Interview with Professor Shinoda: "I want to see the moment the world changes." A little cartoonist dreamt of becoming a researcher
SOSEI Interview Series:
Airborne ultrasound tactile display (AUTD)
Shinoda and Makino Laboratory develops AUTDs with numerous ultrasound-emitting transducers arrayed, which can produce touch sensations on the human skin with no gear equipped on the user by making a focal point of ultrasound and small-sized pressure patterns.
The cover story of the Graduate School of Frontier Sciences (GSFS) magazine SOSEI Vol. 40 is "The Forefront of VR: Possibility of Haptics." It widely introduces VR research conducted at the Kashiwa Campus, the home ground of the GSFS. The supervisor of the cover story of this issue, Professor Hiroyuki Shinoda, is an expert in cutting-edge research on haptics interfaces. He specializes in haptics interaction research, two-dimensional communication, measurement, and sensing technology, as well as mid-air haptics technology. Aiming at basic and universal achievement based on innovative ideas, he also strives to establish the application process of these technologies in order to make the technologies widely used in various fields.
This interview series is focused on the personal histories of the SOSEI's cover story supervisors.
Q: What did you like when you were a child?
When I was little, I liked plastic models. I would build models in bed before I slept. I was always planning how to modify them, reading the instructions. Besides, I was also dreaming of being a cartoonist when I grew up. At that time, popular comic magazines, such as Shonen Jump and Shonen Champion, were first published. I especially loved the biographical comic of Fujiko Fujio, Manga Michi (Manga Roads), so I repeatedly read it, probably tens of times. I wanted to be a cartoonist and was seriously into drawing comics until I became a junior high school student.
Q: How was your high school time?
I once got injured when I was playing soccer and was hospitalized. I had plenty of time and was bored, so I started to read a math study aid book. I found it very interesting and absorbed in math and physics as well. Then I became adoring Einstein. I thought it was cool that theory changes the world like the theory of relativity did.
Q: What made you choose to be a researcher?
First, I chose the University of Tokyo because I liked its entrance exam. I tried to solve math problems in past entrance exams of many universities. Then I found the questions of the University of Tokyo's exams fascinating to tackle, and I thought the university would rather be the easiest for me to pass. So, I decided to apply, passed the entrance exam, and studied in the course of Natural Sciences I. After finishing the mandatory liberal arts educational curriculum, I proceeded to the Department of Applied Physics, School of Engineering. As a senior student, high-temperature superconducting oxides were found, which was revolutionary. So I decided to study at the laboratory of Professor Shoji Tanaka and Assistant Professor*1 Kunimitsu Uchinokura. As it was the era of global competition, the laboratory was full of excitement and liveliness. The time was the bubble economy of the late 1980s. Expensive cars and things were selling like hotcakes. We had an illusion that our worldly desires were satisfied. However, I noticed that a dream of humans flying freely alone had yet to be realized. So, I chose to study in the Department of Mathematical Engineering and Information Physics to design a small helicopter that would never fall. While I was there, I researched non-contact sensors to measure the hardness of materials. What I learned from the professors and senior students at the laboratory of Professor Hiro Yamasaki and Assistant Professor*2 Shigeru Ando was how to pursue and conduct research, which became the base of my research later.
*1, *2: Then assistant professor in the Japanese academic post system corresponds to the current associate professor.
Q: What do you like most about research?
Sharpening and assembling materials, soldering, and programming...thinking about the process, imagining the completed work. I love the time when I am actually making something. Not much has changed from my childhood time when I was making plastic models. Recently I don't make things myself much, but instead, I enjoy planning how to advance research.
Q: Would you tell us about an impressive experience in your research life?
When I was around 30 years old, I got married and just started my laboratory. I was pressured and mentally depressed with future anxiety. At that time, I read an impressive message written in the book called "Muri shinai hito hodo tsuyoku nareru" (If you are more relaxed, you can be stronger) by Professor Taizo Kato. It read, "Effort to make yourself look kind and reliable to others and effort to purely make others happy is almost the opposite." It meant that trying to be a good man is very stressful, and people don't truly like you. But if you just try to make people happy, you can feel powerful energy in yourself, and things improve. This book saved me.
Q: What is your goal and dream now?
I want to achieve the reproduction of tactile sensations, which is almost achieved but has yet to be precisely achieved. The technique is still in its infancy, and we need to solve the problems over it. Nevertheless, I am really looking forward to seeing how people will use tactile sensation reproduction technology.
Q: How will the meaning of meeting people face-to-face change if tactile sensation reproduction technology is established?
People want to meet others face-to-face for many reasons. You may want to exchange information while catching facial expressions meaning or actual atmosphere. You may want some information that you want to talk about in a whispering voice, or you want people to understand your passion and energy directly, and so on. When people have these reasons, the purpose of the conversation is to deliver information with some sensations and perceptions. I believe that these sensations and perceptions will be able to be delivered online when technologies are developed. However, if you want to show your sincerity that you made an effort to come to see someone in person, it has a significant meaning that you are physically there. If you see a person, a flesh-and-blood, struggling to shovel snow, you naturally feel like helping her/him. There are many cases in which you get an emotion from someone or something actually being there, and the importance of these direct interactions will always remain the same. Therefore, the distinction between communication methods will be clearer; light communications will shift to online, and important communications will remain face-to-face.
Q: Do you have a message for students?
Values of things and matters change over time. Older generations may consider some of your ideas trivial and worthless to work on seriously. Still, they may turn out to be innovative ideas for the next generation. If you have any idea you feel valuable, do not take in others' contempt but embrace it.
Interview and text: Mayuko Araragi
Photo: Ryusuke Honda
Department of Complexity Science and Engineering
Graduate School of Frontier Sciences
The University of Tokyo
Department of Applied Physics, Graduate School of Engineering, the University of Tokyo
Department of Engineering, the University of Tokyo
Department of Complexity Science and Engineering, Graduate School of Frontier Sciences, the University of Tokyo
Department of Computer Science, Graduate School of Information Science and Technology, the University of Tokyo
Department of Engineering, the University of Tokyo
University of California, Berkeley
Tokyo University of Agriculture
He loves coffee, the Kashiwa Campus Library when lit up after dark, the Kombukuro Pond, Natural Museum Park by the Kashiwa Campus, and the wide pathways extending from the park to the Kashiwa-no-ha Campus Station.
SOSEI Vol.41 Published on May 9
Cover story: REDEFINE THE VALUE OF WATER FOR BETTER SOCIAL SYSTEMS