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Here we introduce IOWN (Innovative Optical and Wireless Network), an initiative for future communications infrastructure to create a smarter world by using cutting-edge technologies like photonics and computing technologies.

IOWN impact on societal infrastructure: MaaS and innovation of energy

So far in this series, we have explained what the IOWN concept is and the technical elements it comprises. In this article, we will discuss how IOWN will change society and introduce two use cases using the societal infrastructure field as a model case: MaaS (Mobility as a Service) and EaaS (Energy as a Service).

The role IOWN will play in MaaS

Self-driving vehicles equipped with autonomous control systems connected to networks are quickly becoming commonplace around the world, and development of fully integrated ICT based transportation support systems is progressing on a massive scale.
In particular, the "MaaS" concept is attracting a great deal of attention. MaaS is an ultra-smart transportation system which uses ICT to seamlessly connect all manner of transportation services, so that each individual user can use the best and safest transportation services for their needs.

These initiatives will make it so that individuals will not have to worry themselves about which means of transportation services to use in the future. People will be able to see and select from options for transportation dynamically proposed at that moment, not only for routine trips such as daily commutes to work or school, but also for trips that they make spontaneously in their day-to-day lives.
This will make it possible to create a world where people can avoid traffic jams and crowded trains, energy consumption can be optimized, and individuals experience less stress from transportation.

However, this is no easy task to achieve. Transportation services need to not only have the function of quickly responding to diverse and rapidly changing needs people have, but also sense the conditions of cities and the entire transportation network in real time, in order to integrate information and reliably maintain overall harmony.
In other words, it is essential to have communication that collects enormous amounts of information at high speed and analyzes it in real time, so that it can support stable operation of advanced collaborative systems and control systems. In many aspects including volume of data, reliability, and energy consumption, extending current communication technology would make for a heavy burden, so this field in particular demands the realization of IOWN.

For example, we have envisioned failsafe next-generation services that maximize use of communication networks realized with IOWN. Failsafe technologies and services protect users from unforeseen situations that occur in transportation means, and turn dangerous conditions into safe conditions.
One example of this is cooperative driving. This service uses high-speed photonic networks enabled by All-Photonics, integrated ICT resource allocation, and high-speed, low-latency information processing in order to more precisely follow the relationship between vehicles and traffic conditions in the entire region. It then takes into consideration judgments of public welfare and safety, and maximizes the safety of individual drivers, as well as the safety of whole traffic.

Proposals customized for each individual through high-precision simulations based on big data

Fig. 1 Simulation using real-world events
Fig. 1 Simulation using real-world events

In addition, MaaS enabled by IOWN has the revolutionary information collection capacity and analysis abilities necessary for the service itself to track the needs of users and prompt the right assessment of situations and selection of information. In conjunction with technology that senses and accumulates each individual's biometric information and behavior history without placing a burden on the user, MaaS will evolve into a system that closely follows the daily lives of individuals and give advice on transportation from a future perspective.

DTC (Digital Twin Computing), one of the three elements that make up IOWN, is intended to freely duplicate, integrate, and exchange multiple digital twins as individual parts, including both people and objects. This will make it possible to examine a variety of environments by computing worlds that cannot exist in reality on the same scale as reality, and enable immediate interaction in predicting the traffic environments of cities.

We are currently conducting the research and development of 4D digital platform™ toward sequential commercialization beginning in FY2021. 4D digital platform™ is aiming to precisely integrate position and time information from sensing data into high-precision spatial information, and providing latitude, longitude, height and time data useful in future predictions. We will use our map business data and knowledge for further improvement of position accuracy for existing maps, and contribute to realize future prediction with various simulations. This can be done through the real-time collection of sensing data, high-speed spatial-temporal data management technology, and highly precise positioning and time synchronization technology.
With this sort of real-time and high-accuracy simulation, we aim to make mobility safer and more comfortable, free people from making unnecessary information assessments, and spend time in a more natural way so they can live more fulfilling lives.

Innovation and optimization of energy distribution

The reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, which are supposed to be one of the causes of global warming, is a pressing issue for humanity. Most of these gases come from the combustion of fossil fuels (oil, coal, natural gas, etc.) due to energy consumption. In order to stop global warming, it is essential to make a large-scale transition from energy consumption based on fossil fuels, which requires innovation in a wide range of technologies and systems aimed at a better energy mix, including power generation, power storage, and power transmission. IOWN technology is one key to solving this challenging problem and promoting innovation by optimizing distribution, which supports energy production, conservation, and storage.

Currently, renewable energy sources such as solar power, wind power, and biomass still account for only about 16% of Japan's power supply (as of 2017; including hydroelectricity). The target for the 2030 energy mix is to increase that ratio to 22% to 24%, and increase it even further by 2050. However, the power systems, which turn the renewable energy sources into stable power sources, have not been fully developed, and it is difficult that such sources cooperate with the existing power sysytems. Since the renewable energy is easily affected by the season and weather, we have to promote the development of new technologies for storing electricity and controlling the output of such energy. In addition, it is important to create systems for local production and local consumption, however, the cost required to build these kinds of energy systems is enormous.

We are taking on these difficult challenges with technological innovation in photonics. One example is our vision for using optical fiber for power transmission lines. However, modern optical fiber was developed for communication purposes, and it is not capable of withstanding the input and output of the power required for electric power transmission. In these circumstances, NTT is currently working with other companies and universities in the research and development of multicore optical fiber with an improved structure in the fiber core, which is the path that light travels along. We are also examining new materials and so on in our research to develop optical fiber that can withstand energy transmission.

If optical power transmission via optical fiber becomes readily available in addition to the wireless power transmission that is being researched and developed around the world, then it will be possible to flexibly supply energy to sensors and robots installed in all kinds of locations. This will make it possible to use optical fiber networks more effectively, and contribute to the optimization of power distribution. We aim to lead the way to more optimal energy distribution by improving the computing ability of the information processing infrastructure and enabling fine-tuned control of power storage and on-demand output.

Research in pursuit of diverse energy sources

In the same way as the optimization of energy distribution, it is also a pressing issue to acquire energy sources that are more stable and have far greater power generation capacity than solar power and wind power. For example, with space solar power generation using geostationary satellites, it becomes possible to provide a reliable supply of energy to the Earth's surface on demand, 24 hours a day. Furthermore, by making comprehensive agreements with the ITER organization to collaborate on the international fusion energy project, we believe that IOWN can support humanity's first successful full-scale demonstration of fusion energy with the aim of realizing fusion power generation, which reproduces the mechanism of the sun to generate energy. In addition, we will push ahead with an even wider range of initiatives such as lightning charging, which has great potential for use as a natural energy source.

Artificial photosynthesis is also currently attracting attention worldwide as a method to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while also storing energy resources without waste. If we can artificially reproduce the plant photosynthesis process, it will be possible to use natural energy sources such as sunlight in combination with water and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to create carbonized fuels such as methane as well as formic acid, which is a storable hydrogen carrier. At NTT, we are currently conducting research and development on artificial photosynthesis technology utilizing semiconductor growth technology and catalyst technology, which we have cultivated in our research and development of optical communications and batteries.

With IOWN, we will create a smarter relationship between people and energy, and realize an unprecedented clean energy society by supporting the optimization of energy distribution and the diversification of energy generation sources.


Book: Innovative Optical & Wireless Network (IOWN構想)