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Can satellite data be used for water leakage risk management in local governments? Methods to expand the utilization of satellite data from various perspectives

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This website has been translated into English using automatic translation. Please note that the translation may not be entirely accurate.

"Satellite data is a treasure trove"

Mr. Yasuhito Sakuraba, a member of JAXA’s venture company for land evaluation using satellite data, speaks in a relaxed yet confident tone.

In recent years, businesses using satellite data have been attracting much attention, and we spoke to Mr. Yasuhito Sakuraba, the CEO of Tenchijin Inc., which has accumulated many achievements from various perspectives in land evaluation.

Utilizing satellite data for land evaluation

Mr. Sakuraba, could you please tell us about Tenchijin's business outline?

We have developed a land evaluation engine called Tenchijin Compass, and applying this technology, we develop and provide satellite data and GIS services. So-called GIS services contain geospatial information, and many tools are available for users to analyze. However, the Tenchijin Compass is characterized by its standard inclusion of satellite data. The difference between this and other companies' services is that users can analyze the data by comparing it with past satellite data and combining space data with terrestrial data and human know-how.

The news that Space Big Data Rice, cultivated in a business partnership with Shinmei Co., Ltd. since 2019, was harvested in 2022 has attracted significant attention. What kind of feedback have you received from farmers and consumers?

We are often told that it is interesting. Many did not know that satellite data could be used for land evaluation in the first place. We have heard that analyzing weather and environmental conditions could lead to more business, and it would be possible to create something new.

What are your challenges in delivering the final product to the consumers?

The challenges were in following the schedule for agriculture and finalizing it as a business. When we started the company, we could not finalize the negotiations because of the Corona disaster in the first year.

It may be unique to rice, but since rice is produced in a single cultivation, you can't plant rice between March and May unless you have a solid plan from the previous year to choose the suitable variety and finalize everything, including distribution. Many things cannot be finalized in agriculture; looking back, that was the challenging part.

There are many announcements with an international focus, such as the MOU with ConstellR and the adoption at Orange Fab Asia Fall 2021. To the extent possible, please tell us about your plan to acquire international customers.

Tenchijin is a remote working company. We have personnel in France, Belgium, Spain, Cambodia, Australia, the United States, and Taiwan and a network of local contacts. This setup is partly a reason for our steady progress in global expansion. In the future, we would like to focus mainly on South-East Asia and Europe..

Could you tell us some challenges you have faced since the company's founding?

Honestly, I don't remember it being too challenging (laughs). In terms of money, goods, and people, as is often the case with startups. Of course, it was tough, just like any other startup, but we're always thinking about how we can solve these problems in a fun way. So, I don't remember it being difficult. I think hiring good people and raising money is tough, just like everyone else, but I haven’t found anything particular that I thought was challenging.

How has your experience developing new businesses and services at several companies led to your current job as CEO of Tenchijin?

My experience in various jobs has allowed me to think about needs and build businesses from multiple perspectives. Since I was also in product sales, I understand distribution and can immediately visualize how satellite data and the latest technology fit into that.

Collaboration with Toyota City seized through a chance encounter

You are conducting a demonstration experiment in collaboration with Toyota City to determine areas where leakage from water pipes is possible. How did this collaboration with the local government come about?

An acquaintance was on good terms with a road construction company, and I met an interesting person working on leakage from water pipes. I was quick on my feet and went to Toyota City to talk to people about various topics. I saw the potential. At that time, Tenchijin had not developed a risk assessment function for water leakage, and I did not even know there was a market for it. However, I understood that Toyota City was in great need and that although Japan's infrastructure appears to be in good shape, it is, in fact, not. Tenchijin initially had analytical functions in the past, so these overlapped, and we decided to work on it.

How was it working with Toyota City?

Looking directly at things buried underground from 600 kilometers above the ground, where satellites are located, is a world that is usually difficult to understand. It was a rare initiative for Tenchijin, so we faced challenges analyzing the results. Tenchijin's core technology is to analyze the data customers want by combining multiple satellite and terrestrial data based on the user's needs while keeping costs down. We did not look at the water leakage rate in the Toyota City initiative. Instead, we used AI to multiply and analyze various parameters such as changes in the ground surface, the influence of the ground surface temperature, and the pipe type and length.
In addition, we produced something like a by-product called a "water pipe freezing warning map" that utilizes the ground surface temperature data used in the development process.

What are some of the ideas that can be applied to other local governments?

To begin with, I was lucky to have come across Toyota City. Firstly, Toyota City is one of the most advanced initiatives among local governments in Japan. While many local governments want to advance data analysis successfully but cannot, I thought it would be possible to set a precedent with Toyota City, standardize and systemize successful cutting-edge aspects, and deploy them to other local governments. The Tenchijin Compass Space Waterworks Bureau, created based on this initiative, has been introduced in Fukushima and Seto Cities, and now other municipalities are considering introducing it.

Satellite data is a treasure trove

In 2022, you have announced funding from JAXA. Please tell us about the challenges you faced in realizing this.

Procurement from JAXA took about a year and a half from the start to the closing, which I think was difficult because it was the first time JAXA was funding a project. It wasn't easy because we had to go through a series of exchanges, which neither of us was accustomed to. I think it was completely different from a regular investment.

I saw on your website that you have a very diverse team, which I thought was a key feature of your company. What do you focus on in terms of organizational development?

Fundamentally, I think it’s important that I don’t get in anyone’s way. It is important to create an environment where everyone can work comfortably. When hiring people, one of the main points is whether they are compatible with the current team members. Of course, skills and knowledge are important, but as we try to work with a small group of talents, we place great importance on compatibility.

What kind of personnel do you plan to employ in the future?

We plan to recruit for all industries, but space and startups are often considered sparkling industries. We would love to have people with a sense of hunger who want to achieve something and grow rather than people who want to get involved because of their idolization.

We have people from various industries, such as agriculture and construction, and it is not at all the case that you must be from the space industry to join us. Please be assured that we have in-house know-how to catch up on industry knowledge and technology.

Could you tell us how you feel about the Japanese startup ecosystem?

I think Japan is a country with advanced research and development, but I feel that there is room for further development in terms of commercialization compared to other countries. There are various ways of looking at things, such as understanding data and pricing, but I think it’s important to promote research and development commercialization. If that can be achieved, I think the basic technology is more advanced than in other countries, so I believe there will be a turning point where business will also accelerate. I hope that we can all continue to work together to achieve that.

Do you see any potential in introducing satellite data services to local governments?

I think satellite data is valuable and likely to be used in the future. I want to use the Tenchijin Compass to promote IT in local governments. I want the local governments that are even slightly concerned about IT to consider introducing it.

Currently, water leakage risk assessment evaluates where there is a high possibility of leakage, and then we physically go to the site to check for leaks. If there is an actual leak, it must be repaired. We take notes on paper at the site and return to the government office to enter the data. Tenchijin aims to centralize this work with a system, and we are developing it so that satellite data can be used to assess risk and identify the location. If we can go to the site and confirm it, we can input the repair data. This provides us the opportunity to further improve the accuracy of our analysis in the following year, and I think it will also help the local government to become a world where ‘it's DXed before you know it’. That’s the kind of world we aim for.

Mr. Sakuraba, what kind of world do you want to realize through Tenchijin's business?

We are currently active mainly in Japan, but we are expanding globally. I hope that in 10 years, we will be able to provide services globally, not just in Japan, and I believe we can achieve this.

There are also aspects that individuals can only experience if they work with Tenchijin in the current phase, and forms of collaborations with companies and local governments that are only possible because of the current Tenchijin. We would be delighted if you would like to collaborate with Tenchijin.

Thank you!