Cutting-edge NTT technology that will change the world

Image: Group photograph of the four NTT technicians who discussed images of future travel. From left: Makoto Yoneya (Communication Science Laboratories), Kenichi Nishikawa (Access Network Service Systems Laboratories), Kentaro Ogawa (Network Service Systems Laboratories), and Kenzo Okuda (Network Technology Laboratories).



Visions for Future Travel

How would you welcome travelers visiting Japan using communications technology?

From NTT’s various research facilities, technicians responsible for the future of communications gathered together for lively discussions about the year 2020and the future beyond 2020.
The first discussion explored the theme of “Visions for Future Travel.” As the world’s attention turns to Tokyo in 2020, what kinds of services will be provided to visitors from overseas?

Discussion Participants

  • Image: Facial photograph of Makoto Yoneya (Communication Science Laboratories).

    Makoto Yoneya

    Communication Science Laboratories

  • Image: Facial photograph of Kenichi Nishikawa (Access Network Service Systems Laboratories).

    Kenichi Nishikawa

    Access Network Service Systems Laboratories

  • Image: Facial photograph of Kentaro Ogawa (Network Service Systems Laboratories).

    Kentaro Ogawa

    Network Service Systems Laboratories

  • Image: Facial photograph of Kenzo Okuda (Network Technology Laboratories).

    Kenzo Okuda

    Network Technology Laboratories

What travel-related communications technology do you think has revolutionized the world?

Yoneya: Perhaps “GPS”? Previously when people traveled, they would spread out a paper map and try to determine their location using the surrounding buildings or landmarks as a guide, but nowadays they can immediately know where they are simply by opening a map app on their smartphone.
Moreover, if they enter their destination, the app will even show them the route to get there. In that sense, it can be said that “route search” has also made travel far more convenient.

Nishikawa: I think it’s probably SNS-type community sites. For example, if you are traveling overseas with children, you can use such sites to check whether a restaurant caters to small children. It’s possible to deterimine the atmosphere of a restaurant beforehand by looking at the comments on reliable community sites. These sites provide supplementary information that cannot be obtained using so-called travel guidebooks alone, and I feel they have become extremely convenient.

Ogawa: I would say “voice translation” technology. In the past, you walked around with a pocket-dictionary. Electronic dictionaries were later developed, but the number of words and phrases that could be used was limited. Nowadays, there are smartphone voice translation apps for various different languages. What’s more, these apps recognize sounds, so there is no need to input each word or phase, and they even convert the translated words or phrases into sound.
I actually use such an app for translating Japanese into Russian and other languages, and the standard is so high that I have absolutely no problems at hotels, or when taking public transport or shopping.

Okuda: I think it would be “Internet acceleration and performance-improvement/miniaturization of terminals”. For example, transmission speed was slow when I was young, and it was all you could do to send photographs of around 110,000 pixels using your mobile telephone. These days, however, it is possible to send photographs or images with amazingly high resolution via your smartphone, and whenever you have a question or problem, you can search for all kinds of information.
In future, I think that Internet acceleration and performance-improvement/ miniaturization of terminals will provide the foundation for changes in the structure of travel worldwide.

Image: Photograph of Makoto Yoneya (Communication Science Laboratories) smiling as he discusses communications technologies that have innovatively changed the world.

What latest communications technology connecting the world do you think is simply amazing?

Okuda: A technology that I believe will become amazing in the future is “brain-computer interface”. This technology enables information to be communicated directly between brain and machine through the machine reading brain signals and stimulating the brain. Already it is possible to attach brain wave sensors to a subject’s head and have them move a cursor projected on a screen using their brain waves. With just a little more technological innovation, I think that it will become possible to embed computer devices in the brain, eliminating the need for sensors or terminals.
Moreover, the world will become more interesting if it becomes possible to directly connect the brain and the Internet. When verification testing begins, I want to be the first to volunteer (laughs).

Ogawa: Perhaps UAV (Unmanned Air Vehicle)? I think these could be effectively used in times of major disasters. When there is damage somewhere in a network, drones equipped with router functions could circumvent the route, enabling communications to be maintained. Such drones could also cover places that vehicles cannot, and I also expect that it will become possible to create networks covering broad areas using multiple devices.

Nishikawa: These days, system development technology is constantly changing, and development is also advancing efficiently. That is to say, as soon as new ideas are conceived, they are being put out into the world as quickly as possible. In that sense, I have long been keeping a close eye on virtualization technology overall, and even more broadly speaking, on “abstraction technology”. Which extracts essentially important elements from targets.

Yoneya: I find “tactile communication” to be quite interesting. For example, using sensors to acquire the sensation of typing on a keyboard, then sending this information to another person who is a long distance away and enabling them to experience the sensation of “typing” on a keyboard when there actually is no keyboard there. Although this technology is still at the research stage, I think a world where it is possible to experience various tactile sensations while at home is not at all far away.

Image: Photograph of a congenial scene during the discussion.

What communications technology would you use to provide “o-mo-te-na-shi” (Japanese-style hospitality) to travelers visiting Japan for the Tokyo in 2020?

Ogawa: There was a demonstration at the NTT R&D Forum 2016 of a technology that integrates a controller into a smartphone whereby the controller pulls the user’s hand left or right to show them the route to their destination, and I thought that was very interesting. Linking this technology with communications services would create extremely convenient functions for travelers.
By further advancing development and strengthening communications functions, I think it could also be possible for the device to sense approaching vehicles ahead of time, enabling the user to get out of the path of oncoming traffic.

Yoneya: With regard to location information technology, previously it was not possible to know your precise location unless the terminal was connected to GPS or Wi-Fi, but recently this technology has advanced to the point where route guidance can be provided even when the device is offline. In Tokyo in 2020, too, the precision of location information may become a key factor in providing accurate guidance for visitors from overseas.

Nishikawa: The convenience of voice translation technology was just mentioned, and since there are many signs and signboards around the city that are only shown in Japanese, I think it would be extremely convenient for overseas visitors if it became possible to hold a glasses-style terminal or smartphone up and look through it at a sign, receiving a translation in real time.

Okuda: At last year’s R&D Forum, there was also an exhibit of technology whereby you held your smartphone up to a sign and the device displayed a translation in real time or displayed additional information.

Yoneya: If such glasses-type terminals were to become a reality, it would be great because it would save people even more bother. Also, glasses-type terminals at present mainly display some kind of information, but for example, if electrodes were incorporated into the device, it would be possible to measure eye movement. I anticipate that combining such technologies will enable the technologies that we are currently researching to also be incorporated into devices.

Okuda: A technology that was a hot topic of conversation at the NTT R&D Forum 2016 and has been gaining attention is "Kirari!". This technology enables an entire sporting event space to be transmitted to a distant location, recreating sound and multiple images, such as pseudo-3D, in real time. Using this technology, I think it will become possible to hold public viewings that are even closer to actual experiences, even in locations a long distance from the actual event.

Ogawa: I also experienced the Kirari! Technology at the NTT R&D Forum 2016, and I was astonished by the high quality, which was so good that it seemed that people were right there in front of you and it was impossible to tell the difference between the Kirari! images and actual (live) sporting events.

Image: Photograph of Makoto Yoneya (Communication Science Laboratories) and Kenichi Nishikawa (Access Network Service Systems Laboratories) answering the question, “What communications technology would you use to provide “o-mo-te-na-shi” (Japanese-style hospitality)?”

Looking beyond 2020, what are your thoughts on the future of communications technology and your dreams as a technician?

Yoneya: For example, I think it would be terrific if it were to become possible for people to have experiences such as feeling as if you are in Machu Picchu while still in Japan, without actually traveling there in person.
To this end, I think even more realistic experiences could be achieved by adding tactile communications, such as the sensation of blowing breezes, while sending virtual information. In addition, SNS was just mentioned, and I think it would be interesting if mechanisms could be developed whereby more and more fresh information from people who have actually visited the location is uploaded to networks, increasing the accuracy of information even further.

Nishikawa: I have been working continuously on improving operational efficiency, and so naturally I would like to think along this line. While it is of course important for large corporations to expand by introducing core systems from the top-down, I think it is also important that they also expand from the bottom-up by drawing up various innovations and ideas from workers in the workplace, taking a two-wheeled approach. I would like to create useful technologies that enable people to work with even more enthusiasm and enjoyment in their respective workplaces.

Ogawa: My current research concerns the “NetroSphere” concept. This way of thinking attempts to separate the devices, technology, and elements comprising a network and combine these freely. An important point is that by using generic parts, it becomes possible to create flexible and inexpensive network infrastructures.
Even now there are many people throughout the world who are unable to access networks, and so I anticipate that these efforts will enable more and more people to connect with networks.

Okuda: I truly believe that the day will come when it will be possible to connect the human brain directly to the Internet, and what I think will be terrifying when that day arrives is a situation in which someone with bad intentions sends dangerous signals into the head of another person. Thus those on the network side need to prepare mechanisms to ensure that this cannot happen. However, under the current circumstances, security is being left in the hands of the people who create apps and services.
I therefore think that it is the mission of researchers to create security mechanisms as infrastructure for the “NetroSphere” concept and future networks.

Inovative Insights


At a glance, “communications” and “travel” appear to be completely unrelated themes.
However, these technicians’ unique ideas make us realize and reacknowledge the enormous role that communications play. We look forward with excited anticipation to seeing what new experiences these technicians will create in 2020 and the future beyond.