Chicago Shimpo
ANA Aims to Expand Future of Transportation
Using Avatar
Disruptive Technology Explained in a Chicago Seminar

• Instead of actually flying by airplane, remain in our own homes and “experience” visiting far-away locations – such a dream may become a reality in the future, thanks to the new technologies of avatars under development by innovators at All Nippon Airways (“ANA”).
• During a seminar held in Chicago on October 30, Akira Fukabori and Kevin Kajitani, Co-Directors at ANA’s Digital Design Lab, explained how avatar technologies will offer a new venue to connect more people in the world and expand the horizon of the future of the transport industry.

• The seminar, “Disruptive Technologies and the Future of Transportation,” was co-organized by ANA and 1871, a Chicago-based nonprofit start-up incubator.

• An avatar is often used in games as an electronic image that represents a computer user, but it also means an “incarnation in human form.” For ANA, it is essentially a robot that can be controlled by a human and enable a person to see, hear, feel and touch in a remote location through a combination of various technologies.
• For example, an avatar may be placed on a beach in the South Pacific to convey the actual senses – the smell of the sea breeze, the feel of the white sand, the pleasant rhythm of the waves – to us as if we are actually experiencing them. In short, ANA aims to bring human experiences beyond the restrictions of time and space by the avatar technologies.

• ANA has unveiled “ANA Avatar Vision” as part of the company’s 2018-2022 mid-term business strategy. Based on the company’s principal concept of “connecting people for the betterment of society and the world,” the Avatar Vision aims to propose completely new technologies to connect more people beyond the existing method of transport.
• Today, only 6% of the world population travels by air, and the avatar technologies are expected to present a new venue for the rest of the population to be connected, Kajitani said.
• Such “disruptive technologies” – those which may realize “teleportation” of human senses - may be viewed as a threat to the airline industry, something that will reduce the demand for air travel. But it’s not the case at all, according to Fukabori.
• “An avatar is something that’s controlled by a human, and an extension of our skills and knowledge,” he said.

• The Vision describes how the avatar technologies development project is to be undertaken in partnership with public and private organizations, including the prefecture of Oita, NTT Docomo, Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (“JAXA”) and the Kanazawa Institute of Technology.
• One of the cornerstones of ANA’s Avatar Vision is the ANA Avatar XPRIZE, a four-year-long international race of technological innovation and development for international competitors.
• XPRIZE is a U.S.-based nonprofit foundation that aims to encourage technological development to solve the world’s problems. With the sponsorship of private corporations and individual donors, it runs a competition, XPRIZE, where private and public organizations compete toward completion of innovative, technological challenge under a given theme. One of its notable contests is the Google Lunar XPRIZE for successful launching and operating a rover on the lunar surface, which ended in 2018 without a winner.
• Joined in the XPRIZE program in 2016, ANA’s avatar development project was selected for XPRIZE’s 2018 contest.
• The details of the ANA Avatar XPRIZE were unveiled on March 12. Upon announcement, ANA signed a partnership agreement with XPRIZE as the first Japanese corporation to do so. At the close of the four-year contest, ANA will award $10 million to the winner.
• During the past seven months following the announcement of the ANA Avatar XPRIZE, 430 teams from 58 countries have shown interest in the race, according to Fukabori. There still remains one year until the registration deadline.

• According to Fukabori, a wide range of technologies such as robotics, virtual reality (“VR”), augmented reality (“AR”), censoring, communication and haptics are needed to be combined to realize a “general avatar,” an avatar that can be used for multiple purposes.
• The ANA Avatar XPRIZE will help highlight the worldwide attention to avatar technologies and accelerate the integration of the existing component technologies. This can be achieved in the next five to 10 years, with the first avatar ready to be installed at a location yet to be known by next April, Kajitani said.

• The ANA team expects that avatar technologies will offer services that a lot of us don’t have access to, such as medical services in isolated locations, rescue operations at disaster-hit areas, education for those with little access to it, lunar surface constructions, and deep-sea and space explorations.

• The ANA project includes on-site test plans at the world’s first avatar test field in Oita Prefecture, focusing on tests in a wide range of areas such as space exploration, fishing and agriculture, tourism, education and healthcare.
• Also, under the partnership with the JAXA and other governmental and industrial organizations, ANA will test the construction of a mock space facility using the avatar technologies.

• Fukabori said in order to drive down the cost, there is a need to create a market for avatars in advance. To create a market, the team aims to showcase the advantage of avatars by demonstrating the day-to-day use of avatars in entertainment, shopping, diving, healthcare, education and construction, among others, Fukabori said.

• ANA’s Digital Design Lab was established in April 2016 with the aim to bring about “disruptive innovation.” It consists of 35 members that had been chosen from employees from all the sections of the company, including engineers, cabin attendants and distribution staff.
• Co-Director Fukabori joined ANA in 2008 upon graduation from Tokai University with a degree in Aeronautics and Astronautics.
• Kajitani, who joined ANA in 2010, is originally from Seattle, Washington. After graduating with Summa Cum Laude from the University of Washington with a degree in Aeronautics & Astronautics, he worked in Boeing’s 787 program as an engineer until 2009.

• Intrapreneurs within ANA, Fukabori and Kajitani initially considered teleportation – transport of an object from point A to point B in an instant – as the theme for the XPRIZE competition.
• While Peter Diamandis, the founder of XPRIZE, was understanding toward the idea, most of the people around them laughed it off.
• After investigating on the technical plausibility of teleportation, the two heard one university professor say: “It’s technically feasible, but it will take at least 100 years [to realize it].”
• That’s when Fukabori and Kajitani shifted to avatars, they said.


Kevin Kajitani (C) and Akira Fukabori (R) speak about Avatar technologies.