, PDA-style communicators were handed out to
>reporters and tourists, who were then free to wander around picking up
>information on their PDAs as they went.
>Anyone emerging with a communicator at the Ginza metro station, for example,
>had a 3D, real-time image of the landscape above them beamed to their PDA,
>making it a cinch to see which exit you might want if you were headed, say,
>for the Mitsukoshi department store. Head towards the store itself and RFID
>tags in the building sense your presence then zap to your PDA a woman's
>image welcoming you to the store. To learn more about this Tokyo landmark's
>history, touch the screen.
>In the future, commercial applications could include pushing you news of
>sales if you have registered interest, or even digital money-off coupons to
>tempt you inside.
>Getting commerce involved is important, says Sakumura, as the cost of
>building the infrastructure will be gargantuan. The pilot scheme used a
>variety of electronic tags that can transmit information; some of which are
>tiny and cheap, such as Hitachi's sand grain-sized passive RFID tags. Other
>infrared tags, which can beam out signals at longer ranges, are more
>expensive. Add this to the cost of installation and many trillions of yen
>will be needed to build, install and maintain a truly ubiquitous network,
>says Sakamura. "Ginza used only a thousand tags and that cost %1bn."
>The Ginza trial also highlighted some of the technical and security issues
>that have yet to be dealt with. Teething problems included
>cross-interference from illegal radio transmitters, as well as difficulties
>using the rather bulky prototype reader. "In the future the job of the
>reader will be done by your mobile phone, using a remote server," Sakamura
>says. "There are also still some regulation issues and security issues to
>iron out - one prankster even managed to slip in his own tag on to a Ginza
>lamppost that led readers to a porn site."
>Double-edged sword
>If ubiquitous networks are going to take off, Japan is surely the place to
>watch. The nation has already primed itself by accepting RFID tags - tracing
>the provenance of food, or in "smart shops" that chip their clothes for ease
>of inventory and to satisfy customer queries instantly. Even children are
>chipped "for their own safety" - raising, of course, questions of privacy.
>Surely there will be more abuse of tagging in a ubiquitous computing world?
>"Yes, the technology is a double-edged sword," says the professor. "For
>example, ubiquitous networks will be great for teleworking, working from
>where you like with a small terminal linked to embedded computers or
>multiple tags linked to a big server, but it also means the boss knows
>exactly where you are. But as long as you the user agrees to reveal such
>information or can choose to withhold it, we will be OK."
>Clearly, one benefit of the project is the embedding of tags in existing
>"tactile walkways" - such as bumps at the side of the road indicating a
>pedestrian crossing - for the blind. Sakamura demonstrated in his lab how a
>white cane equipped as an RFID reader could become a directional sensor,
>interacting with information being beamed by the tags embedded in the
>Adding extra details such as announcing the distance across the street at a
>road crossing and flagging up hazards such as stairways are also part of
>Sakamura's project that the government hopes to have in place in Japan's
>streets within the next five years.
>With an extra 10,000 tags planned to be dotted around Kobe and Tokyo before
>the end of the year to kickstart the new information infrastructure, other
>fully functioning guidance and information systems will not be far away.
>"Just as we built up roads, the next step in civilisation is to build a
>total information network that will form part of the fabric of things around
>us," says Sakamura.
>His vision is of all physical objects embedded with microcomputers with
>communication capabilities, sensors, actuators and so on, to supply us with
>location specific information. "They will operate in a concerted manner,
>processing, exchanging information with each other within the ubiquitous
>computing architecture. Making available location-specific information
>anytime, anywhere, to anyone."
>You might still find some things are lost in translation, but perhaps you
>wouldn't be lost in Tokyo ever again.
>7 If you'd like to comment on any aspect of Technology Guardian, send your
>emails to tech at guardian.co.uk

Jan Whitaker
JLWhitaker Associates, Melbourne Victoria
jwhit at janwhitaker.com
business: http://www.janwhitaker.com
personal: http://www.janwhitaker.com/personal/
commentary: http://janwhitaker.com/jansblog/

'Seed planting is often the most important step. Without the seed, 
there is no plant.' - JW, April 2005
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