Just before 3 p.m. on a certain day in November, a compact drone came softly buzzing over the public meeting hall, located in Hase-Nakao district of Ina City, Nagano Prefecture. It landed precisely at a predetermined spot, and a volunteer removed a pink-colored package. After receiving a battery replacement, the drone lifted off and flew off, across the nearby Mibu River.
The volunteer drove his car on a mountain road for 10 minutes to the residence of Masaki Komatsu, 70, and dropped off three delivery items: servings of tonkatsu (breaded pork cutlet), grilled mackerel and a toothbrush.
Four hours earlier, Komatsu had placed his order for the three items, totaling 892 yen, via a cable TV network. If delivery is placed by 11 a.m., the goods will be received by evening of the same day. For this service, subscribers pay a flat rate of 1,000 yen per month.
For safety reasons, the delivery drones do not fly directly over people's homes.
The above transaction, reports Friday (Dec 25), is just one of several ways that Ina is in the process of becoming one of Japan's "super smart cities." Such major firms as KDDI, Zenrin DataCom, Toyota Motor Co and Softbank have teamed up to provide residents of this city of 65,000 residents with a host of advanced services.
"If the roads become impassable due to heavy snowfalls or disasters, the drones can still get through. To avoid the spread of the coronavirus, this has also been especially helpful to the elderly," says Akira Yasue, assistant manager of the city's planning and policy section.
About 40% of Ina's 623 households are made up of people aged 65 and older.
Larger types of drones, equipped with cold storage, will eventually be used to enable distribution of more kinds of products over a larger area.
"When not occupied with shopping, the drones can be put to use for agricultural purposes, for instance monitoring the condition of crop growth, We've already begun using drones to spread fertilizer on the crops," says Ina Mayor Takashi Shirotori. "The same issues we face affect most of the nation's local governments, so by sharing our knowhow and information about our successes I'm confident what we do will be adopted by other places."
Another new function is being able to hail a taxi via cable TV hookup. The local bus service, with a shrinking customer base, operated at a deficit, so was replaced by taxis on call. People aged above 65 who have turned in their driver's licenses, and handicapped individuals, are entitled to utilize the taxis at a flat rate of 500 yen per person per ride.
"With the expansion of medical diagnostics, coordination between treatment and care has been progressing," says Yoshiyuki Ikeda, who has been posted to the Ina City office by Softbank. "A care manager using online diagnostics can visit a person's residence and share findings with the primary care physician. And as nursing care certification can also be obtained more quickly, families also appreciate what we're doing."
Ina does not boast any high-rise condos or "intelligent buildings." It is a pretty ordinary example of "local countryside." But major firms such as Toyota Motor Co, KDDI, Softbank and Zenrin have been successively moving in, making the small regional city a model for the high-tech future.
"While harnessing advanced technology, we are also planning for ways to close in on the 'last one mile' to the homes of residents," mayor Shirotori tells the magazine, "Still, it's important to stay involved with people on the personal level so we can maintain our sense of community."
Ina, a historic jokamachi (castle town) in south-central Nagano, is providing a glimpse of what the future of Japan may look like.© Japan Today