Creating New Businesses Through Cross-Organizational Interaction
The Murata "MIRAI" initiative is aimed at creating new businesses through cross-organizational interaction. Here, interested individuals get together in cross-organizational projects to commercialize world-first products, ideas likely to attract customer interest, or practical moneymaking concepts. The MIRAI initiative helps Murata engineers, who have been weak in the "horizontal development" of their technologies, to create new businesses by cross-organizational exchange. The first MIRAI project concerns energy harvesting.
It first started with 8 members, and they met 2 to 3 times every month for product development. The completed product was premiered at trade fairs such as CEATEC JAPAN, where it generated positive market response.
Self-Powered Sensor Network Aiming for Operation at the Nanowatt Level
Sensor networking represents one of Murata's traditional strengths. The technology's self-powered concept not only makes it maintenance-free, but also allows us to install it almost anywhere. Current technology performs the sensing and communication functions by generating µW levels of power. On the frontier of research, scientists have already entered the next phase, where they are striving to enable operation at the nW level (nanowatt=10-9 watts). To this end, it will be necessary to develop sensors and communication modules that can work at nW power levels. This will in turn make it necessary to review the choice of material and communication standards. We have very few competitors here, thanks to the high standards of technology that are required; but the hardest part is getting customers to understand the very concept of energy harvesting.
It consists of eliminating the use of artificially-produced energy and exploiting the inexhaustible microenergy sources available around us. Traditionally, we used to calculate the amount of power required to achieve certain functionality and then find the best way to supply that power. Energy harvesting goes in exactly the opposite direction. It concerns how to make devices and modules that can work on low levels of power available in the environment. I am convinced that it represents the ultimate in energy conservation, which ensures comfort in our lives with no wasteful use of energy.
Scientist and engineers have made rapid progress in sensing, computing, and networking technologies. In the human body, these are likened to the five senses, the brain, and the nerve system. Using these technologies, modern buildings incorporate functions that imitate those of living beings. There has been good progress in research into ways to make buildings work like human beings (biofication of buildings) . Nearly 50 Japanese companies have worked together to establish the Energy Harvesting Consortium, and the market is finally bearing fruit. Murata is working on product development with the aim of achieving 10 billion yen in net sales from this business in 5 years.
Biofication of Buildings
Science has made dramatic progress in sensing, computing, and networking technologies. In living organisms, these functions correspond to the senses, the brain, and the nerve system. Using information technology, modern architecture increasingly incorporates bionic systems and functions into buildings. Biofied buildings automatically monitor damage as well as design and work failures, decide what repairs are needed, and communicate this information to maintenance personnel. In the event of a major earthquake, they can automatically give warnings to residents to speed evacuation. Developed and pursued by Prof. Akira Mita at Keio University, the concept is closely connected with energy harvesting.
Self-Powered Wireless Lighting Switching System
This system uses electromagnetic induction to convert human movement used, for example, to turn light switches on and off, into electric power and sends out wireless signals, activating 100V AC control relays to switch lighting on and off. The battery-free wireless lighting control system allows for easy maintenance, and the wireless concept reduces installation costs. It has been developed to meet increasing needs in the building automation and remodeling markets. Murata has started practical trial operation of this system at the head office building of Toda Corporation.