Research & Development

Interview with Head of Corporate Research & Development Center

R&D work in a wide range of technology areas from the "present" to the "future"

What is the role of the Corporate Research & Development Center within the OKI Group?

The Corporate Research & Development Center is responsible for researching and developing technologies that relate to the entire OKI Group. In addition to R&D of new technologies that will be necessary for OKI's businesses in the future, the center also works cooperatively with the business groups on R&D of leading-edge technologies that link directly to current businesses. In other words, a wide range of technology areas from the "present" to the "future" is the research theme of the Corporate Research & Development Center.

Currently, our main areas of focus are "photonics & electronics," "smart network," "future communication & multimedia processing," and "AI." At the same time, we are focusing on an effort called "the compass function," which uncovers sprouting technologies with potential. Then, based on those technologies and OKI's core technologies we formulate a technical strategy that will link to R&D. I believe it is important that we progress "present" and "future" R&D in a balanced manner.

What are the four technology areas that the Corporate Research and Development Center is focused on?

The first, "photonics & electronics" focuses on expanding OKI's high-speed optical communication technology, which has been cultivated in the communications field, into the advanced sensing area. One of the practical applications of this effort is the "fiber optic sensor" launched in July 2018. Using OKI's original "SDH-BOTDR method (*1)," it has unique characteristics of measuring temperature and strain over a long distance and a wide range in real-time. It can be used for various applications such as monitoring temperature in a factory and monitoring structural integrity of bridges and other structures. Based on the idea that photonics & electronics is an important technology contributing to social needs because it comes from OKI, we will continue to pursue practical use for the technology in new areas.

The second, "smart network" aims to provide new values by integrating OKI's own network and sensing technologies suitable for IoT with data analysis technology. OKI was the first to develop a 920MHz wireless multi-hop communication system in Japan. Using this technology as the core, a variety of sensors can be combined to provide services such as disaster prevention & monitoring, medical care, and nursing care, to realize a more safe, secure and comfortable society. We are also committed to developing battery-powered wireless sensor devices as we will focus on edge processing technology capable of operating in highly restrictive environment.

The third is "future communication & multimedia processing," which aims to create new communication by leveraging voice and image processing technologies that OKI has cultivated in the field of communications. For example, from the perspective of workstyle reform, it is believed that companies that introduce telework will continue to increase. However, there is concern that problems such as diminishing trust and information gap will occur due to the lack of communication with surrounding people. Therefore, making full use of OKI's technologies, we are working on the development of a next generation virtual office that will enhance engagement between the workplace and the employees by providing functions that allow employees to always feel the surrounding atmosphere and talk to colleagues casually even during teleworking. In addition, technology that deals with emotions of people, which is becoming increasingly important, as well as VR and robots are also targets of research. By utilizing these technologies, we will realize public spaces and workplaces that more naturally support human activities.

The fourth is "AI," which is one of the most attention grabbing technologies today.

  • *1 SDH-BOTDR method (*1),: Self Delayed Heterodyne - Brillouin Optical Time Domain Reflectometry (patent pending)

Kiyoshi Yokota

Taking full advantage of OKI's strengths to challenge the "real-digital contact region"

What is your policy for AI?

AI is one of the keywords that symbolize the times, but its applications are very diverse. For OKI, AI is seen as tool to provide customers with the best solution. However, it is a tool that can provide great new values from different perspectives. AI technology alone is not enough. Understanding of customer issues and domain knowledge (knowledge of the target industry) are essential for providing solutions. Valuable data is also necessary to AI. Even if one has excellent AI technology, that alone cannot provide customers with worthwhile solutions.

This is where OKI's strength lies. Centering on social infrastructure, transport, distribution, retail, finance and manufacturing, OKI has built a solid relationship of trust by providing products and solutions that help customers solve their issues. Through these businesses activities, we have accumulated an understanding of customer issues, domain knowledge, and valuable data generated in the field, as well as catching up and building up utilization techniques of the daily-evolving AI technology. Integrating all this and providing optimal solutions to customers is what OKI does best.

I think AI is a technology that supports the three intellectual activities of "recognition," "prediction" and "execution" performed by humans. That is, the digital world "recognizes" the events of the real world, and the digital world "predicts" the future of the real world, then the optimal solution derived from the digital world is "executed" in the real world. The technology that supports this series of processes is AI, and a "real-digital contact region" will always be there. I believe OKI, with its real world strength in understanding of customer issues, domain knowledge, and trust relationships, should focus on not only on the digital world, but also on this "real-digital contact region."

Moreover, OKI has provided products that come in contact with people and society such as ATMs, KIOSKs, ticketing machines and other advanced mechatronic terminals as well as traffic systems and communication terminals. The "real-digital contact region" is where OKI can make the most use of its past technologies and assets. We are challenging to create new values in this region not only with AI, but with all the previously mentioned technology areas focused upon by the Corporate Research & Development Center.

OKI's AI focusing on solving customer issues

What AI technology are you focused on in particular?

Under the major policy of "real-digital contact region," OKI is centering on customers with whom we have built a trust relationship and engaged in R&D of AI technology that those customers need. Specifically, we are developing technologies with distinctive features for each of the "recognition," "prediction" and "execution" areas.

In the area of "recognition," we are particular about environment resistance and real-time capability so that good data can be obtained even under adverse conditions. We are developing technologies for real-time recognition of moving and changing objects such as with road traffic, integration of information from multiple sensors such as cameras and radars, and implementing those in edge devices.

In the area of "prediction," our aim is high reliability and high accuracy. We are developing technologies to make comprehensive decisions using multiple data and methods including real-time and accumulated data, and rule-based and machine learning methods. In addition, we are working on technologies that make it easier to explain the reason for the decisions, and technologies that lighten and speedup the prediction process. These technologies are applied to such areas as traffic probe information analysis and equipment anomaly analysis from logs and vibrations, which will in turn contribute to improving both reliability and accuracy.

In the area related to "execution," we are focused on interaction technologies for collaboration between humans and AIs. Numerous services in which people talk to machines and products, such as smart speakers, have appeared and are expected to increase in the future. Therefore, as an "interaction technology between humans and AIs," OKI is developing an interactive AI technology that uses "laddering method" to draw out the intentions and true needs of a person from the content of the words spoken. The technology is currently offered in a form of an interactive AI engine called "Ladadie®" (*2) but we will continue to refine our interactive dialogue technology. Also in the near future, AI will pervade all parts of society and will begin to interact with each other. Assuming such a future, we have started work on "interaction technology between AIs" so that AIs avoid interference and merge with each other to achieve a goal smoothly, or to achieve greater goals by forming a mutually beneficial relationship. Although R&D for it has just begun, I think the technology will be needed in the future, and we are making a strenuous effort including collaboration with outside organizations.

  • *2 Ladadie is a registered trademark of Oki Electric Industry Co., Ltd.

Industry-academia-government collaboration project launched for ultra-wide range sensing, AI and edge technology development!

What is your latest approach to AI?

There is no doubt that AI will play an important role in social development, but it's also a fact that AI still has many issues. For example, deep learning, in which AI itself extracts data features to make more accurate decisions, is one of the machine learning methods presently attracting attention. OKI is also promoting its use as an actual solution for customers. However, due to the large computational requirement, there are issues such as difficulty with implementing in edge devices. OKI is working on leading-edge research and development on these issues.

A proposal submitted in September 2018 by OKI in collaboration with The University of Aizu (Fukushima Prefecture), Sogo Security Services Co., Ltd. (ALSOK) and Japan Marine United Corporation (JMU) was adopted for part 1, "Development of Innovative AI Edge Computing Technology," of the "Project for Innovative AI Chips and Next-Generation Computing Technology Development" commissioned by the New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO).

The project proposed is the research and development of a three-layer technology composed of a "soft tensor processor technology" that executes deep learning with high power efficiency, a "high efficiency modeling technology" that builds a high efficiency and compact deep learning model, and a "wide-area large-scale recognition technology" that builds a model enabling detailed situational awareness even of remote locations based on ultra-high definition images. With this project, we are looking toward an AI edge technology capable of ultra-wide area and high-definition sensing from cameras installed in cars, ships, and high places using extremely low power.

Of the three layers, OKI will be fully responsible for the development of the high efficiency modeling technology. The technology will reduce the load of deep learning as much as possible to allow processing in edge devices. Our aim is to apply the results of our research on the issues of deep learning mentioned above to practical use. For OKI, which is aiming not only to use AI, but also to provide new values to the problems it faces, this project has very significant meaning.

Are there pleased faces beyond the end of R&D?

What is your motto for R&D?

I think the most important thing is to firmly draw out the exit of R&D. By developing the technology, who will be pleased, what kind of contribution will it make to society, and what meaning will it have for OKI? It is important to keep these thoughts in mind while engaging in daily R&D, and I think that it will also lead to one's own motivation. For this reason, I tell the members of the Corporate Research & Development Center to "clarify the exit for R&D."

Another phrase I tell my members is,"Devotion beats effort(*3)."It is a phrase that Yo Shitara, president of the select shop "BEAMS," uses in various media and is also one of my favorites. No matter how many times I tell myself "I have to do this" and put effort into a thing, I cannot win over people who are engaged into the same thing with deep craze or devotion.

Our R&D is the same. I think if you really like R&D, or you want to make everyone happy with the technology that you developed, or you want do something useful for society then become engrossed in work with passion, it will always lead to good results.

That is why we at the Corporate Research & Development Center want to become engrossed in R&D work while envisioning those pleased faces. By providing products and solutions that are the fruits of our R&D effort, we want to support the infrastructure of a safer and more convenient society, and contribute to the realization of a comfortable and affluent life for people all over the world.

  • *3 Quote: "Devotion beats effort," Yo Shitara, President and CEO, BEAMS Co., Ltd.

Special Contents