Tokyo Ubiquitous Network Project
May 9th, 2007

This Guardian article reports on the Tokyo Ubiquitous Network Project.”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.
“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 Â¥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”.

Tagging Tokyo’s streets with no name


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