Human-tech network in Japan predicts weather dangers

TOKYO (The Japan News/ANN) - The latest information and communication technology (ICT), Takamatsu municipal government is aiming to become a smart city through an advanced area offering living convenience. 

Through the latest information and communication technology (ICT), Takamatsu municipal government is aiming to become a smart city ― an advanced area offering living convenience. A system that alerts citizens before natural disasters will be employed for emergency preparation.

 Sensors that measure water and sea levels will be installed at 13 locations, including major rivers, waterways and seawalls, and will process data on levels of flooding and inundation, and put out alerts in four classifications such as “warning” and “danger.”

The main system was provided by NEC Corp.

 In the past, locals would alert authorities, who would then rush to sites and collect data. Now, communication with workers setting up sandbags and officials in charge of road closures is based on data that has made it a smoother operation.

“We hope this will result in speedy evacuations,” a Takamatsu City official said.

Higher temperatures, more damage 

 When temperatures surpassing 40 C were recorded worldwide last year, European countries also experienced that level of intense heat. Australia continues to suffer from bushfires because of high temperatures and the dryness of the brush.

In Japan and the United States, damage from typhoons and hurricanes is becoming more harsh, and worldwide, measures that include damage simulations are being promoted.

 Global warming has brought about an increasing threat of extreme weather conditions like torrential rain. Instances of sudden flooding of small rivers in urban areas are also more frequent.

 Fujitsu Ltd. has developed technology that uses AI to predict the level of danger posed by rivers, from which such data available is minimal. The technology is said to be able to predict the rise of water levels in times of heavy rain if the AI can be taught to study the data on rainfall and water levels. Fujitsu is looking at a practical application of that technology by March.

Combining human eye with technology

Data is crucial if one is to make the most of ICT, AI and other cutting-edge technology. Even so, the human eye still has an important role to play.

 In the summer of 2008, Weathernews Inc., a company that provides meteorology information, called on users of its weather app to form a “sudden thunderstorm guard corps.” It asked members of the group to forward images of clouds captured on their mobile phones from locations that included their homes.

 The company has about 13,000 observation points nationwide, a greater number than the Japan Meteorological Agency. In the meteorological industry, unlike predicting weather events such as typhoons, it is more difficult to read heavy rain that occurs in local areas when small-scale rain clouds suddenly form.

 AI comes into play as an addition to conventional scientific data and images of clouds that members of the corps send. In 2016, by which time the corps included more than 100,000 members, it became possible to predict local heavy rain an hour before it hit at a rate of 90%.

“The highly developed five senses human beings have become excellent weather sensors,” said Kiyoteru Morita, the Weathernews executive officer in charge of the forecast center. “We want to combine them with science and technology to create more accurate weather forecasts.”

Fixed-point observation from space

The “eyes” that we have in space are also evolving.

Izanagi, a small radar satellite developed by the Fukuoka-based venture company iQPS Inc., was launched into orbit in December from a space center in India.

 The special equipment mounted on Izanagi has photographic capabilities that can distinguish objects 1 meter apart on the ground ― even at night or through  cloud cover. Analyzing accumulated image data from continuously photographing the same location might be useful in predicting when disasters will hit.

Shunsuke Onishi, president of the company, stated emphatically: “If we can gain an immediate understanding of the situation, and national or local governments take immediate action, victims will experience anxiety for a shorter amount of time.”

Information disclosure on rise   

 We now have an increased number of companies that disclose climate-change risks and environmental initiatives. Situated in the background of this is the vigor of ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) investing, where investment decisions are based on whether consideration is being assigned to social or environmental issues.

 The Financial Stability Board, a body that composes financial authorities from major countries and regions, has established the Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures, and encourages companies to share information. The number of Japanese companies and organizations in support of the agreement was 216 as of Dec. 27, making it the top supporter numerically by country.

As an example, JFE Holdings Inc., a major iron and steel company, cites damage to factories and unstable raw material procurement because of typhoons as a risk if temperatures should rise by 4 C. Meanwhile, demand for related products such as steel will rise amid the increased importance of strengthening the infrastructure.