R&D TECHNOLOGIES

Cutting-edge NTT communication technology that will change the world

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R&D TECHNOLOGIES

NTT’s communication technologies light up
the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Torch Relay

Connection between people and the light of hope relayed by the Olympic Torch

In 2020, COVID-19 stripped us of the normal behavior such as gathering, cheering and sharing moments. Realizing once again the importance of connecting and being connected, NTT as a presenting partner supported the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Torch Relay, which had started in March 2021 with the power of communication technology. Under the slogan “CONNECTING WITH HOPE—connecting everyone with the light of hope,” NTT helped connect the Olympic Torch’s light of hope to all corners of Japan.

Despite the circumstances preventing people from travelling and communicating face-to-face, NTT applied its cutting-edge communication technology to achieve an Olympic Torch Relay that enabled people across Japan to participate safely and securely. At the celebrations in Osaka and Yokohama, NTT demonstrated unprecedented interactive performances, including a stage combining entertainment with ultra-realistic communication technology Kirari!, and a stage direction using Kirari! and 5G to teleport images of performers in real time. It also served as an opportunity to demonstrate the usage of communication technology in the COVID-19 era and how it could bring about new value and experiences.

Here are NTT’s latest efforts that will lead to new ways of enjoying sports and entertainment showcased through stage programs, activities and exhibition programs at the NTT Presents Tokyo 2020 Olympic Torch Relay Celebration, with an eye to the post-COVID-19 era.

TECHNOLOGIES

NTT’s communication technology brings new forms of entertainment

Held in April and June 2021, NTT Presents Tokyo 2020 Olympic Torch Relay Celebration served as an innovative event, held in Osaka and Yokohama, to merge NTT’s communication technology with art and entertainment to transmit joy and touching moments to people.

Out of these, the performance by GENERATIONS From EXILE TRIBE, which was choreographed with NTT’s ultra-realistic communication technology Kirari! suggested new possibilities for entertainment and sports viewing in today’s world of COVID-19 pandemic, in which enjoying entertainment and watching sports like before became difficult.

On the day of the event, the performance by the dancers was extracted by Kirari! and displayed at a remote location as if they were teleported, enabling viewers to enjoy a fully immersive experience, singing and dancing without being at the live venue, with fans and performers dancing together by the video of the fans in the audience area with a technology compositing the images in real time, creating a new form of being connected, and new live entertainment experiences.
Traditionally, extracting specific images from the background required the images to be taken in front of a single-colored (usually green) screen. Kirari! is a communication technology that can extract images of specific individuals with great precision and transmits them to remote locations in real time, without using a special background like the green screen. It also synthesizes videos from multiple 4K cameras seamlessly in real time, even reproducing the openness of space at super-high resolution.

  • Image of Mandy Sekiguchi extracted when he was dancing, transported among the audience
    Image of Mandy Sekiguchi extracted when he was dancing, transported among the audience
  • Presenters wow at the images of individual dancers being cut out and synthesized instantly
    Presenters wow at the images of individual dancers being cut out and synthesized instantly

*1: Kirari! Releasing to the world in real time an ultra-realistic sense of being there

—Advancing research and development of immersive telepresence technology Kirari!

TECHNOLOGIES

Video direction dreamed by display bots, delivering people’s wishes

At the celebration, “display bots” (self-driving robots) made an appearance, driven and projecting images by NTT’s Swarm communication control technology as part of the event direction to support the torchbearers. On the day of the event, under NTT’s art direction “Stream of Hope” designed in collaboration with world-class media art research institution (*2), countless display bots created a fantastical “torch kiss” scene.

“Stream of Hope” stage direction involving display bots and the Olympic Torch
“Stream of Hope” stage direction involving display bots and the Olympic Torch

Display bots moved about, sometimes in perfect coordination and sometimes individually as if they each had their own will, thanks to advanced communication control, high-accuracy location services and 5G communication technology, presenting freely harmonious media art with smooth movements and videos on display.

“Stream of Hope” stage direction involving display bots and the Olympic Torch

The display bots displayed not just the video art, but smiling faces and messages from the fans, moving alongside the torchbearers, creating scenes as if people were cheering on the roadside. Display bots harbor much potential as a medium to deliver people’s wishes and hopes beyond using the robots for artistic stage choreography.

*2: Ars Electronica Futurelab
Based at Ars Electronica Center in Linz, Austria, the organization has engaged in media art research, education and social activities since its founding.

TECHNOLOGIES

More immersive than ever imagined: Virtual torch kiss with Kei Nishikori

The celebration saw a display of NTT’s most advanced communication technologies as well as a booth to enable visitors to experience the technologies first-hand. One such experience was the “virtual torch kiss.”

A “torch kiss” is the passing of the Olympic Torch from a torchbearer to the next torchbearer. The Olympic Torch, an Olympic symbol, is relayed to the next torchbearer with the hopes of many people it carries. It is a moment of extreme tension and emotion for the torchbearers and audience alike. The torch kiss, which is usually an experience for only selected people, was virtually offered to many people with the ultra-realistic communication technology Kirari! mentioned earlier.

People enjoying the torch kiss experience with a hologram of Kei Nishikori
People enjoying the torch kiss experience with a hologram of Kei Nishikori

With this experience, anyone can exchange a virtual torch kiss with a hologram of NTT Tokyo 2020 Olympic Torch Relay Supporting Ambassador Kei Nishikori. Aligning the timing with each other, Kei and the visitor bring their torches close together till the light transfers. Sounds easy? But this is actually backed by the most advanced communication technology.

For instance, the image of Kei holding the torch is an image extracted from a video taken at another location, using Kirari!’s super-precise video-clipping technology. Unbelievably, NTT’s most advanced communication technology, Kirari!, is also able to extract Kei’s image, and only Kei’s image, out of the background even if he is playing a vigorous match on the actual tennis court, clearly according to the outline of his image.

TECHNOLOGIES

Virtual torch kiss anyone can enjoy with all their senses

Kei extracted by Kirari! is teleported, emerging before the visitor because of another key factor that we call Kirari! super-realistic, namely, the approach that has been taken regarding our tactile senses as well. The virtual torch kiss experience involved a vibrating torch that reproduced life-like sensations of the flame approaching, the moment the torches touch, and the feeling of the flame continuing to glow. Reproducing the vibration from the torch involved extremely demanding development that focused on the subtlest of sensation, bringing a totally new virtual experience that involves sight and hearing as well as a surprise factor that has never been seen before. This made the virtual torch kiss a program that could also be enjoyed with all of one’s senses.

We asked people with visual disabilities their impressions of the virtual torch kiss, involving the vibrating torch.

“The moment I felt the vibration, I could feel the torch being ignited. It was incredible. Even after that, a natural vibration continued that was different from the way mobile phones vibrate, giving me the sensation that the torch was actually burning. Apparently, the vibration is made based on the actual sound of a flame, so it felt so real and wonderous. For people with visual disabilities there is a limit to how much we can rely on just sound to perceive things, so I feel that there is great potential in communication technologies that deliver information and messages through vibration.”

  • Bringing the torch kiss experience to people with visual disabilities, using the torch vibration choreography system
    Bringing the torch kiss experience to people with visual disabilities, using the torch vibration choreography system
  • “The moment I felt the vibration, I could feel the torch being ignited. It was incredible,” said Mr. Ikematsu, smiling.
    “The moment I felt the vibration, I could feel the torch being ignited. It was incredible,” said Mr. Ikematsu, smiling.

We know the real Kei isn’t there, but it feels as if he is.
Even though we know it’s not a real flame, it feels as if it is burning in our hand.
This unique sense of reality surprised the people who experienced it. The virtual torch kiss based on Kirari! communication technology enabled people to experience what only torchbearers could experience before, such as how the flame flickered, the sound, and the weight of the torch.

TECHNOLOGIES

Combining Kabuki with communication technology to connect Japan’s culture to the world

Connecting Japan’s traditional culture to the next generation, and to the world.
To do that, NTT has been producing various collaborative works including spatial presentations involving ultra-realistic communication technology Kirari!. This time, NTT demonstrated an interactive activity that combined Kabuki with communication technology, and further, with the Olympic Torch Relay.

Combining Kabuki with communication technology to connect Japan’s culture to the worl

The most advanced technology used here is NTT’s angle-free object detection technology. The technology enables visitors to have kabuki’s unique kumadori makeup transposed onto their own face to turn into a kabuki actor for a photoshoot, by just holding up the chosen makeup pattern over one’s face for a few seconds.
The angle-free object detection technology is able to detect objects much more accurately than the usual facial recognition features seen on smartphone cameras, able to detect and identify people’ s faces even if they are not looking straight ahead. The technology can accurately detect not just the pattern but exactly which out of a multitude of hand-painted kumadori makeup patterns that often look identical to each other the visitor has selected, in real time. The selected kumadori pattern is transposed to the visitor’s face on the monitor and displayed on a large screen. Even if the visitor moves, the face and the makeup stay together perfectly.

  • Torch photoshoot corner Kabuki version and interactive display
    Torch photoshoot corner Kabuki version and interactive display
  • Taking a photo with the Olympic Torch, transforming as a traditional kabuki actor!
    Taking a photo with the Olympic Torch, transforming as a traditional kabuki actor!

At the booth, visitors could hold the torch and strike a pose to enjoy this experience. They were first stunned by the technology transposing the makeup exactly onto their face, then burst out laughing. Some of them felt so involved that they ended up striking a pose while pulling a serious kabuki face. Having been enjoyed by people in various locations including Las Vegas, as well as Fukushima and Kumamoto, cities that are recovering from natural disasters, this activity resulted in a precious program that could only be enjoyed at this time thanks to the integration with the Olympic Torch Relay in 2021.

No one ever imagined that something like COVID-19 could happen. Yet, the crisis served as an opportunity for NTT to strongly appreciate the importance of communication between people, and the significance of pursuing the potential of communication technologies to connect people and enable people to encounter new experiences. Even beyond 2021, NTT will continue to explore new possibilities toward the new future.

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NTT TOKYO 2020 OLYMPIC TORCH RELAY CELEBRATION SECRETARIAT
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NTT Tokyo 2020 Olympic Torchbearer Secretariat
Contactinfo@2020.ntt

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