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April 13, 2022

Hokkaido University and Sony Group Open the
"Social Innovation Division for Planetary Boundary"

Helping solve social and global environment issues with agriculture, forestry, and oceanography research combined with the latest technologies

    Tokyo, Japan — Hokkaido University (Sapporo, Hokkaido; President: Kiyohiro Houkin) and Sony Group Corporation ("Sony Group"; Headquarters: Minato, Tokyo; Chairman, President and CEO: Kenichiro Yoshida) announced today that they have jointly opened the "Social Innovation Division for Planetary Boundary*" at the University. Utilizing Hokkaido University's academic knowledge and the Sony Group's cutting-edge technologies, this initiative aims to develop technologies and solutions that contribute to resolving social and global environmental issues in the domains of agriculture, forestry, and oceanography studies.

    In the days to come, the two partners will carry out joint research within Hokkaido University at the research units at the Global Research Center for Food & Medical Innovation (FMI) and the Research Faculty of Agriculture. There are also plans to conduct demonstration experiments anticipating practical implementation of the technologies and solutions developed, soliciting the cooperation of local corporations and government agencies in Hokkaido, with the ultimate goal of creating new industries and innovation.

    Overview

    • Name:
      Social Innovation Division for Planetary Boundary
    • Location:
      Hokkaido University Global Research Center for Food & Medical Innovation (FMI)
      and the Research Faculty of Agriculture
    • Duration:
      April 1, 2022 to March 31, 2024
    • Lead researchers:
      Professor Noboru Noguchi
      (Research Faculty of Agriculture, Hokkaido University)

      Associate Professor Yoshitaka Uchida
      (Research Faculty of Agriculture, Hokkaido University)

      Professor Masahiro Nakaoka
      (Field Science Center for Northern Biosphere, Hokkaido University)

    Purpose of this initiative

    The Social Innovation Division for Planetary Boundary is one of the industry creation divisions at Hokkaido University. Joint laboratories are established under the university's industry creation divisions to promote continuous joint research between the university and the private sector, for a set period of time, to work on shared issues. The goal is to create industries with high added value for society and promote innovation.

    In addition to conducting a wide range of research as a comprehensive university, Hokkaido University utilizes its vast campus of nearly 660 km2, something no other Japanese university possesses, to engage in field research in domains such as agriculture, forestry, and oceanography. Sony Group's R&D Center utilizes sensing, communications, and AI technologies to promote projects that contribute to preventing environmental destruction, detecting predictive signs of natural disasters, and improving productivity in agriculture and the livestock industry.

    Through joint research that makes the most of the knowledge of both parties, the new division aims to create innovative technologies and solutions that contribute to solving social and global environment issues faced by people around the world in the areas of agriculture, forestry, and oceanography, from the viewpoint of planetary boundaries.

    Research details

    Both parties will engage in joint research at the division focusing on the following three themes.
    1. Innovative Smart Agriculture (Professor Noguchi)
    By applying sensing and AI technologies to research on smart agriculture using driverless tractors, etc., the goal is to achieve advanced agricultural DX, helping solve issues such as food shortages due to climate change and rising global population, and issues faced in agriculture such as worker shortages and aging agricultural workers.

    2. Regenerative Agriculture (Associate Professor Uchida)
    Modern agriculture drastically modifies the nitrogen and carbon cycle, impacting the global environment. In order to address these problems, the goal is to use sensing and other technologies to efficiently identify complex nutrient circulation processes in the soil, air and water, and help achieve sustainable, regenerative agriculture with minimal environmental impact by making full use of ecosystem services, working in collaboration with Hokkaido ranches.

    3. Blue Carbon Sensing (Professor Nakaoka)
    It is said that the ocean absorbs approximately one quarter of the carbon dioxide produced by human activities. Ocean monitoring systems equipped with sensing and communication technologies will be used to help promote research to understand changes in eelgrass and seaweed beds (blue carbon ecosystems), which are particularly adept at absorbing carbon dioxide. Doing so will contribute to sustainable preservation and management of the marine environment.

    In addition to the above, research themes will be explored in wider domains including forestry resources (green carbon) and marine research.

    Comment from Takao Masuda, Executive Director and Vice President, Hokkaido University, and Director, Institute for the Promotion of Business-Regional Collaboration, Hokkaido University

    At Hokkaido University, we pursue not only advanced research, but also field research in close collaboration with the local community, as a comprehensive university. In our industry creation initiative, the new division will engage in research and development leveraging the combined technology of Hokkaido University and Sony Group, while utilizing the university's vast field resources offered primarily by the Field Science Center for Northern Biosphere with its agricultural fields and research ranch, research forest, and maritime laboratory. I believe that the results will aid in solving global environment issues and achieving a robust primary production system.

    Comment from Hisashi Tamai, Senior Vice President, President, R&D Center, Sony Group Corporation

    We are truly fortunate to have this opportunity to work together with Hokkaido University, a leading research institution in this field with a noble vision of solving social and global environment issues. I believe the success of Sony Group's business depends on a healthy Earth, and we will do our utmost to develop innovative technologies and solutions by combining the technologies of the two partners and communicating the results to the world together with Hokkaido University.

    For additional details, please visit the following websites:

    ・ Laboratory of Vehicle Robotics
    ・ Laboratory of Environmental Biogeochemistry (The Uchida Lab)
    ・ Field Science Center for Northern Biosphere
    ・ Akkeshi Marine Station, Field Science Center for Northern Biosphere
    ・ Earth MIMAMORI platform (website of R&D Center, Sony Group Corporation)

    • *"Planetary boundaries" is a concept developed and proposed by Dr. Johan Rockström, a scientist at the Stockholm Resilience Centre, and others. It identifies nine processes that regulate the stability and resilience of Earth systems (climate change, novel entities, stratospheric ozone depletion, atmospheric aerosol loading, ocean acidification, nitrogen and phosphorus flows, freshwater use, land-system change, and loss of biosphere integrity) and establishes boundaries within which humanity can thrive safely while defining thresholds for resilience, positing that it is vital to discern such boundaries to avoid irreversible changes made to the planetary environment.
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