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January 19, 2024

Technology

Building the Future with NTT's IOWN APN

The construction industry is currently facing a number of serious challenges. In particular, there are not enough workers to go around, which means that those who are in work are having to put in extended hours. What's more, the working population is aging and not being replaced by younger counterparts. Japan, in particular, feels the issue of labor shortages acutely and is about to introduce stricter overtime regulations starting from fiscal 2024. This means that its construction industry is under great pressure to reform work styles.

One possible solution is the remote operation of construction machinery. If there aren't enough workers in a particular area to get a job done, use technology to enable colleagues located far away to contribute.

Until now, however, remote work has been limited to specific tasks like loading dump trucks on large sites. To achieve broader adoption and enable remote workers to perform more specialized, demanding jobs, improvements in operability and safety are crucial.

That's where NTT and its IOWN All-Photonics Network (APN) come in.

The IOWN APN, known for its high capacity, low latency, and fixed delay, allows for smooth remote control of various construction machinery types. NTT's advanced network enables the transmission of site images with minimal delay, ensuring that operators remotely controlling the machinery can accurately understand and react to site conditions. Even though far away, it's almost as if they were present on the site.

In a recent series of demonstrations, NTT successfully demonstrated the effectiveness of the technology. First setting up a remote-control cockpit at the NTT Musashino Research and Development Center in Western Tokyo, they installed construction machinery at remote sites, then linked the various locations via the APN, enabling remote operation and site environment monitoring.

The tests covered two primary scenarios. The first involved a Komatsu hydraulic excavator at the Komatsu IoT Center Tokyo, where a remote-control system developed by Komatsu and EARTHBRAIN was used. The test confirmed the feasibility of smooth machinery operation using APN, demonstrating reduced latency and a faster on-site setup capability. The demonstration also featured NTT's ultra-low latency video transmission technology, capable of transmitting high-resolution video up to 8K120p in the SMPTE ST 2110 standard through an optical path. This allowed operators to get a detailed view of the site conditions, helping their real-time decision-making and operational efficiency.

The second test scenario was the remote operation of a stationary tower crane using the "TawaRemo🄬" system installed at the Takenaka Corporation West Japan Equipment Center in Osaka. This involved the "JIZAIPAD" platform, equipped with JIZAIE's low-latency image transmission technology, along with APN. The successful demonstration proved that remote operations could be conducted within an acceptable delay of 500 milliseconds, crucial for precision tasks such as lifting. Integration with APN's fixed delay feature further reduced buffer time in image transmission, improving the control and efficiency of remote operations over long distances.

With its demonstrations, NTT has shown that remote operation can not only enhance the work environment and operational efficiency, but also boost safety in construction. Moreover, it addresses broader societal issues, such as reducing long working hours and ensuring a diverse workforce in the construction sector. As IOWN APN technology evolves and integrates with other cutting-edge solutions, it is poised to redefine the standards for the construction industry, contributing towards a more sustainable and efficient future.

Looking ahead, the company plans to expand the technology's application areas and integrate it with innovative solutions such as drone monitoring of construction sites. And it's not stopping at construction; the IOWN initiative includes components such as "Digital Twin Computing," which enables advanced interactions between objects and humans in cyberspace, and the "Cognitive Foundation" for efficient deployment of various ICT resources. These components will no doubt play a crucial role in the successful implementation of remote operation systems.

NTT—Innovating the Future

Picture: Daniel O'Connor

Daniel O'Connor joined the NTT Group in 1999 when he began work as the Public Relations Manager of NTT Europe. While in London, he liaised with the local press, created the company's intranet site, wrote technical copy for industry magazines and managed exhibition stands from initial design to finished displays.

Later seconded to the headquarters of NTT Communications in Tokyo, he contributed to the company's first-ever winning of global telecoms awards and the digitalisation of internal company information exchange.

Since 2015 Daniel has created content for the Group's Global Leadership Institute, the One NTT Network and is currently working with NTT R&D teams to grow public understanding of the cutting-edge research undertaken by the NTT Group.