Masami Yamamoto, head of Fujitsu, explains why the Japanese giant is growing high-tech lettuce next door to the nuclear disaster site
For a global tech giant, Fujitsu is normally reticent about its plans. But last week CEO Masami Yamamoto told journalists about the Japanese firm’s plans for “human-scale” technology, showed off its research labs, and explained why it grows high-tech lettuce.
Fujitsu’s services-led business is well known in the UK as the inheritor of the ICL business, continuing the legacy of Britain’s mainframe pioneers. But worldwide, it employs 162,000 people in a diverse range of markets across 100 countries – and Yamamoto was very keen to show just how diverse those markets are in a breifing for European journalists at the Fujitsu Forum Tokyo 2014, attended by our European sister site B!T.
From gadgets to services
Before getting onto the lettuce, Yamamoto, CEO of Fujitsu since 2010, explained the theme of the Forum: “Human Centric Innovations” is about the use of information and communication technologies (ICT) as a critical part of the social infrastructure.
“ICT allows us to enrich our lives and even create new safety patterns,” he said, presenting this as a more mature role for Japanese innovation, beyond the “gadgetisation” which marked the country’s contribution in previous years.
Ten years ago, the Japanese market was the leader in electronic gadgets, and everything was about mobility. Now, big companies like Toshiba and Panasonic are more focused on services and the business-to-business (B2B) market – and Yamamoto puts the change down to the Internet.
“The Internet created a more connected world. Everything is connected. And even more services are needed in order to make that connectivity to happen,” he said. “It is true that in the last 10 years our company and many other Japanese companies failed in interpreting the message. We did not realise that this change was about to happen. That said, I truly believe that there are several opportunities for the Japanese companies.”
For success, he says, “the key is to provide this organic connectivity and services to the consumers,” and that at least is something that Japan has been very good at.
It’s not possible to go it alone any more. Fujitsu needs hardware and software, and an ecosystem: “We must embrace many partners to have top solutions. And to be able to work with the best world suppliers means that we, Fujitsu, must have the best technologies, otherwise this cooperation with the best partners is not possible.”
For instance, in servers, Fujitsu works with SAP and Oracle. “These suppliers see the technology we have in this area and they realise that we are externally focused. That is why they cooperate with us.”
All of which might suggest that Fujitsu should leave smartphones and PCs to other players – but the CEO says it needs them, because: “without this kind of interface we cannot serve our customers.”
Europe is important to Fujitsu’s internationalisation, Yamamoto said: “We are watching a curious growth of European markets. And if before, in Italy, Germany and United Kingdom, this infrastructure was basically based on hardware, today we provide both hardware elements and software. That is, from the hardware base we are now extending to the services area.”
For the future, the CEO thinks Fujitsu can contribute ideas for some of the world’s major challenges, including globalisation, ageing workforce, natural disasters and a growing global population which creates pressure on resources like food, water and energy.
Like other players, Fujitsu wants a share of the data bonanza created by the so-called “Internet of Things”, and wants to change lives in the process – so it is doing the research to earn that place.
Research and focus
In Fujitsu’s largest research lab in Kawasaki, 18km from Tokyo, the press saw the smallest and thinnest biometric sensor for vein authentication, the latest developments in image recognition technology, and a robot teddy bear designed to be friendly, reacting to petting and begging for attention. The last development is not on the market yet, but could be important when applied to elder people or children, staff said.
The Kawasaki lab has some 1200 employees, while Fujitsu has smaller research and development facilities in the UK (230 people), Texas and Beijing in China. The whole lab’s organisation operates as a subsidiary with a dedicated annual budget of €214 million (£171m) provided by the parent company and with an exclusive president, Hideyuki Saso.
About 30 percent of the resources go into short term research, directly linked to business and commercialisation, while half the budget is spent on advanced research which will create new businesses or will expand an improve the competitiveness of existing businesses, Masayuki Kato, responsible for the planning and strategy in Fujitsu Labs, told journalists.
The remaining 20 percent of the budget goes on planting the “seeds” of the future, materialized in innovative and revolutionary technologies.
In the very formal setting of a Japanese conference, Yamamoto raised eyebrows by grabbing a piece beautiful lettuce, unwrapping it and starting to eat, saying that it was delicious. The point was that Fujitsu sees agricultural technology as a serious opportunity.
“This is a way to prove that we are seriously committed in agricultural solutions. Not only in Japan, but worldwide,” he said. “It is an industry where people still base their work in their knowledge, sensitivity and intuition. However, more countries, like the Netherlands, for example, are applying ICT to agriculture in an amazing way. The developed countries are joining this trend.”
Fujitsu itself took the challenge to grow “nerd” lettuces, with the support of sensors and cloud computing, said Yamamoto: “Basically, the message is that Fujitsu, an ICT company, managed to produce high quality lettuces. So imagine what a agricultural company can do to make its business profitable with ICT applied to this industry.”
Fujitsu now takes orders for lettuces produced in the same absolutely sterile facilities it has also used to manufacture mobile chips and other electronic products. These are the first in the company’s “Kirei Yasai” (clean vegetables) line.
Ironically, the factory is in Fukushima, the city made famous by the nuclear accident in which an earthquake and tsunami compromised reactor cooling systems, and the Government declared a level seven emergency, a level only previously applied in the Chernobyl disaster.
The vegetables are produced in around 2000 square metres, at Aizu Wakamatsu, Fukushima, in Northern Japan. Fujitsu is proud of their low potassium – around 100 micrograms of potassium per 100 grams, according to Fujitsu, below the normal value of 490 micrograms.
This is important for people with chronic kidney diseases, who have to limit potassium intake due to loss of kidney function, which limits their options to eat raw vegetables. Fujitsu believes that its low potassium lettuce is tasty enough and considers medical facilities as its potential first customers.
Each 90 gram pack will cost be around $4.90 dollars, twice the price of normal lettuces in Japanese supermarkets, but… These products were produced with the help of semiconductors and cloud computing, and do not need to be washed before consumption.
A cloud platform decides the best atmospheric conditions, like temperature and humidity, as well as levels of fertilization, and sensors along the lettuce rows collect the data on how the product is growing. The algorithms analyse the numbers and recommend the best time for harvest.
This cloud service, named Akisai, has wider application, in an agricultural project called Nosho Navi, coordinated by Teruaki Nanseki, professor of agriculture at Kyushu University, Southern Japan.
The farmers in Shiga province, near Kyoto, use smartphones to upload data about rice plantations and other harvest works to a cloud server, which recommends the water amount to apply and when to harvest the rice.
This tool is seen as very useful amongst inexperienced young farmers, in an ageing population.
Fujitsu reckons in 2017 the sales for this kind of project will reach 400 million yen (£2.3m) per year.
Edited by Peter Judge, TechWeek UK