Tokyo To Embed City With Microchips to Help Travelers

Tokyo sprawls over 239 square miles. With 12 million residents and 5 million commuters each day, you’d expect such a big city to be convenient to navigate. However, this city is filled with roads with no names.

To help get around the giant maze, Japanese researchers have begun embedding the entire city with computer chips. These chips will transmit data wirelessly to handheld devices, which Tokyo University professor Ken Sakamura — who’s heading the Tokyo Ubiquitous Network Project — refers to as a “ubiquitous communicator.”

The system works by matching each chip’s unique code with data stored on a server. Using a ubiquitous communicator, a person can see a 3D, real-time image of the landscape around them. For now, the data the chips receive is limited to location. However, in the future, transmitted data could include details about a landmark’s history — or even electronic coupons of nearby stores. Beneficiaries of this tagging project will include the blind, postal employees, delivery people, and of course, tourists.

While getting lost in a strange city is a drag, wandering around a vibrant community staring at a hand-held device could be an even bigger drag. New Scientist also points out that one small glitch could lead to a domino-effect failure in the entire system. Amusingly, Sakamura claims one prankster already managed to install a chip that led users to a porn site.