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Post Tsunami, Toshiba Gears Up for Brave New World

Walking onto the stage to haunting music as images of a post-March 11 tsunami-struck Japan were beamed onto a huge screen, the appearance of Toshiba’s CEO was in stark contrast with that of other executives at the IFA technology fair in Berlin, striding across the stage to thumping music and showing off their latest, shiny gadgets.

IFA 2008 Consumer Electronics Trade Fair
Getty Images
IFA 2008 Consumer Electronics Trade Fair

Like other Japanese household names, Toshiba was badly affected by the earthquake and tsunami, which halted its chip production and shipments.

The earthquake and tsunami triggered a “change in people’s relation with energy,” CEO Masaaki Osumi told delegates at the IFA technology fair on Friday.

The dramatic events have spurred the company on in its endeavor to provide products and services for renewable energy, water services and transportation control systems. It is increasingly gearing its products towards a low-energy society, Osumi said.

With the possibility of power shortages in mind, the company unveiled the world’s thinnest tablet at the fair, a product it says will help to save energy. It also launched a new TV with built-in battery just three months after the tsunami struck.

Toshiba says the battery lasts for three hours and has a “peak shift” button which users can press in the event of an outage or at peak times when energy consumption is likely to be high.

Toshiba, Osumi said, is well positioned to contribute to the creation of so-called “smart” communities, in which home appliances go online and TV and Internet are connected.

Expect messages to be displayed on screens and appliances to say that your community has reached its electricity peak and needs to switch to battery mode.

The company recently acquired Swiss electronic metering company Landis + Gyr. It makes “smart” meters which allow utilities to monitor energy use remotely in order to reduce the likelihood of outages.

Although much of the debris has been cleared following the tsunami, “it seems we are 3 to 4 years away from completing reconstruction,” Osumi said.

He sees it as an opportunity for “creative reconstruction”, with new technology which will be incorporated into all areas of life.