Talk Show with Dr. Shinji Suzuki & Kotaro Chiba at AICHI MUSEUM OF FLIGHT
When it comes to the world-class “mecca for drones,” many readers may think of Shenzhen, China, where DJI is headquartered; but where is the mecca for drones in Japan? It is difficult to define, but Aichi Prefecture may be an important candidate.
The reason can be found on the website for The Aichi Museum of Flight, which was opened in 2017 and is adjacent to Nagoya Prefectural Airport, which conveys the importance of Aichi Prefecture and the Chubu region in Japan’s aerospace industry.
“The aerospace industry is concentrated in the Chubu region, centering on Aichi Prefecture, producing more than 50% of aircraft parts nationwide. Among them, the area around the prefectural Nagoya Airport is attracting attention from Japan and overseas as a development and production base for domestic jet airliner MRJs in Japan and overseas. The Aichi Museum of Flight is a new aircraft-themed museum aimed at “disseminating information on the aircraft industry,” “strengthening industrial tourism based on the aircraft industry,” and “promoting human resource development for the next generation of the aircraft industry.” We hope that more people will learn and experience the history of the aircraft industry and the mechanism of aircraft, which are expected to be the pillars of the industry next to the automobile industry, through this museum.”(Aichi Museum of Flight official website)
The museum, which celebrates its 3rd anniversary this year, opened the “3rd Anniversary Special Exhibition” on November 29, 2020, under the title, Drone-Based Society Is Right There, “Future Life That Changes With Drones.” This is a long-term exhibition project that will be held until March 14, 2021. The event poster for the exhibition was even created by DRONE FUND!
Against this backdrop, DRONE FUND is honored that Kotaro Chiba, Founder and Managing Partner of DRONE FUND, had the opportunity to take the stage at the opening ceremony, along with Dr. Shinji Suzuki, Museum Director. Below are some of the highlights of the event and interviews with the two.
Poster for the exhibition by DRONE FUND (from the museum website)
DRONE AND AIR MOBILITY-BASED SOCIETY
“Drone and air mobility-based society” is the most important key concepts of DRONE FUND. This means a society in which drones and air mobility support our lives, as much as air and water do.
The roots of this concept are in Chiba’s experience as a university student, and later as an entrepreneur. Approximately 30 years ago, when the Internet was only available to a limited number of people, Chiba learned from Dr. Jun Murai that the Internet-based society will be realized in the future. Since then, he has witnessed the process of the Internet permeating every part of our lives.
”That is why we at DRONE FUND have the term “drone and air mobility-based society” in our vision with expectations and conviction for the technology.”
Dr. Suzuki and Chiba on the online stage at the event (photo: DRONE FUND)
The online event began with the question, “what can we do if a drone-based society is realized?”
（Dr. Suzuki）”Airplanes have become really safe and convenient in the last 100 years, but only a limited number of people can enjoy the joy of “flying.” Mr. Chiba already has a pilot license, but if you can fly a drone, everyone can experience flying. That may be the most important thing.”
（Chiba）”Thank you very much, Dr. Suzuki. Actually, the prefectural Nagoya Airport, which is right next door, is my base for pilot training, and my plane is also stored nearby. Today, we have a lot of children visitors. When you grow up, I think you can use various types of drones as a means of transportation and logistics in daily life as we do today with smartphones.”
（Dr. Suzuki）”Specifically, for example, in a familiar place, the elderly in nursing homes may be able to see the house or travel with a drone. In the industrial field, some are also developing and servicing drones that can inspect not only from the sky but also underground, such as drainage pipes. From this point forward, I want young people to think more about these kinds of capabilities.”
（Chiba）”We, DRONE FUND, have created many illustrations along with illustrator yamakitakumi under the theme of ‘What if Kanata Misora, a high-school student avatar character, lived in a drone and air mobility-based society.’ Below is one of them.
One of the DRONE FUND’s original images of drone and air mobility-based society
（Chiba Cont.-）”This image shows that the drone can be used in various places in daily life, such as delivering items left at home, walking dogs, and holding umbrellas for people with both hands occupied. As Japan plans on lifting the ban on “Level 4″ (flight beyond visual line of sight in populated areas) in 2022, this scenery should be seen around 2024.”
（Dr. Suzuki）”In addition, today, the laws and regulations are strict from the viewpoint of safety. Therefore, the public-private partnership and council discussions are proceeding with the idea of ’creating new rules so that people can use this technology freely and do business.’ So 2022, as Mr. Chiba mentioned, is one of the important milestones.”
Official roadmap for the aerial industrial revolution (2020 ver.)
AIRCRAFT AND DRONE INDUSTRY OF AICHI PREFECTURE AND CHUBU REGION
The talk moved onto the second topic: “What kind of importance the Japanese aerospace industry has in Aichi Prefecture and the Chubu region, and what kind of drone and air-mobility related startups are prominent in Aichi prefecture today.”
（Dr. Suzuki）”I was born in Gifu Prefecture, located north of Aichi, and grew up in Nagoya, Aichi’s prefectural capital, until I went on to the path of aeronautical engineering at the University of Tokyo. My motivation for aspiring to the aviation field was what I learned on TV News about the flight of the first domestic passenger aircraft YS-11 after WW2 at Komaki Airport (currently Nagoya Airport) on August 30, 1962. Historically, there are many aerospace development bases in the Chubu region, and the Zero fighter was also developed in Nagoya and tested in Gifu. This region is really important for the history of the Japanese aviation industry.”
（Chiba）”In fact, there are many start-up companies that develop drones and air mobility in Aichi Prefecture. DRONE FUND has currently invested in three start ups: SkyDrive Inc., Terra Labo Co., Ltd., and Prodrone Co., Ltd.“
DRONE FUND’s investee companies headquartered in Aichi Prefecture
（Chiba）”I heard that two companies, Prodrone and Terra Labo, cooperated in this exhibition as well. Prodrone is developing drones, such as drones with arms and single rotored ones with their remarkable technology. Terra Labo is developing a large fixed-wing unmanned aircraft, and won the highest award at Japan’s largest drone exhibition “Japan Drone 2020″. The urban air mobility developed by SkyDrive has been attracting attention both in Japan and abroad after a successful manned test flight this summer. I would like all of you to know that such a world is really approaching. This technology is no longer limited to a sci-fi world.”
（M.C.）”I’m really excited to hear that. However, I have a question. There are roads on the ground, but how do you develop the ‘roads’ for drones and air mobility in the air?”
（Dr. Suzuki）”As you said, the ‘road’ is very important. When many drones fly in the air, they must not collide with each other or cause an accident, so UTM (Unmanned Traffic Management) is being developed. At the Fukushima Robot Test Field, where I am the Director, verifying tests are conducted and developed day by day.”
The arrival of the “drone and air mobility-based society” is by no means an illusion. Founded in June 2017, five months before the opening of the Aichi Museum of Flight, DRONE FUND has invested in more than 40 startups from its first and second fund. And this year, we announced the launch of the third fund with a target close of 10 billion yen in order to further promote the social implementation of drones and air mobility.
（Chiba）”On the other hand, I still have to say as a pilot that the drone and air-mobility industry still has much to learn from the aviation industry, which has undergone numerous accidents and sacrifices, as well as technological innovations and improved safety measures for over 100 years.”
In that sense, this special exhibition will provide the best opportunity for everyone to get a ‘bird’s-eye view’ of existing and new industries and technology across Aichi prefecture / Chubu district. We at DRONE FUND would be very happy if you could drop by. When you visit, please be sure to follow the guidelines of local governments and museums regarding coronavirus control. (See the website of the museum for more details: https://aichi-mof.com/events/2020/11/3-2.html )
Finally, some parting messages from Dr. Suzuki and Chiba to the children of the audience at the end of the event.
（Dr. Suzuki）”It is young people who will open up the sky of the future. Go ahead with a big dream. I hope the Aichi Museum of Flight will be useful as a place to get hints for your dream.”
（Chiba）”I would like to tell the parents and children who are coming today, You should try to become a drone racer. In the future, for example, there will be new jobs that will be useful to the world by maneuvering drones around the world from the office. Let’s work together to create a society that is enabled on drone and air mobility. Thank you very much!”
Edited by Yuta Tsukagoshi / Translated by Tavis Sartin