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R&D Story
Touch-and-go through the gate Following the track leading to Suica

1. Replacing the ticket

 
Akio Miki
Shigeo Miki
A new type of card was gaining attention as the next-generation card in the late 1980s, when credit cards became widely popular in Japan and people often held more than one card. This was integrated circuit (IC) card. It has a memory capacity more than 100 times that of magnetic cards, and a variety of uses for it was envisioned at that time.

Some researchers were looking for IC card applications for railways. These were the lab members concerned with information control at the Railway Technical Research Institute,which was then part of the Japanese National Railways. They bought IC cards and ran trials to find if there were uses beyond to currently accepted concepts. An IC card at that time cost more than 10,000 yen. The members got together to discuss if IC cards could be used for operation-related information, employee IDs or other applications.

Lab leader Shigeo Miki came up with an idea of using IC cards for tickets. The magnetic-type ticket automatic gates, which were in use since the 1980's, had some inconvenient aspects. Old-style passes could be shown to attendants without being taken out of their cases. But to use automatic ticket gates, passengers had to take them out, pass them through the automatic gate, and then put them away again. He thought that was a decline in service quality.
Miki wanted to build such a system that passengers could get on the train without buying tickets. With IC cards, passengers could go through gates without taking out their commuter passes from their holder. Miki also believed that IC cards had a large potential, and without doubt their uses could be broadened.