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Building a smart future

Innovative technologies set Japan apart as a leader in Proptech adoption

By Kiyoshi Inomata, CPM®, CCIM
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As a global leader in technology, Japan and its built environment are at the forefront of defining what it means to be smart. Often on the cutting edge when it comes to property management and operations, Japan’s modern skylines are full of buildings with Proptech applications that are practical, efficient, and sustainable, resulting in cost savings for real estate asset owners and greatly enhancing the resident and tenant experience.

I recently had the opportunity to look at some of the newest smart building developments being introduced into the market at Japan Build, a premier industry event for showcasing Proptech innovation in Asia. This trade show takes place twice a year in Japan and attracts vendors from the construction and development sectors, featuring the latest in building materials, AI-enabled security, maintenance, operations, and more.

About Japan Build

Dedicated to sharing the newest innovations in the building and housing industries, Japan Build is considered a must-see event for property managers in Japan, not only for the dazzling tech displays, but also for the many opportunities for networking and cross-functional discussions.

Learn more about Proptech in the IREM Skill Badge: Building Technology.
Many aspects of the real estate industry are represented, from construction and leasing to renovation, building engineering, and retail management. These various subject areas receive designated spaces at the show, where the two newest exhibits, “Retail Digital Transformation” and “Digital Construction,” highlight some of the most exciting new Proptech developments.

Remote construction and maintenance operations

As smart devices and AI software become more accessible and less cost-prohibitive, new implementations of robots and Proptech are on the rise, enabling ever faster and safer work. For example, drone technology has quickly become a go-to at construction sites, providing developers and contractors with aerial views that can be used for mapping and monitoring work progress without ever leaving the office.

Drone use is common in Japan, and there are ancillary systems capable of automatically aggregating and analyzing drone data. Companies such as Seraph Enomoto are making advancements in precisely this area. At Japan Build, Seraph Enomoto showcased how they use drones equipped with infrared cameras to prepare their inspection reports. These cameras can be used to inspect degraded exterior walls, visually check for efflorescence and cracks, and monitor water penetration. This data is then fed to a system that automatically proposes which repairs need to be made.

As buildings are upgraded to meet the demands of tenants seeking more automation, the many smart devices and utility meters implemented at a property to enable this automation may not be consistent with one another. The LiLz Gauge automates visual inspections in locations with no power supply or data network. The device can read multiple instruments from a single image using AI algorithms that predict measurements based on the gauge display, regardless of the type of device.

Robots!

Employees can operate the Ugo Robot using a remote control and wireless connection. Photo courtesy of Kiyoshi Inomata, CPM®, CCIM

There is a well-established view of robots as being poised to eventually take over the world because they’re so much more efficient than humans; at Japan Build, that doesn’t seem out of the realm of possibility.

One such robot on display was the Ugo Robot. The Ugo can be used for many purposes, but it was designed to help in residential buildings. The robot has two arms and can move between floors by operating the elevator controls. It can also welcome visitors with a greeting and guide customers with digital signage, taking over the standard duties of a front door receptionist. To address concerns arising from the COVID-19 pandemic, the robot is outfitted with a hand attachment that uses ultraviolet light to disinfect door handles and other high-contact surfaces. Developed by Mira Robotics, Ugo is operated with a remote control by an employee through a wireless connection. The entire system costs about $1,000 a month to rent, and in addition to enhancing security and conducting inspections, it can clean toilets and other critical building areas.

T-Concierge’s system uses an avatar to handle reception services. Photo courtesy of Kiyoshi Inomata, CPM®, CCIM

Virtual customer service has also been a growing niche in Japan. One noteworthy example is T-Concierge, a company creating the “next-generation reception system.” The system utilizes an avatar to handle reception services. This avatar can be customized and projected onto a screen and individual smart devices. This system allows companies to use their workforce more efficiently, eliminating challenges with security and nighttime staffing.

Asilla, Inc. displayed its AI surveillance camera, which can monitor activity and send notifications within one second of detecting unusual activity, such as break-ins, fires, or safety threats. It does this by learning normal human behavior and interactions, allowing it to detect when abnormal behavior occurs or when an accident could potentially take place. The system can be implemented using even a single camera and can help cut security costs by up to 20%.

Tenant services

Today’s tenants want a fully automated experience, making their lives easier and their surroundings more responsive to change. This need has only increased since the pandemic prompted more people to use their homes as offices.

SpaceCore specializes in supporting operations in residential buildings, specifically with smart home devices. The company showcased many cost-effective tools developed to easily upgrade residential properties into smart houses. By implementing their products at a residential property, homes can become programmable and customized to the particular resident.

The future is already here

Here in Japan, there’s a shortage of human capital. We face the challenge of an aging population and decreasing numbers of skilled professionals entering the workforce each year. The real estate business is made up of a network of people, but as we compete for limited resources, looking to automation and AI has become more of a business necessity than a strategic choice. I firmly believe that innovation is critical to the success of everyone involved in real estate and should be embraced by professional property managers looking to stay at the top of their field.

These are just a few examples of the newest advancements in Proptech emerging in the Japanese market. From construction and renovations to leasing and the tenant experience, professional real estate managers have more options than ever for optimizing our work with new technological tools.

As more consumers demand the convenience of smart technology, the property management profession will continue experiencing a push toward ease of use, integrated services, and the extension of smart technology. In this age of Proptech and sustainable cities, our built environments are becoming smart in their own right.

Did you know?
> Japan is an IREM country with five chapters: East Japan, West Japan, Hokkaido, Tokai, and Kyushu.

> Japan ranked 19th in the UN’s 2022 Sustainable Development Report, the highest rank among all Asian countries.

> Japan’s Ministry of Education, Culture, and Technology continuously invests in a diverse range of projects between universities and corporations to help promote innovation.

> The International Federation of Robotics ranked Japan as the third most automated country in the world. Japan had 364 robots in operation per 10,000 employees, and that number is only growing.

> 47% of global robotics are made in Japan, making it the number one country in the world for robot production.

Journal of Property Management

Kiyoshi Inomata, CPM®, CCIM, is the CEO of Assetbuild Co., Ltd. As an IREM instructor, he teaches the maintenance and risk management course and marketing and leasing course in Japan. He received an IREM REME Award in 2016 for organizing a team of architects from IREM Japan to conduct a survey of apartments damaged by an earthquake earlier that year.

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