Global Innovators: A Look at Obayashi’s ¥1 Billion Commitment to Construction Tech

As we prepared for this week’s Global Summit, cataloguing the activities of 50 Global Companies leading innovation in our sector, several companies stood out among even the top fifty. One such player is Japan’s, Obayashi. With interests in everything from engineering and construction to real estate to renewable and nuclear energy, the company’s just released 2020 Corporate Report provides a stunning look into the scope of the company’s digital innovation initiatives.

With $19 billion in 2020 sales, 130 years from its initial founding, the company is three years into a five year plan to invest ¥1 billion yen in construction technology research and development. It is all part of a bold vision to “be the leader at the forefront of technology and productivity,” a vision that includes a firm commitment to sustainability, an accelerating pace of digital transformation, and a commitment to “showing the world a new aspect of the Obayashi Group as an enterprise that can continuously create value.”

2020 Global Innovators 50

In 2017, at the beginning of its commitment, Obayashi Group first ventured into open innovation with the establishment of Silicon Valley Ventures and Laboratory (SVVL), as a place to learn about and work with the industry’s emerging technology ecosystem. From there, Obayashi established the “Obayashi Challenge,” as a means of connecting with the ecosystem’s startups and other institutions and also formed partnerships with SRI International, a leading Silicon Valley non-profit research group, Stanford University’s Center for Integrated Facilities Engineering, and AI technology leader, Nvidia. It is a truly impressive effort to become engrained in Silicon Valley’s tech landscape. With their San Francisco-based construction subsidiary, Webcor, also engaged in the effort, Obayashi also has the local resources to pilot, integrate and promote construction technology in the Bay Area, beyond their investment and research efforts.

Since its establishment in 2017 in Silicon Valley, Obayashi Group has piloted technologies included 3d printer, Arevo, reality capture company,, and autonomous vehicle technology company, SafeAI, to name a few companies. We were pleased to host Jes Pederson, CEO of Obayashi Subsidiary, Webcor, at our Summit in 2018 where we learned more about the company’s perspective on emerging technology.

Jes Pederson, Webcor CEO at BuiltWorlds Summit 2018
Jes Pederson, Webcor CEO, Talks Tech at BuiltWorlds Summit 2018. Click the image to watch the discussion.

Beyond Obayashi’s initiatives in Northern California, the firm also recently announced the creation of a new effort in its home country of Japan. As with many of the Group’s initiatives in California, the Bird Initiative, a research cooperative of six Japanese firms, is significantly focused on AI. The companies are working together to research and commercialize innovative technology. Other companies involved in the effort include NEC, CTC, Japan Industrial Partners, Japan Investment Advisors, and UTokyoIPC.

While Obayashi’s investment in construction technology is certainly notable, it is also worth noting the significance of Obayashi’s commitment to sustainability as well. In fact, Obayashi’s digital agenda and the commitment to sustainability objectives seem tightly intertwined. For example, Obayashi is also building Japan’s first 11-story structural mass timber tower in Yokohama City, Japan, and as we learned in a recent presentation from European Construction Firm, Bouygues, Mass Timber construction has emerged as a key ingredient in the effort to reduce construction’s carbon footprint. Additionally, combatting a worker shortage, Obayashi is partnering with NEC and TAIYU to develop autonomous backhoes and other equipment. Beyond Japan’s boarders, Obayashi is at work on a new, “smart” office tower in Bangkok, Thailand intended to achieve Well Building standards that are part of a major push the group is making into promoting well building standards. Throughout Asia, The United States, and beyond, there are few if any stones the Obayashi Group is leaving unturned in its quest for a strong, sustainable, and technological enabled future.

About BuiltWorlds: BuiltWorlds is the industry’s leading platform for open innovation, keeping companies in the worlds of engineering and construction informed and connected, and helping them find avenues to collaborate for their own strategic success and for the betterment of the industry, as whole. For more information about BuiltWorlds, visit the BuiltWorlds Network