Convention Case Studies

IFAC World Congress 2023: Yokohama City is the base for a showcase of the world's most advanced automatic control technology

IFAC World Congress 2023, an international conference on control technology — a field where Japan can hold claim to having both the most advanced technology, and the best history of actual performance—was held in Yokohama City in July of 2023. Despite Japan's leading position, this is in fact the first time in 42 years that the event has been held in the country. Everyone involved had very high expectations for this real-life, face-to-face event following the pandemic years, and it was in fact a very successful conference, one that far exceeded the expectations of the organizing staff and the participants. Hajime Asama, chairman of IFAC from 2020 to 2023, talks about what made this such a successful international event.

Dr. Hajime Asama, Professor,
Department of Precision Engineering,
School of Engineering, The University of Tokyo

Conference Overview

Event Name IFAC World Congress 2023
Dates July 9-14, 2023
Location PACIFICO Yokohama
Attendance 3,034 on-site and 172 online

Emphasizing the importance of control technology and Japan's leadership

Founded in 1957, IFAC has a deep history, and is a prestigious academic society. Because of its outstanding contributions to the control technology field, Japan is ranked at Category 4—a position it shares only with the United States.

"Control technology is related to energy, the environment, disasters, pandemics, sustainable development goals (SDGs) and other important areas," Dr. Asama says. "Because technology is necessary for us to solve a variety of social issues, the themes discussed at the conference will be important factors for the future of the earth."

By serving as the host country for IFAC 2023, Dr. Asama says, Japan is maintaining its leadership role in control technology, and allows it to maintain its potential in industry and in technological innovation. "I feel we were able to send a clear message to the world on these two points," he says.

Advances in Diversity

The Girls in Control workshop introduced girls aged 10 to 15 to control engineering
A young engineer of the future

One of Dr. Asama's first tasks after becoming the IFAC Chairperson was to establish a diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) committee, which has since been working on a variety of initiatives. "We now present awards for DEI activities, provide financial support so that women can attend international conferences, and also have support to cover the cost of babysitting," he says. The results are already coming in: in the past, only one or two women were presented with the IFAC Fellow Award; this year, seven of the 25 awardees were women.

"For the plenary sessions, we decided to actively promote DEI by inviting speakers representing a diverse range of races, genders, ages and the physically and mentally challenged," he continues. "One thing that we held during the event was the Girls in Control workshop, in which we introduced control engineering to girls from 10 to 15 years old. The goal here is to increase the number of women who will pursue science degrees in the future." The program was run by university professors and female university students who actually are specializing in control engineering. This allowed the girls to experience what programming is, and to learn both the importance and the fun of control.

Introducing Japanese culture leads to participant satisfaction

"We received many messages after the event congratulating us on the success of IFAC 2023," Dr. Asama says. In a survey held at the end of the event, more than 80 percent of the participants answered that they were "satisfied" or "somewhat satisfied" with the event, which shows that it was a well-received conference. "Of the 3,200 people who took part in the event, only 100 joined online—which shows that people really wanted to have in-person contact after the years of covid," he says. "I also really felt that, because we were holding the event in Japan, many participants wanted to experience Japanese culture, which of course includes food. The presence of Their Majesties the Emperor and Empress of Japan at the opening ceremony left a lasting impression for participants, I'm sure, as they understood how special their participation was. "

The impact of holding IFAC 2023

"For this IFAC, along with our lectures and workshops, we were able to build understanding among the general public about where control technology is actually used by actions such as opening up our marine robot contest to the public," Dr. Asama says. The Yokohama Convention & Visitors Bureau provided support to hold the conference in the city, and also took advantage of the opportunities an international conference provides to invite local business to host joint exhibitions in the exhibition spaces and other activities. "Together we implemented initiatives to create business opportunities for city businesses, and also help to revitalize the economy," he says. In addition, the members of the IFAC Industry Group, consisting of 130 scientists and engineers representing 50 companies, planned and held forums, technical tours and other activities. "This was a great benefit not only to those involved, but also to the greater Japanese society in which this event was held," Dr. Asama says. " I think this will be a lasting impact on the local economy."

Simulation of remote control of heavy equipment
Simulation of remote control of heavy equipment
Robots created by participating companies from Yokohama
Robots created by participating companies from Yokohama
A scene from the drone competition
A scene from the drone competition

Hosting an international conference in your country is a catalyst for development

Dr. Asama acknowledges that many people around the world might be reluctant to try to attract an international group to hold an event in their country, because it does take a lot of time and effort. "It's not enough, though, for researchers to simply focus on pushing forward with their own research work," he says. " Your research has to give something back to society. To accomplish this, we want to create a community with other researchers working in the same field, then present the research to society at large—I think it's very important for people to take advantage of this! International conferences are very important in building this community, and when you hold such an event in your own county researchers and industry can expand their networks, but even more than that, it has the potential to serve as a catalyst for further development."

"I truly believe that IFAC 2023 will be seen as a very important event for both business and academia, as both groups participated in order to find new business opportunities and possibilities for joint research," he says. "This international conference was able to contribute to the strengthening of collaboration between business and academia, and in enhancing academic knowledge about control engineering."

Sustainability initiatives at IFAC 2023

Printed papers and programs have been eliminated. Only one program and one map were provided on paper.
Digitalization was promoted though the use of apps, so event information was provided to participants both before and after the event through text messaging.
Name tags did not use plastic holders, but instead were made with paper mounts and straps.

© Yokohama Convention & Visitors Bureau