Two of the most important challenges now facing industrialized nations are coping with population aging and reducing carbon emissions. Japan, as the nation with the best expertise for addressing these two issues, is being counted upon to develop and commercialize the technologies needed to provide solutions. However, these challenges present an antinomy?a step forward in resolving one entails a step backward with the other?and hence they cannot be conquered through conventional technological development focused on individual issues. Diverse sets of technologies must be systematized, their impact on society must be evaluated, and social institutions also have to be changed where necessary. At the same time, new individual technologies need to be created to facilitate assessment using new types of indicators.
The challenges posed by population aging include managing and improving health on a daily basis, enhancing medical and nursing care systems, upgrading the housing environment, encouraging social involvement, ensuring mobility, and providing assistance for everyday purchases. However, attempting to work them out simply by augmenting existing technologies and systems is not a viable solution, since it will lead to increased social costs and energy consumption. In the process of R&D for innovating solutions, the effectiveness and impact of each research achievement must not only be weighed in terms of the primary goal?improving the health and lifestyle of seniors?but also be evaluated comprehensively across many social dimensions, including energy, information, logistics, and economy.
As for efforts to build a low-carbon society, the focus should be not on lowering energy consumption through efficiency enhancements to existing equipment and devices, but on R&D to create new elemental and system technologies premised on the popularization of future energy supply/consumption systems?such as wind and solar power generation, smart grids, cogeneration, heat pumps, electric vehicles, and home fuel cells. Also, it is vital to assess the directly energyconsuming elements of information systems, physical distribution, and so on, and to constantly think about total energy consumption of the overall system, including the effects of popularization over time.
In our department, we integrate such existing disciplines as environmental science, informatics, and physics to pursue our research mission, which is to implement R&D and system design for the various elemental technologies necessary for realizing a low-carbon society and supporting its aging population, evaluate the products of research through field testing, and share our solutions with society.