The ability to conceive an entire system
Shinichiro HARUYAMA, Ph.D.
DProfessor, Graduate School of SDM, Keio University
The ability to conceive an entire system
Greater importance is being placed on the ability to conceive entire systems in virtually every aspect of engineering and the social sciences. In engineering, an exciting new technology invention is often useless unless it can be utilized by society. That is why the educational and research approach at the Graduate School of System Design and Management goes beyond simply studying individual technologies. We try to discover society's and users' requirements, identify potential problems and articulate how the technology will function overall and what use it will be to society. Only then do we commence detailed investigations.
Conceiving new communications and new applications as systems
During the 1990s, I was involved in the design and development of a new type of integrated circuit for communications in the United States; in the 2000s, I researched new communications methods in Japan. Regardless of thecountry, it’s a universal fact; you can propose and develop all of the new systems you want, but no one will use them unless they perceive them to be necessary. Applications like Twitter and Facebook only began to spread because users found them to be extremely convenient. At the SDM, I advocate that we first imagine the kind of communications society will engage in in the future and then start to conceptualize the communications and applications that users will want.
Example recommendations for new communications systems
High-speed communications systems for Shinkansen trains
Shinkansen during laser
It has become commonplace for people to use mobile telephones and smartphones to connect to the Internet, send and receive electronic mail, and search for information using a browser. Such services are perfectly fine in environments that have access to high-speed communications, but they quickly become unusable at the speeds traveled by Shinkansen trains. Current wireless communications technology is unable to simultaneously provide the large-volume services to a number of Shinkansen travelers. The biggest bottleneck to this is the transmission between the train and ground stations. For the past several years, we have been involved in joint research on this topic with JR's Railway Technical Research Institute, and in 2010, succeeded in an experiment to use lasers to achieve transmission rates of 1 gigabit per second. The photograph provides an illustration.
Being the first in the world to establish this ultra-high-speed communications technology, we set up a Railway Services Laboratory in the SDM Research Institute in 2011 to study new railway services for the future.
Most of today's terminals have built-in GPS transceivers, which are used for navigation, and more recently, for information on nearby shops. These applications are truly convenient, but there is at least one problem. Service is suddenly disrupted the minute you go indoors because GPS frequencies are no longer received. We are trying to address this by creating an indoor positioning system. There are in fact a large number of new indoor positioning systems under development, many of which are able to detect your position indoors within a few meters. As we believe that indoor navigation requires greater precision than outdoor navigation does, we developed a system that can detect position within centimeters in 2010. The photograph shows an example using a wheelchair robot. The robot is able to move on its own by capturing its position with centimeter-order precision.
Wheelchair robot moving with centimeter-order precision
based on position information received from LED lights
We are developing this technology for smartphones as well as robots. We are trying to see not only the "trees" of precision positioning technology, but also the "forest" of new service concepts.
Design Project ALPS (Active Learning Project Sequence)
One of the highlights of SDM is the Design Project ALPS (Active Learning Project Sequence). This program brings us together with MIT, Stanford University, Delft University of Technology, and numerous companies to investigate real themes in today's society. Student groups engage in rigorous discussion and debate as they search for new systems that will change the world. One of my jobs is to coordinate among the four universities and the corporate participants.
In ALPS, we teach presentation skills, leadership, and system design by asking teams to design prototypes of new products and services. Each year we choose a new theme such as "system design to improve the lives of the elderly," "sustainable communities," and "safety and security." Student teams work through a number of processes as they identify and explore new ideas. Since AY2010, we have been asking companies to identify issues within the theme and then we spend six months investigating those issues before reporting our findings to them. This approach has earned high marks from corporate participants. "Symbiosis and Synergy" is the theme of the AY2011 projects.
ALPS places particular emphasis on the ability to imagine new concepts. Students gain practical experience using techniques and methods that help them come up with completely new ideas.
Students attending SDM
At SDM, we teach students to "see the forest as well as the trees." We want them to be thoroughly versed in their areas of expertise, but we also want them to be able to think about how their ideas can be used by society on a large scale. When you try to investigate overarching systems (try to see the forest), you must have your own area of expertise (an understanding and experience of the trees) or you will be unable to make significant, substantive recommendations. SDM welcomes people who have this kind of orientation and grounding and want to make a difference in the world.