We aim to solve environmental problems with the power of science and technology, and have focused our efforts
on solving the global litter problem. We offer Pirika, an anti-litter smartphone app, and Takanome, an AI-based
program that maps and measures litter using visual recognition technology.
Pirika, Inc. is working on solving the global litter problem by developing a system that measures the global distribution of litter and using the data collected from that system to develop effective solutions. Many people understand that litter is a global issue, and great efforts have been made over the years to clean up neighborhoods through legislation, labor/volunteerism and litter education. These efforts include zoning laws and other anti-litter laws, regulations and ordinances, mass clean-up efforts, as well as education and other awareness-raising efforts through public campaigns and other publicity.
However, we remain unable to accurately assess how bad the current litter problem is or measure the impact of anti-litter efforts due to the absence of well-developed measurement methods or standards. For example, people are generally unable to tell whether any particular public campaign to improve smoking manners or establishment of a new smoking-designated area reduced cigarette butt litter. These anti-litter efforts, without the implementation of some standardized method to measure their impact, may have no meaningful impact on the global litter problem.
Our services, principally Pirika and Takanome, can be differentiated from other anti-litter services in their use of technology to measure such impact. In particular, Takanome has made it possible to conduct cost-effective litter research and analysis with consistency over a wide area. Numerous governments in Japan have begun to assess their local litter problems and measure the impact of their anti-litter efforts using our Takanome-based research services. Pirika is a widely used smartphone app that has over 40,000 individual users and over 300 corporate, government and other organizational users, across 77 countries. Pirika allows its users to upload and share with other users pictures of litter that they pick up, and maps the litter data based on those uploads. We also provide free data visualization services for clean-up efforts of companies and other organizations.
Over 30 million pieces of litter have been picked up through Pirika. Takanome is an AI-based program that maps and measures litter using visual recognition technology. Takanome-based research has been used in numerous projects to identify anti-litter solutions, by providing, among others, analyses of placement of designated smoking areas and public trash bins and effectiveness of anti-litter patrol and education. We aim to contribute to designing litterless cities by evaluating anti-litter efforts with our cutting-edge research and providing other consulting services. Pirika, our smartphone application, has been used by more than 300,000 individuals across 77 countries. More than 60 million litter pieces have been picked up through Pirika.
What Makes Your Project Innovative?
A variety of methods have been tried around the world to address the litter problem, including community service, environmental education, patrolling and legal restrictions. Even backed with significant financial resources and personnel, these methods have not been proven to be effective because there are currently no universal standards to accurately measure the severity of litter. With no way to accurately measure the impact of any anti-litter effort, such an effort could end up being simply self-satisfying for the group making that effort, with no meaningful impact.
We believe we are different from other existing organizations that tackle the problem of litter, whether governments or private enterprises, in that we place value and have focused our efforts on developing a method to measure litter in order to solve the problem. We have also succeeded in growing a sustainable anti-litter business with growing revenue and profit, despite being a player in a market that has traditionally not been seen as a market where money can be made.
What is the current status of your innovation?
Our organization have been giving a lot of efforts on running applications/social network software for those who collects litters and find solution to littering caused by human. However, we realized that there is no such method to measure how our services effect to make our environment clean. At first, we thought this conflict is only afflicting our organization,but turns out to be common conflict for municipalities,which tries to improve cleanliness of environment.
We started by manually measuring picking up litter by people, however, we faced a conflict that always varies based on how carefully those human researcher look for litters. In such a situation, our expert of image analysis came up to with a great idea to count litter which are detected in image or videos.
Fundraising was very difficult, but we were able to fulfill investment costs by using crowd fundraising services and the investigation business which we provided before we develop them.
At first, not many municipalities implemented our system, and sales did not increase at all. As we promote our system to the House of Representatives, who has right to designate municipalities for their litter problem, municipalities implemented our system spontaneously in order to prevent designation.
We are continuously performing R&D to find effective method to prevent littering by analysing data.
Collaborations & Partnerships
We received financial and human support from the group called SVP Tokyo. It was very important for key members to be able to concentrate on sales and development as staff with diverse backgrounds like lawyers, certified public accountants, consultants, engineers supported them.
Users, Stakeholders & Beneficiaries
The most important stakeholders for Pirika are local governments. In Japan, to provide a service to a local government, it is always a key issue if the service has been used by another local government. Thus, providing a new service to a local government is extremely challenging. In addition, local government employees are highly risk-averse, since they are not rewarded for taking risks; instead, they are only punished harshly if any risk they take materializes. It was then expected that Pirika would initially face a challenging time finding local governments to try our research business. Our strategy in light of this situation was to focus on developing a relationship with the national Ministry of the Environment, because we knew that junior members of the Ministry are seconded to local governments from time to time. If we could develop strong relationships with those junior bureaucrats, they could provide us with a way inside local governments when they were seconded.
Results, Outcomes & Impacts
Pirika, our anti-litter smartphone app, has over 500,000 users and over 300 corporate, government and other organizational users, across 77 countries. Over 68 million pieces of litter have been picked up through Pirika. Since launching Takanome, our AI-based program, in May 2016, over five local governments, including Kanagawa City, have retained us for our Takanome service, and in March 2016, we commenced an experimental research project in New York City using Takanome. As our research results have become increasingly available among local governments and our services have gained recognition through the media, we have created healthy competition among local governments to keep their local communities clean and improved the measurement of and introduced solutions to the litter problem.
Challenges and Failures
When we decided to do littering survey as a business, we knew that it would be possible to develop a littering image recognition system by spending money and time. However, it was difficult to borrow or receive an investment out of concern of not knowing whether our program would become popular. For that reason, we began with preparing paper materials to explain to the local government and succeeded in taking two orders thanks to our approach.
As a result, we had strong demands on our capacity to delivery on time for the first investigation report, so we employed part-time employees in large quantities and, everything by visual inspection, we had no choice but to deliver the types of litter and numbers as data. As a result,this pushed us further and it brought about the system development by letting AI learn a result judging from viewing then.
Conditions for Success
We think luck and the environment to be important, but think that it is important to maximize quality and quantity of the work that we can control in ourselves because they are the factors that they cannot control. I commit around 100 hours a week in an aim for the establishment of the business, but it is important to keep up nutrition, sleep, moderate exercise.
In order to make an innovation, we need to obtain sufficient human resources and functioning systems. Governments still rely on systems that that are not suitable for making innovation. At the same time, typical gov. representatives are those who are not willing to take risks. Speaking in terms of the Japan, the systems are changing, however, people are not adapting to its environmental change.
At first, we were unsure how to judge our success: if we succeed, there was risk to prove that the social network software or application was not effective because it would be perceived as not needed. Nevertheless, we strongly believe that this development is necessary to make the world clean. Later on, we have realized municipalities also have a strong belief in having such a system.
For our lessons, the possibility to make the news that our world needs this kind of innovation was very difficult. A key of succeeding is that it is never predictable and we never know until we try. If this world is giving us difficulty in succeeding, then we should rise to the challenge, for it is something that is really valuable and worth trying. We should not dedicate our lives an business that will not motivate us.