Participation in a field test on alleviating congestion with the Beijing Traffic Committee.

I’ve always enjoyed driving, which has become a longtime hobby. Many people involved in the automotive industry like cars, but my own interest is roads. When I was a student I took a fun trip from Kyoto, where I was attending university, to Hokkaido, without ever using the highway and driving only on ordinary roads. When I first joined Toyota Central R&D Labs., Inc. I engaged in research and development on vehicle-to-vehicle communication technology, and in 2009 I requested a transfer to the cities and road traffic field and became involved in proposing and evaluating traffic policies relying on traffic simulators.
Traffic simulators are systems that reproduce road and vehicle flow on a computer. They are helpful, for example, in predicting traffic flow when a large-scale event is held, as well as in regulating traffic to alleviate congestion and in the construction of parking lots and roads.
In 2013, Toyota Motor Corporation and the Beijing Traffic Committee implemented a field test project using a traffic simulator, which focused on alleviating congestion in the city of Beijing. As a member of the project, I was dispatched to Toyota Motor Corporation and resided in China. In line with the desire of the city of Beijing to propagate ETC, we provided citizens who applied to participate with an integrated portable on-board GPS and ETC device, and evaluated its usefulness in alleviating congestion.

Insights gained from tackling the difficulties of simulating the behavior of people.

The city and road traffic project carried out with the city of Beijing was an opportunity to learn that coordination between local authorities and the government is essential. The field test also taught me that human behavior and intention are extremely complex and do not match expectations, an insight that became the core premise of subsequent research. For example, in research involving automobiles, entering the characteristics of components such as the engine or the body allows computer simulations to reproduce the movement of the actual vehicle. However, when the human factor is added to the mix, results completely at odds with reality are sometimes obtained. I realized that I had to go back to basics to learn how to interpret the principles of human behavior.
After coming back to Japan, I began to study game theory, a discipline known to form underlying concept of economics, by visiting the research team specializing in that discipline at the University of Southampton, U.K., every one or two months. I am currently postulating that successfully applying principles from mechanism design, a sub-field of game theory, to the field of road traffic could lead to traffic policies consistent with human behavior, and am pursuing that research in coordination with the university while studying to acquire my doctorate degree.

Working to achieve a pleasant road traffic society for people.

The Social Systems Research-Domain of the Strategic Research Division to which I am assigned is pursuing two main courses. One is science. The other is an endeavor to create the core of new business field for Toyota Group companies. The city and road traffic design program is striving to produce such a new business field, which by its very nature requires offering some form of new value to society. The future of road traffic is expected to lie in the switch to automated driving and sharing. In a world where driving has become fully automated, people who do not know how to drive and even, as an extreme example, elementary school students, will be able to ride cars. Moreover, since the car will go back on its own once the destination has been reached, concerns about parking will change. This shows how the introduction of automated driving will drastically change social systems and the value provided in the sphere of mobility.
Until now, road traffic issues have been addressed from the perspective of solving negative aspects such as congestion. However, in a society where driving has been automated, making the time between going out and returning home as pleasant as possible or, put another way, designing services that maximize the value of mobility, will be necessary. What do people want from mobility and cities? I intend to continue looking for the answer to that question.

Typical Day

My preference for driving on ordinary roads rather than expressways has stayed with me since my days as a student. I also plan to focus on the value of slower-pace traffic. My fundamental fondness for roads sometimes leads to new discoveries when I overlay it on the theory derived from research, which becomes even more interesting thanks to the positive feedback loop between my hobby and my research.

*Details in the article are those at the time of the interview.