Almost a century later, Panasonic remains true to these principles. A good example is the company's creation of Sustainable Smart Towns.

In common with many advanced countries, Japan is facing the challenges of an ageing society. Already 30% of the population is aged 65 or over and this share is expected to continue rising. An additional issue is the growing number of single-person households, which can exacerbate problems of loneliness and isolation, particularly among the elderly.

Panasonic is working to realize its founder's vision and address these twin issues through its development of Sustainable Smart Towns (SSTs) - a trio of large-scale community developments in Japan conceived around common themes. These include the use of renewable energy to power them, the deployment of technology to facilitate mobility and security for their residents, and a focus on community and well-being.

The first SST to be completed is located in Fujisawa, south of Yokohama; a second was completed shortly afterwards in Tsunashima, between Yokohama and Tokyo. The latest of these - in Suita, a busy northern suburb of Osaka - will open at the end of this month. All three have been constructed on the sites of disused former Panasonic manufacturing facilities.

In the case of the Suita SST, a further guiding principle is the promotion of multi-generational living. The 23,000 square meter site - around the size of three soccer pitches - will house 362 residential units; these include condominiums for families and for seniors, and compact units with shared facilities designed for single-person households.

The Suita complex additionally hosts a large wellness facility incorporating serviced housing for the elderly and a group home for those with dementia; at-home care and child-care facilities are also provided. A commercial complex with two floors of shops and a community park completes the community.

Photo: Suita Sustainable Smart Town

Typical urban developments focus on the provision of infrastructure. Panasonic's focus, explains Chief Executive Officer Yuki Kusumi, is more far-reaching. "We are promoting sustainable smart town community development with the aim of solving global environmental problems and enabling people to lead happy lives, both physically and mentally."

In line with the approach adopted in the other SST projects, Panasonic conceived and created the Suita Sustainable Smart Town with the help of a number of partner organizations, including leading transportation, security, mobile communications and utility companies. The overall facility will be operated by a "facility council" with input from these partners as well as from residents, local government, and academia.

Maximizing the use of renewable energy is one of the key principles underpinning the operation of all three of the Sustainable Smart Towns. The Suita SST specifically aims to become Japan's first urban development that derives 100% of its electricity from renewable sources*. Extensive use is being made of solar power, and huge storage batteries provide back-up should supplies be disrupted for any reason - for example following a natural disaster. Some of the residential units are equipped with advanced gas appliances equipped with the very latest safety functions.

Figure: The Suita SST specifically aims to become Japan's first urban development that derives 100% of its electricity from renewable sources.

The health and safety of residents is a further main consideration, particularly given the ongoing COVID pandemic. Discrete cameras in common areas will monitor any congestion and assess compliance with any recommended precautions such as mask wearing. AI technology in the cameras will also help detect if, for example, an elderly resident becomes disoriented or lost while outdoors, with any necessary assistance being dispatched swiftly by a security center.

AI-enabled sensors embedded in residents' home appliances will detect unusual patterns of usage, which may provide an indication of cognitive decline or the onset of dementia among elderly residents. Appropriate levels of care will be provided by partner companies specializing in healthcare and nursing.

The monitoring of residents' day-to-day health and general healthcare provision will be facilitated through the use of data collected through wearable devices and smartphones. The data will be managed centrally, with clinics and pharmacies collaborating to ensure optimal management of residents' health.

Recognizing that remaining mobile and active helps to prolong the lives of the elderly, the Suita SST will make it easier for its residents to move around inside the community, for example through the provision of shared bicycles. In partnership with local transportation providers, it will also encourage them to explore the scenery and other attractions of the surrounding areas.

The community's many shared facilities and meetings places will encourage cross-generation interaction and help combat loneliness. Landscaped greenery will help provide relief from the effects of urban heat during Japan's long, hot summers.

Panasonic's Sustainable Smart Towns in Japan are work in progress. Feedback from their residents is being constantly evaluated and analyzed, with services and service levels being tweaked or adjusted accordingly.

Longer-term, the company aims to leverage the experience it is gaining through the SST program to inform and support similar developments in Japan and in other countries. These currently include smart-housing projects in China and in Germany that are also deploying Panasonic technology to provide comfortable and secure living in energy-efficient communities.

One hundred years on, the vision of the company's founder continues to inspire Panasonic to seek solutions to the challenges faced by society.

*The goal is to produce virtually 100% of the energy consumed by the town from renewable energy sources. We will realize this goal for at least five years after the town is up and running. This is the first initiative in Japan that involves the entire town, including commercial and residential facilities. (According to the survey conducted by Knsai Electric Power Co., Inc.)

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