Association, Inc.

Issue No. 3, 2010

Japan's ITS technologies

Remember, not so long ago, how we might have set out on a car journey with a map and a rough idea of where we wanted to go?

Today, ITS is the name of the game. Cutting edge in-car satellite systems that provide not just basic directions but also a wealth of extra, real time data are there to help us make that trip from A to B safely and on-time. 

In Japan, as elsewhere, these ITS systems are becoming ever 'smarter' and sophisticated. Japanese drivers have now become used to the ETC (Electronic Toll Collection) system on highways which greatly speeds up traffic flow and has made that side of driving in Japan so much easier and more convenient.

When it comes to navigation, systems in Japan were originally used as a tool to help avoid traffic congestion.  ITS in Europe, on the other hand, has traditionally focused more on how to get there, safety and developing the emergency call ("E-Call).

Japanese drivers now have the option to programme their sat-nav systems for the most "economical" route (ie to save fuel).  It's much the same now in Europe, it's true, although there you might be presented with a "low CO2" route instead.  Call it a slightly different take on the modern green car driving formula.

Given Japan's sometimes extreme weather – with many earthquakes and typhoons per year – navigation comes into its own when checking whether the road ahead is safe.  Using "floating car data," systems can provide accurate, up-to-the-minute information to guide drivers as to what's going on.  Once, that data might have received by the sat-nav unit itself.  Today, in Japan, you're just as likely to receive it via mobile phone, or PDA, as the technology speeds ahead.

While Japan's vast consumer electronics industry is well on the pace when it comes to developing and offering ITS systems, so are the nation's car makers.

Among the major manufacturers, Toyota's impressive telematics system in Japan is called G-Book.  Honda's system is Internavi Premium Club.  Nissan's is Car Wings.

These are real hi-tech systems.  With Toyota's G-Book, just to give one example, Live Navigation sees an operator give turn-by-turn directions.  Nissan's Car Wings has a special "Eco Drive and You" service to encourage fuel efficient driving and which also provides a virtual chart, comparing your fuel consumption with other users.

The art of Japanese automotive telematics, however, may be entering a new era with the launch of the Leaf, Nissan's all-new electric model.  The Leaf is "wired" 24/7 to a global data centre that provides information on nearby charging stations along with myriad other support and entertainment functions.

You can also use a mobile phone to turn on the car's air conditioning and to set charging functions, even when the Leaf is powered down.

Clearly, the world of cars, driving and communication has come an awful long way from the days of signposts and maps.  And Japan's telematics revolution, perhaps, is only just getting going.