We’ve said it before and odds are we will say it again in the future – the only thing better than the tailwinds associated with one of our investing themes is when two or more of these tailwinds intersect. The latest evidence of this happening is in Japan where the companies are utilizing aspects of our Disruptive Innovators investing theme to address pain points associated with our Aging of the Population one. In this case, these solutions are leading to the Internet of Things products (smartwear, wearables) and services (monitoring, remote medical) that will drive connectivity demands that are associated with our Digital Infrastructure theme while also spurring on the Digital Lifestyle as they monitor Japan’s aging population.
We’ll be watching the progress of these and other solutions as a harbinger of what could be here in the U.S in the coming years as we too contend with our own greying population.
Japan is rolling out various kinds of IoT devices to help society better deal with aging. For instance, smart tags inserted into shoes and bags can help track dementia patients who repeatedly wander off, while washable UHF tags in hospital bed sheets can alert administrators about when it’s time for disposal.
At Tokyo-based smart fabric company Mitsufuji, IoT sensors are being integrated into clothing. Founded by a traditional Kyoto textile company, Mitsufuji is now focused on the development and manufacture of silver-metalized conductive fiber under its AGposs brand and wearable IoT products under its hamon smartwear brand, which was commercialized in 2016.
Stretchable and flexible, AGposs is nylon covered with silver, so that it acts like both thread and metal. It’s electrically conductive, and when incorporated into hamon smartwear, it can be used to monitor biometric information such as breathing rate and heartrate, as well as temperature, humidity, acceleration and gyroscopic data. With a transmitter attached to the smart fabric and other devices, data can be sent to mobile devices and cloud platforms.
Detecting heatstroke and heart attacks in the near future
The technology can be applied to various sports uses, such as yoga and weightlifting, as well as industrial purposes such as the uniforms of construction or factory workers. But healthcare applications are drawing attention amid Japan’s aging population. For instance, hamon smartwear could help keep tabs on elderly people during Japan’s torrid summers: of the 105 people who died of heatstroke in Tokyo in July and early August 2018, 80 were aged 70 or above. Mitsufuji has worked with university researchers to develop algorithms that work with the hamon smartwear to detect when heat stroke may occur.
“Hamon can monitor heart rate in a more stable fashion than existing wristband-style wearables,” says Mitsufuji CEO Ayumu Mitera. “We will be able to detect heat stroke by using this technology, and it can also send alerts to care managers about heart attacks.”
Mitera says hamon users have been impressed with the accuracy of the sensor data, and the company wants to meet their various needs by continuing development. The company has also created disposable hamon smartwear for use in care facilities. In September 2018, it completed construction of a manufacturing facility in Fukushima Prefecture to meet demand for hamon products.
“Aging populations are a global problem and Japan is a frontrunner that can provide solutions—we have no choice in this because everyone is getting old,” says Mitera. “While traditional large families that would care for elderly are a thing of the past, with remote medical technology caregivers who monitor patient data can act as their family. I think that by 2040 or so, people will not need to go to hospital anymore because diseases and symptoms will be detected in advance. We’re now beginning to cross this threshold.”