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GeoTechnologies brings safety thanks to mapping services

Interview - October 9, 2023

Using a wide range of cutting-edge technologies, GeoTechnologies is one of the best service provider in the market to a wide range of industries regarding maps.

HIROSHIGE SUGIHARA, PRESIDENT OF GEO TECHNOLOGIES CORP.
HIROSHIGE SUGIHARA | PRESIDENT OF GEO TECHNOLOGIES CORP.

Looking from a macro perspective the automotive sector is going through a once-in-a-generation change with the shift to EVs. Cars are becoming computers on wheels. With a third of the car's price being made out of electronic components, what opportunities does this emphasis on software present for your company?

"We see this as a significant opportunity for our company because we possess both static data like maps and dynamic data like human movement, and we know how to handle these data effectively. These could be integrated into one package, potentially becoming an SDV (Software-Defined Vehicle) in itself. Looking ahead to the next generation, there is advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) as a prospect."

"Personally, I have a passion for cars, and I also like internal combustion engines (ICE). When I was a student living in the United States, I owned a large monster car and even enjoyed drag racing. It was a big vehicle with a 6.8-liter engine."

"I have over 40 years of experience in the IT (Information Technology) industry myself, so it's safe to say that my essence is related to all aspects of information technology. I have worked in companies dealing with storage, middleware, and gained experience at major corporations like Hewlett Packard, Cisco Systems, Oracle."

"Japanese people excel at creating things that can be touched, felt, and understood. However, the world of information technology that I have built my career in is about creating things that cannot be physically touched. Japan leads in the field of mechatronics, but I believe there is significant potential for growth in the software sector."

"Despite Toyota's transition to electric vehicles (EVs), they still maintain their top position. We all know that the mechanics of automobiles are shifting from engines to motors, but the focus is on the discussion of how to drive these motors. While there are choices like electricity, hydrogen, gasoline, and others, from an IT perspective, they are not as crucial. This is because, from our viewpoint, software will ultimately become the controlling element for these motors."

 

ADAS has a lot of challenges such as keeping GPS data up to date. How do your services help to overcome this?

"We have a cloud platform called Geo Prediction Platform. We designed this platform to be compatible with world-class clouds like Google Cloud and Oracle Cloud, allowing us to swiftly deploy data worldwide through APIs. While some companies update their map data every 3 to 6 months, our information is updated monthly, ensuring that we provide the most up-to-date data."

"The M2E app 'TRIMA,' developed by us, has recorded 15 million subscriber downloads. From there, we also have data related to people's movements. We collect this data, with individual data masked, so we don't know who is where, but we do have an understanding of their locations, at least. Additionally, from their movement speeds, we can determine what mode of transportation they are using, be in a bus, car, or train, among others. The static map data is highly detailed and is combined with the dynamic data of people's movements. We can provide this data to automobiles via cloud APIs and use it for ADAS."



When we are talking about map data for ADAS there is a necessity for incredibly accurate data. One of the challenges you might face when mapping large amounts of roads is the need to update that data. How do you keep your static map data up to date?

"Our maps are maintained by over 250 engineers at our development center in Morioka. Maintenance is carried out using AI and Robotic Process Automation (RPA). The accurate and up-to-date map data, updated daily, is made available on GPP. Furthermore, we incorporate all events into the map data by analyzing people's movements obtained from TRIMA using AI."

 

Data privacy is a massive global issue right now, and GeoTechnologies clearly analyzes a lot of data about how people are moving and their behavior in locations. One huge risk is hackers doxing individuals by accessing GeoTechnologies data. How is GeoTechnologies dealing with these privacy concerns?

"We take personal data protection very seriously. Many countries have differing perspectives on this topic, and the Japanese government, in particular, has stringent regulations in place. The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is something that companies adhere to in order to protect the general public. Options for consenting or not consenting to data collection are also provided. While there are pros and cons to data collection, there are many benefits in today's world, and the quality of life (QOL) can be improved depending on how data is utilized. For instance, by sharing information with professionals like doctors, more personalized services can be offered. However, without sharing that information, such services cannot be provided. Each individual should have the freedom to decide what information they share and what they don't, and as a company, we prioritize security in this regard."

"Furthermore, our Chief Digital Officer (CDO) comes from Hewlett Packard, so within our executive team, there is a particularly deep understanding, especially compared to some of the more traditional manufacturing industries that exist in Japan."

 

What are some of the other use cases for your high-definition mapping technology services besides ADAS and navigation?

"ADAS devices are constantly being improved, and the cameras they incorporate have become more advanced. These advancements are key to collecting more data, and companies like ours have the ability to create more human-friendly solutions by combining new technologies.

For example, we believe we can contribute to smart navigation, such as guiding people to appropriate evacuation routes during disasters, providing route options for safe school commutes considering sidewalk safety, and addressing crowd congestion incidents during large-scale events."

 

If we look at the rolling out of electric vehicles, one of the very big challenges is not the technical one, but also the infrastructure and mental ones. People who have EVs might be scared that they can’t find an EV charger nearby. How can your mapping services help the rollout of electric vehicles?

"We have information about the locations of EV charging stations, including those capable of high-speed charging. Additionally, our possession of pedestrian flow data allows us to predict where EVs are present and where they are heading. As a result, we can strategically place EV chargers in optimal locations to ensure their efficient use. People living in rural areas often have fewer public transportation options, making cars a necessity compared to those in large cities. By understanding and predicting people's movements, we can tailor public transportation programs to serve their needs."

 

We know that your company has 3 major business divisions; your automotive division, your GIS division, and your app division. Which division are you the most focused on right now and which one do you believe has the most potential for future growth?

"All of these elements are crucial to us. They are closely interconnected, with our mapping business at the core, leveraged by auto and GIS, and reinforced by the application division. In our business, we don't necessarily need to profit from gamification and applications. We drive applications as a means to support people's daily lives, and the data generated from them is analyzed by our AI systems to provide predictive and mapping data. This unique advantage sets us apart as we concurrently possess both static data from digital maps and dynamic data from pedestrian flow and location information."



How important is gamification to make the applications you produce a success?

"In fact, we analyzed when one of local government created a pedometer-based game app. As far as I remember, it was essentially about people achieving 10,000 steps a day to receive a 10% discount coupon at local stores. However, it didn't work well because it wasn't engaging. They forgot that gamification is about motivation. The gaming industry, especially in Japan, is quite significant, and I think Pokémon Go is a great example. It was a very successful case in getting people outdoors and walking."

"In our app, MINPOKEI, users can create friend groups and then observe the activities of members within the group through the app. This fosters connections within the community, and motivation is maintained through gamification where everyone collaborates to collect points."

 

During many of our interviews, the importance of local partners in overseas markets is often stressed. You’ve mentioned today's activities in Europe, the US, and Asia. What role do partnerships play in your business model and are you looking for any partners in overseas markets?

"We are progressing at a very fast pace but are in need of partners. As a global information technology company with significant big data resources, we are actively seeking collaboration with joint venture partners, potential M&A opportunities, sales agents, and even investors. Whether from the public or private sector, if any organization envisions partnering with us to predict the future and collect data on human movements, we are highly open to such possibilities. It's safe to say we are eager to make it happen."

 

Your company was originally created by Pioneer back in 1994, and Pioneer itself has gone through an incredible evolution to now focus on the automotive field. You gained independence in June 2021. Why do you think it was important to gain independence from Pioneer, and in these 2 years, what are some of the major changes your firm has gone through?

"Pioneer is a remarkable company with a very long history. However, Increment P (now GeoTechnologies) needed an environment where it could freely move in the direction it believed was best. My mission is to expand this company internationally and turn it into a true success story.

Over the past two years, there have been changes that allowed for further investments in map maintenance, enabling us to provide higher quality and more up-to-date maps. Additionally, services centered around automotive, based on map data, have expanded significantly to include marketing, healthcare, smart cities, regional revitalization, and more, all leveraging pedestrian flow and location information.

I genuinely believe that people's data is the final frontier. Through over 29 years of data collection, we understand how people move and behave. The volume of accessible data is simply immense, and when I joined this company two years ago, I was amazed by the amount of data. However, I also realized that companies didn't quite grasp how to monetize it. With my experience in ICT and supply chain management, I felt I could lead this company to the next stage. We are truly on the verge of something big, and I feel the company is prepared to soar to new heights."

 

As a foreigner coming to Japan, you often have this vision of a super technological country, and in many aspects it is. However, in terms of digitalization, Japan is lagging behind the rest of the world. Government offices still use fax machines, and big businesses such as Mazda are still paper-based companies. why does Japan lag behind so much when it comes to digitalization?

"That's a good question, and I can only answer from my perspective. As mentioned earlier, Japanese people excel in things they can touch, which means they are highly skilled in hardware, such as mechatronics, machinery, and precision molding. However, software is an entirely different game, something you can't really touch or feel. Decision-makers in the public and corporate sectors often lack imagination, and they don't have trust in things they can't understand due to their extensive experience. Of course, if you dissect hardware components, you can understand things like memory, CPU, GPU, but when it comes to actual programming, it goes beyond their imagination. Binary is not something Japanese people excel at, and many consider it not very important."

"Furthermore, in Japan, where the aging population continues to grow, there is a shortage of managerial staff with knowledge of new software, and the educational environment within companies is not well-established. To catch up with the rest of the world, we have high hopes for the younger generation often referred to as 'digital natives'."

"Finally, I consider Japanese to be a very complex language. This complexity is further compounded when dealing with the translation of programming languages into Japanese. I studied this in university, and transitioning from a programming language to kanji and katakana was indeed very challenging."

 

We know that you have a presence in the US and China. Do you have any plans to expand to more remote locations?     

"Yes, there are challenges, but partners are necessary. We cannot accomplish everything on our own. We would like to collaborate with companies that share the same mindset."

 

You have all of this static data which are your maps, and that is in turn fed into GPUs and CPUs, and then you have active data which comes from cameras and sensors in next-generation vehicles. To achieve a certain level of autonomy you need ever more powerful processors and GPUs. When do hardware limitations stop software development when it comes to ADAS?

"I agree that the coming decades will see technology advancements accelerating, especially with developments like Quantum computing and Generative AI. When considering the progress of ADAS, memory and computing requirements must be taken into account. While we have transitioned from hard disk drives (HDD) to solid-state drives (SSD), they have not yet caught up with the high-capacity drives that traditional HDDs offer. Bandwidth is currently limited by the specifications of 5G, but efforts are underway for the introduction of 6G. Satellites will play a crucial role in this regard, representing a new frontier for networks. Vast amounts of data will be connected through these satellites. Elon Musk is a genius who recognized the importance of satellites, especially in the context of SpaceX, and invested significant funds into it. Japan should not lag behind this trend and should have been forward-thinking in building these networks."

 

Imagine that we come back on the very last day of your presidency and have this interview all over again. What goals or dreams would you like to achieve by the time you are ready to pass the baton onto the next generation of GeoTechnologies executives?

"We are currently focusing on what we want to do in the future rather than passing the baton. Presently, we are actively preparing for our first initial public offering (IPO), and post-IPO, we intend to allocate even more funds to research and development assets. Additionally, we are interested in attracting foreign talent to Japan to help alleviate some of the challenges posed by an aging workforce. Japan is a very peaceful country with wonderful cuisine, which could make it an attractive option for many people worldwide."

" Fulfill the Earth with joy." This is the corporate mission I set when I became CEO.

"We have launched our own non-fungible token (NFT) project alongside our maps and created a system where 10% of the proceeds are donated to local governments. We have received several letters of appreciation from the local community for these donations."

Furthermore, GeoTechnologies regularly donates to the More Trees, an organization established in Japan to conserve worldwide forests. We continue to evolve in our mission to fulfill the Earth with joy.

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