The year-long Innovation is GREAT campaign in Japan received a royal seal of approval with Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge, helping to launch the showcase of British technology during his four-day working visit.
The Prince arrived in Tokyo on March 5 and, during his first visit to Japan, met the Emperor and Empress as well as travelling to Tohoku to meet residents of areas devastated by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.
But his support for the technological prowess of British companies generated just as many headlines.
Addressing the official opening of the Innovation is GREAT campaign, held at Academy Hills in Roppongi, the Prince said the two nations have been learning from each other since William Adams became the first Briton to reach Japan, 415 years ago.
“At the end of the 19th century, Japan imported a great wave of technology and practice from the United Kingdom, from railways to whisky,” he said. “In the second half of the 20th century and into this, the exchange has been more two-way.
“Britain’s car, train and nuclear industries are reviving, and becoming world-beating, thanks to Japanese investment from Hitachi, Nissan and many others.
“The United Kingdom has a proud track record of giving the world life-changing products and designs – from the internet to the hypodermic syringe,” the Prince added. “And we have a long track record of opening our doors to entrepreneurs from overseas.”
Alongside Soichi Noguchi, chief astronaut for the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, and Andy Palmer, CEO of Aston Martin, the prince then donned a ceremonial “happi” coat and cracked open a traditional barrel of sake with a wooden mallet.
“Britain’s car, train and nuclear industries are reviving thanks to Japanese investment”
Over the coming 12 months, Innovation is GREAT is designed to help build partnerships between the UK and Japan in order to lead positive social change.
The four key areas that will be highlighted under the initiative are robotics, healthcare, big data and space, with the campaign forging new links in the public and private spheres, as well as between entrepreneurs, investors and academia.
The importance of academia in the equation was underlined by Professor Andrew Hamilton, vice chancellor of the University of Oxford, who pointed out that 29 British universities are ranked in the top 200 globally – and added that 10 times more heads of state have been educated in the UK than in the United States.
“There is a strong emphasis in the research that is taking place in UK universities on innovation, on collaboration with industry and on the economic benefits that research and collaboration will bring,” Prof. Hamilton said.
“Throughout the UK, you will find many examples of that collaboration involving Japanese companies and we see great benefits to the UK and Japan as a result of that collaboration,” he said.
“The key question for British universities and their Japanese university partners is how we achieve the best ecosystem to allow innovation and partnership with industry to flourish.”
Symbolic of the talent that exists in British universities, and the good it can do on a global scale, is MOM Incubators Inc., the brainchild of James Roberts, who won the 2014 James Dyson Award for designing a low-cost, inflatable incubator that is suitable for the challenging conditions of disaster zones and refugee camps.
Roberts conceived the design while still a student at Loughborough University and is aiming to have the life-saving design in use in 2017.
Geoff Pegman, CEO of RU Robots Ltd., also addressed the event, pointing out that Japan and the UK face many shared problems – including the need for increased innovation in the transport sector, methods of improving productivity in agriculture and the challenges of an ageing population.
The answer, he said, is robotics.
“Japan is famous for its achievements in robotics, in industry and society as well,” said Pegman. “Robotics is one of the eight areas of innovation that the British government sees as an engine for growth for the UK economy and we want to collaborate closely with Japan.”
Britain is also a world-leader when it comes to big data, ranked No. 1 in the world for its work on open data, said Sir Nigel Shadbolt, chairman and joint-founder of the Open Data Institute and a professor of artificial intelligence at the University of Southampton.
Japan languishes in 19th place on that list, Sir Nigel pointed out, meaning there are numerous opportunities for collaborations across the transport, healthcare and environment sectors, among others.
Britain’s space sector is often overlooked, but it contributes GBP11 billion to the national economy and employs no fewer than 29,000 people, said Sir Martin Sweeting, executive chairman of Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. and director of the Surrey Space Centre.
“We are also a very high-growth industry, with annual growth of 7.5 percent throughout the recent economic downturn,” he said.
Much of the British space sector is in the development of state-of-the-art satellites, which have not been shrunk to the size of a loaf of bread from the size of a refrigerator a decade or so ago. Britain is also sharing its space technology with a number of countries, including Nigeria, Turkey, Algeria, Malaysia and Chile.
The opportunities that are available across the technology sector were underlined by Tim Hitchens, the British ambassador to Tokyo, in a closing presentation.
“UK-Japan relations are already exceptionally strong and fruitful, but I feel there is more we can do together to build a better world,” he said. “We need to use our influence responsibly to help make our societies and lives more fulfilling.
“I am tremendously excited about the programme of events and initiatives that we have planned for the year ahead and I hope they will be instrumental in forging the partnerships that will take our relationship to new levels,” he added.
Photo credit (c) British Embassy Tokyo/Alfie Goodrich
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Article by Julian Ryall, March 2015