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HOME NRI JOURNAL “Spatial Digital Healthcare” Enabling Consumers to Spend Time Safely and Securely
-Making it so that even if a virus is brought in, it cannot spread and disappears naturally-


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“Spatial Digital Healthcare” Enabling Consumers to Spend Time Safely and Securely
-Making it so that even if a virus is brought in, it cannot spread and disappears naturally-

Noriko Sano, IT Strategy & IT Operation Research Department



Have you spent time in a vehicle or building at any point during the Covid-19 pandemic and wondered, “Is it really safe to be here all this time?” Noriko Sano of Nomura Research Institute (NRI), who conducted a survey on railway use, points out that in order to create and revitalize businesses going forward, the use of digital technology is essential for creating spaces that take healthcare into account and devising creative solutions that convey safety and security. We asked her about the “spatial digital healthcare” she proposes.

Frameworks to ensure that even if an infection occurs, it disappears naturally

---What does “spatial digital healthcare” mean?

The idea is to use technology (digital) to efficiently create safe spaces where viruses that cause infectious diseases do not spread easily, and to realize a state where the status of a given space is conveyed to users in an easy-to-understand manner.

---How did you come to think that it was necessary to create new spaces?

It was because the Covid-19 pandemic has created new needs and challenges. The needs for conventional transport spaces were that there is no congestion, there is little vibration, and you can pass the time comfortably. For building spaces, the needs were the absence of health hazards from building materials and the like, and having a comfortable environment, in terms of things like temperature and humidity. Meanwhile, when I conducted a questionnaire survey in September 2020 during the lull in the second Covid-19 wave, serious unease about five items, namely “manual contact”, “usage rules”, “congestion”, “ventilation”, and “disinfection” was felt by more than 80% of the respondents with respect to train car interiors (other than the Shinkansen), and by more than 70% of the respondents with respect to station buildings. These are challenges that deal with space.

---Won’t such anxieties be resolved naturally once the Covid-19 pandemic is contained?

Certainly, in some ways anxiety will be temporarily resolved by the containment of the novel coronavirus pandemic. However, unless all viruses that cause infections are eradicated, waves of infections and the associated anxiety can occur repeatedly. Triggered by the Covid-19 pandemic, consumers are changing because of the new lifestyle, including remote work, and a change in consciousness to take actions that minimize the likelihood of infection. Furthermore, Japan has become an aging society with a declining birthrate, and it cannot be said that manual infection response is sustainable. We need to utilize digital and other technologies to create mechanisms and frameworks so that even if a virus is brought in, it cannot spread and disappears naturally.

Communicating the status of a space to users in an easy-to-understand manner

---What specific measures are possible?

As a method to help alleviate congestion and monitor manners in transport spaces, for example, the Beijing subway has installed AI cameras inside subway cars to monitor mask-wearing, and displays the congestion status of the cars to the front and rear on door screens. Additionally, Amtrak in the United States is able to adjust the number of seats that can be reserved in smartphone or web-based reservations in order to secure physical distance according to the status of infections, and users can also grasp how full the trains are. As an example of relieving anxiety about manual contact, Indian Railways coats car interiors with an antiviral material and uses QR codes to inspect tickets without touching them.

In the case of building spaces, at the Beijing National Aquatics Center (the Water Cube) used at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, you can check the air quality (CO2 concentration) inside the facility with a smartphone. Although it is meant for facility managers, it can also be customized to show air quality to users on smartphones and signage. In addition, at Hong Kong International Airport, AI predicts the state of spaces using data on temperature and air quality inside the building collected by sensors, and presents the optimal operational settings for ventilation and air conditioning equipment to the operator. This can be adopted to create spaces that take healthcare into account by installing equipment that controls disinfection, ventilation, and congestion on the basis of data from within the facility, and at the same time showing simple information to users.

Even if all possible measures are taken, if users are not informed of them, their anxiety will not be dispelled. Currently, the trend of outfitting buildings as “smart buildings” during redevelopment is accelerating, and we are trying to create comfortable spaces using the latest technology. Since viruses are not visible to the human eye, it is also important to properly convey the state of a space when considering spatial digital healthcare.

Making it a foundation for the existence of businesses, not a temporary measure

---I think that users will be pleased with health care measures for spaces, but new investment will be a burden for related companies.

For example, if you consider that, in new businesses that take a long time such as redevelopment, the concept may see a retracement due to differences in understanding among concerned persons as a result of infection prevention measures, and that even in existing businesses, business will be affected by the change in understanding of users and the spread of infections, going forward, we will need to take a stance of creating new businesses with frameworks that make it difficult for infections to spread.

If you think of spatial health care measures as being not only for infection prevention measures, but also for enhancing emotional and psychological value (experience value) such as the feelings and satisfaction that users experience even during normal times, it can be an offensive investment. For example, in the Beijing subway, information is displayed when you touch a window, but if it were not limited to information that is useful for alleviating congestion, and new services such as information on commercial facilities at the next station and taxi dispatch reservation functions were added, this would improve the riding experience. The idea is the same for building spaces.

---So, it’s a balance of business revitalization and infection prevention measures?

That’s right. In order to create attractive new businesses and revitalize existing businesses, I hope that people will consider “spatial digital healthcare”, in which we use digital technology to efficiently build safe spaces where viruses do not spread easily, and convey the status of spaces in an easy-to-understand manner, as a foundation for the existence of businesses.

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