Car navigation systems able to receive signals from multiple global navigation satellite systems, capacitive trackpads that distinguish five finger points and reject inputs from large objects such as a palm, wearable diagnostic systems and walk detection radar systems for the elderly that do not invade their privacy - these are upcoming innovations in the car, consumer electronics and health care industries. Developed by Alps Electric, the products combine input, sensor and connectivity technologies that have driven the company's success over the past 60 years.
"Right, unique and green - these are the three key words in our product development," says Toshihiro Kuriyama, Alps Electric president. "Individual market requirements are different, but the basic technology of the products is the same."
A preferred technology partner of top-tier manufacturers in the car and consumer electronics industries, the company is strengthening overseas research and development (R&D) capabilities, especially in China.
It opened its Wuxi R&D Center in December last year to enable the local development and design of camera actuators, connectors, input devices and other components that Chinese manufacturers need for high-end smartphones. Aside from enhancing technical support for smartphone manufacturers, the Wuxi R&D Center aims to participate in the Chinese government's "Wulianwang" social infrastructure project by introducing advanced sensor systems and communications modules.
Alps has design teams for the car industry at its Dalian R&D Center. Alpine Electronics, a group company, has an equity stake in Neusoft, which is based in Shenyang and is the largest software solutions and services provider in China. Another R&D facility in Shanghai spurs product development of connectivity technology such as software and evaluates solutions.
Meanwhile, affiliates in North America specialise in advanced human-machine interface products such as touch panels and capacitive trackpads. European units develop steering modules, power window switches, keyless entry systems and other in-car modules for premium global car brands.
The engineering team in Japan takes the lead in developing new applications for health care and energy saving. Alps expects robust prospects in these sectors for Japan and China.
The company also keeps its fully automated production of application-specific integrated circuits mainly in Japan to ensure consistent quality for orders that run into several million units per month. Alps is the main supplier of smartphone switches globally.
"We are the company that caters to the global players," Kuriyama says. "Our achievements and history have led all of our customers to trust us."