Cutting-edge NTT communication technology that will change the world

Image: Group photograph of the four NTT technicians who discussed communications technology that spreads play and learning. From left: Kei Harada (Network Innovation Laboratories), Masahiro Nakano (Communication Science Laboratories), Masashi Funada (Network Service Systems Laboratories), and Kugatsu Sadamitsu (Media Intelligence Laboratories).



Communications Technology that Spreads Play and Learning

What methods are there to boost the learning effects of play and sports with a view to 2020?

From NTT’s various research facilities, technicians responsible for the future of communications gathered together for lively discussions about the year 2020 and the future beyond 2020.
The second discussion explored the theme of “Communications Technology that Spreads Play and Learning”.
Fusion of traditional forms of play and the latest technology accelerates play and learning while creating opportunities to explore curiosity—this rich topic generated a full and lively discussion.

Discussion Participants

  • Image: Facial photograph of Masahiro Nakano (Communication Science Laboratories).

    Masahiro Nakano

    Communication Science Laboratories

  • Image: Facial photograph of Kei Harada (Network Innovation Laboratories).

    Kei Harada

    Network Innovation Laboratories

  • Image: Facial photograph of Masashi Funada (Network Service Systems Laboratories).

    Masashi Funada

    Network Service Systems Laboratories

  • Image: Facial photograph of Kugatsu Sadamitsu (Media Intelligence Laboratories).

    Kugatsu Sadamitsu

    Media Intelligence Laboratories

What recent communications technologies related to “play” have drawn your interest?

Funada: Recently I have been paying attention to 3D “head mount displays”.
Not only are there various devices available, but also development environments are also being provided, enabling everyone to create content.
Users can enjoy moving a character someone has created on their own head mount display with a 360 degree perspective—an unprecedented new experience.

Sadamitsu: Definitely the “3D printer”.
As long as you have the data, you can create something anywhere. It’s epoch-making! Actually, inspired by manga (comics), I have conducted research on creating a 3D printer that activates when you speak to it.
For example, if you said “red car” or “fast-looking car”, the printer would perform editing and output an object that conformed to the images of “red” and “fast-looking”. With this, a sense of magic is created. By combining words and communications, I believe that 3D printers will become able to do even more interesting things in the future.

Harada: I was astounded by the “StreetPass Communication” function in portable game consoles.
Previously communication other than one-on-one communication using telecommunication cables was not possible, but now it is possible to communicate with several tens of people before you know it while commuting on the train.
Although I was certainly astonished by the technology, I was also surprised by the exchange of information between people unknown to each other, without them realizing the exchange is taking place. Children today are a generation known as “digital natives”, and for them such a function is a matter of course. I felt that there was a gap in ways of thinking and values that needs to be closed moving forward.

Nakano: I think the recent “DTM (Desk Top Music)” technology is amazing.
First of all, there is the “sampling sound source” function. For example, you can call up the sound of a precious grand piano costing millions of yen on your own keyboard at home.
Then there is “Mastering”. Since it is generally easy for people to mistake a loud sound for a good sound, sound volume is raised at the end of the process of producing a song or musical recording, but this task is in fact not at all simple as sound is expressed in wave form.
However, with the tools currently available, the sound volume can be raised very simply, with very little sound distortion. This gives me a sense of the evolution of technology.

Sadamitsu: I think it will be even more interesting when it becomes possible for people in different locations to play musical jam sessions together, or simultaneity can be ensured through communications technology.

Image: Photograph of Kugatsu Sadamitsu (Media Intelligence Laboratories) smiling as he explains the ground-breaking nature of “3D printers”.

How would you combine traditional “forms of play” and the latest communications technology?

Funada: Children are very adept at using objects around them for play, so for example, using a smartphone they could work out their location by measuring “Wi-Fi” radio wave intensity, or hold up a camera and determine if someone is friend or foe using “AR”.
Even just adding these elements to traditional games such as “cops and robbers” can significantly change how children enjoy play.

Harada: Playing “tag” using GPS. I am sure I would have done that if the technology had been available when I was a child.
Precisely because of the availability of GPS, it is now possible to play “tag” on a large scale, such as using trains to escape.

Sadamitsu: I’ve already talked about 3D printers, but for example, children could be playing “tag” and then create some kind of weapon on the spot. I think that kind of play could become a reality.

Funada: Also they could use their smartphone camera to gauge the attacking capability of the weapon. The ways children can have fun are sure to expand more and more.

Image: Photograph of Kei Harada (Network Innovation Laboratories) smiling during the discussion.

What methods are there to boost the learning effects of play and sports with a view to 2020?

Funada: With learning methods, there is not necessarily only one correct method. People are individuals who differ from each other, be it their physique, or personality, or motivation, or whatever. I think that these differences need to be considered properly. In that sense, I think that the first step in raising learning effectiveness is to study the individual person.

Harada: I have participated in various sports since I was small, including synchronized swimming, cheerleading, and lifesaving, and from these experiences my feeling is that the most important factor is an instructor who will teach children the correct answers.
Based on their experience, instructors should compensate for individual differences, such as students’ physiques, personalities, and previous experiences. I think how to train and nurture good-quality instructors will become an important issue.

Nakano: At my research laboratory, there is a slightly unusual research project being conducted whereby people who have never made omelet-on-rice are taught how to make this dish simply by being shown a video of someone skillfully making the dish.
I think improving learning effectiveness is possible if you simply have the manpower and computer vision capabilities, but I question whether this would also work at for people at top levels, such as athletes. When you think about the theme of learning, it’s a deeply interesting topic, isn’t it?

Sadamitsu: At another research laboratory, there was a project where researchers showed images of a baseball pitcher throwing a ball to subjects on a head mount display, enabling the subjects to experience the baseball game through the eyes of the players to help them learn.

Harada: The skills required to play sports can be broadly divided into “open skills” and “closed skills”.
Open skills” are required for sports such as baseball, where environmental factors such as type and speed of pitch change from moment to moment, while “closed skills” are required for sports such as gymnastics and swimming, where the environment is fixed to a certain extent. Thus teaching/learning approaches my differ depending on the characteristics of the sport.

Sadamitsu: I personally was extremely poor at sports, but the other day I heard about so-called yuru (“lax”) sports, and I was most intrigued. By equalizing physical ability, it is possible for everyone—even those who are poor at sports—to enjoy playing sports together.
I feel that before undertaking either sports or study, the first priority is to get the learners interested, and to do that I think it is extremely important that the activity be enjoyable.

Image: Scene showing Masahiro Nakano (Communication Science Laboratories) explaining to discussion participants about slightly unusual research his laboratory is conducting regarding omuraisu (omelet-on-rice).

With a view to the year 2020 and beyond, what do you think about the future of communication technologies that support young people’s growth, and what are your dreams as a technician?

Sadamitsu: Firstly, I would like to be able to supplement creativity. For example, if there is something that you want to make but cannot make yourself, you could make the creation a reality using a 3D printer. I think it would be tremendously fun if a world arrived in which young people were able to compete based on their own ideas. Secondly, regional invigoration—I myself am from a region outside Tokyo, and I feel that the question of how regional towns and cities can survive in the future is an extremely difficult one. For example, I think that tourism resources could be used more effectively with the help of technology. Also, as with the yuru sports I mentioned earlier, I think there is also room for people to take the perspective of enjoying limitations.

Funada: My dream is to realize a world in which “things” can be shared through telecommunications. Although various things have been connected through communications, these are not in constant use.
There are many things that are not being constantly used. If these things were mutually shared and accommodated by everyone, it would become possible, for example, for young people to study using high-quality resources without having to spend a lot of money—a shift from an age of owning things to an age of sharing them. I think that new possibilities will spread.

Nakano: I want to fast-forward the history of technological developement. I am sure that this is something that researchers feel on a daily basis, but creating something new is enormously difficult.
Nearly everything is a combination of “new” technologies created by our predecessors. Something truly new is something that has been created through the mometum of many researchers—through human-wave tactics, to put it very roughly.
By adding this search capabilty to calculators, I anticipate that it will become possible to fast-forward technological advancement.

Harada: Perhaps because I originally studied the natural sciences, I firmly place emphasis on humans and believe that “communications must not get in the way of humans”.
I have heard about people becoming depressed because their SNS messages were ignored, and it certainly isn’t healthy for people to be pushed around by communication tools. Similarly, I have always questioned whether convenience is truly good for humans.
For example, I think that perhaps “inconvenient” experiences such as listening to records can have effects such as bringing people enjoyment, honing their senses, and enabling them to learn as humans.

Inovative Insights


Despite “play” being a theme that is slightly removed from the technicians everyday research fields, unique opinions and ideas flew about the table one after the other as the discussion became increasingly lively.
There were many instances in which participants made mutual realizations, and even after returning to their respective laboratories, the discussion will undoubtedly have provided useful hints for their future research and activities in the field of communications technology.