But this is Tsunashima Sustainable Smart Town (SST) - one of three futuristic developments in Japan being pioneered by Panasonic in collaboration with other forward-thinking companies. All are focused on creating communities that are eco-friendly, secure and comfortable to live in.

Photo: Tsunashima Sustainable Smart Town

Each project has made use of derelict land - in the case of Tsunashima, the site of a former Matsushita factory. The aim of this approach, says Panasonic, is "to leverage the past to help create the future."

One of a trio of Panasonic Sustainable Smart Towns, the Tsunashima SST is located around halfway between Yokohama and Tokyo. The others are in Fujisawa, south of Yokohama, and in Suita, a suburb of Osaka. While the Fujisawa and Suita SSTs have been planned as residential communities promoting healthy lifestyles and well-being, Tsunashima SST is primarily a commercial venture; it aims to nurture the kind of collaborative innovation among companies that will help create more of these communities in the future.

During the project's development phase, Panasonic partnered with a leading real estate company; one with a long history of innovative urban development in Japan. Under the concept of "Innovating the Future Together," eight other companies are contributing their expertise and insights, including Honda Mobility Solutions Co., Ltd. and ENEOS Corporation.

Collaboration at Tsunashima SST is not confined to companies, however; matching the approach taken by the other Sustainable Smart Town projects, it draws additionally on input from the municipality, from local residents, and from academic institutions. An "Innovation Studio" located in the center of the SST acts as the main hub for this collaboration.

A Town Energy Facility - a low-carbon, disaster-resistant gas cogeneration system - supplies the community with both electricity and heating and cooling; a cutting-edge facility that is serving as a model for other eco-friendly smart communities.

A unique gas station supplies fuel-cell vehicles with hydrogen - "the clean energy of the future" - and features new technologies that enable the gas to be supplied safely. Aimed at helping bring the hydrogen-powered society of the future even closer, this is one of the most prominent initiatives being undertaken by the Tsunashima SST. A variety of environmentally-friendly mobility services are available, including a hybrid- and fuel-cell vehicle rental facility.

Photo: The Tsunashima SST hydrogen gas station

The Tsunashima SST hydrogen gas station

From the outside, the large shopping center in one corner of the Tsunashima site looks like any other. But inside it is pioneering a number of services that will help make life more comfortable and convenient. These include large banks of delivery lockers for the growing number of shoppers using online stores, and multi-language signage and displays. CFC-free refrigeration units offer more environmentally-friendly storage and display of chilled and frozen foodstuffs.

Tsunashima SST is also trialing a new kind of condominium-style accommodation. The operation of intercoms and home appliances in its apartments is integrated in a screen-based home control system which leverages IoT technology. Reflecting the Tsunashima SST's focus on sustainability, the system also allows residents to track their water and energy usage.

Panasonic and its partners are additionally working to "digitalize" the community. This includes the use of smart sensors to monitor people traffic in order to gauge what facilities are required and to estimate their required capacity. The sensors also assess the physical environment of the communal facilities - for example, the temperature, humidity and the levels of airborne pollution - automatically adjusting climate controls to ensure comfort and good health.

The Tsunashima SST is also promoting interaction between Japan and overseas countries; the prestigious Keio University operates an international student dormitory on the site which facilitates this interaction at a local community level. A Sustainable Smart Town laboratory, part of the Town Innovation Center, acts as a hub where young people can meet and brainstorm new business ideas before testing these in the local community, with the support of the companies participating in the SST project.

With these initiatives the Tsunashima Sustainable Smart Town is fast becoming a working model for communities striving to become more innovative, eco-friendly and sustainable - in Japan.

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