No place for “delivery robots” in a village where a single phone call is all it takes for a shopkeeper to deliver
Elderly people are lent smartphones for free and taught how to use them, but are stressed because they cannot remember how to use them. The automated delivery robots that have been introduced with much fanfare go into hibernation during the snowy season because they cannot travel on snow-covered roads.
Whether he knew it or not, Digital Minister Taro Kono visited a village in Tokachi, Hokkaido, with a population of about 3,100 on April 9, and reported the following at a press conference on April 11.
On Sunday, the day before yesterday, I visited Sarobetsu Village in Hokkaido, where digital services are being implemented to support the daily lives of the elderly by utilizing the my number card. Sarabetsu Village was working on a service that provides a variety of blograms, including medical care, health, and even hobbies, to the elderly for 3,980 yen per month.”
Minister Kono praised the efforts of Sarabetsu Village, which aims to “realize a sustainable village,” in its “Super Village Initiative” to solve local issues through digital technology. The initiative includes the provision of lifestyle support services, which it calls “Exciting to 100 (Hyakwaku) Services,” such as robot delivery and health management using smartwatches.
Sarabetsu Village will spend 753.37 million yen for the Super Village project. According to the Tokachi Mainichi Shimbun, a local newspaper, the project will be funded with approximately 500 million yen from the Digital Rural City National Concept grant and approximately 200 million yen from a temporary grant for local development in response to the new coronavirus infection.
Although a large amount of government funds have been allocated to this project, the villagers who use the service are not very enthusiastic about it.
The service was launched last October, but I wonder if there are people who need both the self-driving car service and the delivery service using self-driving robots. I have not heard of anyone who has actually used the service.
To begin with, I don’t think that many villagers are familiar with either the Super Village concept or the “Hyakwaku” service. The other day, I was asked by an elderly person, ‘What does a super village do?
Mr. Hiroshi Nakazawa (pseudonym, in his 60s), who lives in Sarabetsu Village, laughs bitterly.
Shopping robots” for snowy roads NG, “self-driving cars” that cannot stop on the way…
Automated vehicle transportation services have been introduced to provide a leg up for the elderly. The vehicles, equipped with an automated driving system developed by Gunma University venture company Nihon Mobility, will operate at 30-minute intervals for the approximately 800-meter distance between the village office and the complex that houses the hot springs and medical clinic.
The vehicles simply travel back and forth along a straight road from the village hall to the hot spring facilities, and there is no boarding or alighting along the way. For elderly people with weak legs and backs to get to the hot spring facilities, it is more convenient to take the village bus, which circulates through the city center and can be taken from anywhere.
The village’s PR magazine mentioned that a newly purchased nine-passenger wagon would be in operation from March, but according to the officials, it has been out of service due to a glitch in the system. The previous vehicle was also not in operation very often, or perhaps I have never seen an automated vehicle in operation,”Nakazawa said.
How could they buy a new car when there are no users? Is the village thinking that it is “using the government’s money while it can”?
The other main feature of the robot delivery service is said to be aimed at assisting “vulnerable shoppers. The service operates along a single 700-meter route from a home improvement center in the village to a village housing complex for the elderly, and the unmanned delivery robot “Delilo” carries items purchased on a dedicated website.
It is unthinkable that a resident of a senior housing complex would use his or her smartphone to order goods. It’s just a couple of minutes away by car, so they can call the store and an employee will deliver the items.
This is another story I heard from a person involved, but the delivery robot introduced by the village was suspended for the winter because it cannot travel on snow-covered roads. In Hokkaido, it is no use if they are useless when it snows,” said Mr. Nakazawa.
With the enforcement of the revised Road Traffic Law this past April, the use of delivery robots is expected to grow as they no longer need to be accompanied by a person to make deliveries. But will there really be a chance for the village’s Delillo to play an active role?
This year, the village received an additional 300 million yen in digi-tenant grants!
According to the Hokkaido Shimbun, a PC or smartphone is required to apply for and reserve the “Hyakwaku” service, and the village has prepared 800 smartphones and is lending them free of charge to villagers aged 65 or older who wish to use the service. However, these smartphones are only a tool to use the service. Applications are to be made via QR code or LINE, and calls and e-mails using standard applications are not possible.
The free loaner phone is apparently a used iPhone, but there seems to be some confusion among the elderly who do not know how to “tap” or “swipe.
Satomi Fujita (pseudonym, in her 50s), who lives near the senior housing complex and is a close friend of the residents, laughs, “Every time I see them, I have to teach them how to use it.
She laughs, “I’ve heard that about six of the grandmas and grandpas in the senior housing complex are using loaner phones. The other day, I was asked to go and teach them how to use it, but the elderly didn’t know how to use it, so they pressed and held the screen for a while, and the icon started shaking and the line disappeared. The grandmothers were in an uproar,” said Fujita.
The elderly residents of the house were sent as users of the Hyakuwaku service by Minister Kono when he visited the village.
Some of them complained, “I don’t even want to use a smartphone, but they make us use it, and we are like experimental subjects.
We have heard some elderly people who have not registered for the Hyakwaku service say, ‘We want to see Minister Kono, too, but why are they the only ones? I’m worried that the relationships in the houses will deteriorate,” said Mr. Fujita.
Mr. Fujita himself says he signed up for the Hyakuwaku service because he was attracted by the free rental smartwatch. ……
I had to return it after a week because it kept malfunctioning. I don’t use any of Haikuwaku’s other services at all because I don’t need them.”
It appears that the village plans to offer several services as a paid subscription service and set the monthly fee at 3,980 yen, but Mr. Fujita was unaware of this information.
Mr. Nakazawa, a former resident of the village, is angry, saying, “The village emphasized ‘free’ at the residents’ explanatory meeting.
The Hikyakuwaku service includes daytime karaoke, photo-sharing apps, and even fashion diagnostics, which is hardly a service worth the 3,980 yen fee.
The contents of the Super Village concept were put together by a Tokyo-based consulting firm, and the woman at the top of the firm does not live in the village. There is no way that a service designed by someone who does not know the needs of the village residents will be needed,” said Nakazawa.
There are many examples of local governments whose objective is to obtain government subsidies, but who outsource the planning and operation of their projects to Tokyo-based consultants due to a lack of digital human resources. As a result, government funds flow back to Tokyo via local governments. Sarabetsu Village could fall into this pattern.
By the way, Minister Kono talked about “digital services utilizing the my number card” at the press conference, but not a single Sarabetsu villager mentioned the my number card.
Upon further investigation, we found that the utilization of the Mynar Card is just the beginning. Sarabetsu Village has been selected again this year as a recipient of the Digital Rural City National Concept grant as a municipality that meets the condition of “more than 70% application rate for the my number card,” and it is said that the my number card function will be added to the Hikyakuwaku service with a grant of about 300 million yen.
A billion yen in grant money is being given to a village with a population of only 3,100. I hope the huge national budget is not wasted. ……
Interview and text by： Rokka Teiko
Writer. Based in Hokkaido, she covers municipal stories.