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Thinking about the play and learning activities
that can be expanded through the use of communication technologies at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and Paralympics and beyond

Masahiro Nakano NTT Communication
Science Laboratories
Kei Harada NTT Network
Innovation Laboratories
Masashi Funada NTT Network
Service Systems Laboratories
Kugatsu Sadamitsu NTT
Media Intelligence Laboratories

Which latest communications technology relating to “play” has impressed you?

Funada Recently I’ve been looking at 3D head-mounted displays. Not only have various devices been released, but people can now develop their own content because a development environment is also provided.
On your head-mounted display, you can now move and enjoy 360-degree views of characters that other people have created. This is a brand new experience.

Sadamitsu It’s probably got to be the 3D printer. You can create things anywhere, as long as you’ve got the data. It really is ground-breaking. In fact, inspired by a manga, I once researched building a voice-activated 3D printer.
For example, if you said “red car” or “fast-looking car”, it would be able to edit and print a car that looked red or fast. This would create a magical feeling. I think 3D printers will be able to do even more interesting things in the future by combining it with words and communication.

Harada I was impressed by the mobile phone game StreetPass. Up until now, it was impossible to do this unless you had one-on-one communication using a communications cable, but you can now unwittingly communicate with dozens of people just by commuting on the train.
The technology is amazing enough, but I’m also surprised that you can now exchange information with strangers without realizing it. Children nowadays are part of the so-called “digital native” generation and consider these sorts of functions to be commonplace. I think the difference in ways of thinking and values is a gap that must be filled in the future.

Nakano I think the recent DTM (desktop music) is great. Firstly, a sampling tone generator allows you to play, for example, the sounds from a valuable grand piano costing several million yen on your own keyboard at home.
Then you’ve got mastering. Most people mistake loud sounds for good sounds, so when they produce music, they increase the volume at the last stage. However, that job is certainly not simple, because sound is displayed in wave form.
With the current tools, you can easily increase the volume without hardly distorting the sound. I feel that technology is evolving.

Sadamitsu It’ll get even more interesting when communications technology can create simultaneity, such as playing a music session with musicians who are in remote locations.

Which old play that you used to do would you like to combine with the latest communications technology?

Funada Children are good at playing with the things that are around them. For example, they can use a smartphone to measure their position from the strength of the WiFi signal, or they can point a camera at someone and use AR to tell whether they are an enemy or a friend. Your enjoyment of old-fashioned play, like cops and robbers (a Japanese tag game), would change considerably if you could add these sorts of elements to them.

Harada The one I think I would have played would have been tag with GPS. I think it would be fun to play it on a big scale. For example, you could run away in a train, because you could still be tracked with GPS.

Sadamitsu We were talking about 3D printers just now, but it may be possible to use them to make weapons, on the spot, during a game of something like tag.

Funada And then, for example, if that weapon could be recognized by a smartphone, you would be able to know its attack strength. I think technology would rapidly increase the enjoyment of these games.

Looking ahead to 2020, can you think of a method that would dramatically help people learn a play or a sport?

Funada When you’re learning things, there’s not always just one correct answer. Everyone is different, with their own builds, their own personalities and their own levels of motivation. Maybe you need to take all of that into consideration? In that respect, I suppose that the first thing you have to do is learn about the actual person.

Harada I’ve been doing various sports since I was young, such as synchronized swimming, cheerleading, lifesaving etc. The thing I felt from those experiences was the fact that the coach who teaches you the correct answers is the most important element.
Someone with experience who can understand a player in terms of the differences in build and in personality. I think that finding out how to train wise coaches is going to become an important challenge.

Nakano At the research institute where I work, we have a slightly odd research about making someone who has never made a rice omelette before learn how to make one just by showing them videos of people making good rice omelettes.
We believe that it is possible and that all you need is machine (computing) power and computer vision, but I’m not sure whether you can apply the same thing to the high levels that athletes operate at. It is very interesting to think about the theme of learning.

Sadamitsu Another research institute did some work about playing a video of someone pitching on a head-mounted display and studying the eye movements of players during a game by VR for training.

Harada Broadly speaking, you need “open” skills and “closed” skills for sports. An environment like baseball, where the type and speed of a pitch change every time, is open, but sports like gymnastics and swimming, where the environment can, to a certain extent, be fixed, are closed. The required approach may change depending on these sorts of attribute.

Sadamitsu Personally, I was really bad at sports, but recently I’ve learned about “Yuru Sports”, like bubble football, and really identify with them. Everyone can enjoy playing these sports together, because they bring everyone down to the same level.
I feel that the top priority before learning any sport, is to get the person interested in it, and I think that making it enjoyable is really important in order to achieve that.

Looking beyond 2020, please tell us what you think will happen to the communications technology that supports the growth of young people
and what you, as an engineer, hope to achieve.

Sadamitsu One thing is the addition of creativity. For example, if there is something that you want to make but can’t make by yourself, a 3D printer will do it for you. I think it will be really interesting if we have a world in which young people can compete on the basis of their ideas.
Another thing is the revitalization of regional areas. I’m from the countryside and I think that how those regions are going to survive is an extremely difficult problem. For example, I think that funds for tourism can be used more effectively through the use of technology. As with Yuru Sports just now, there’s nothing wrong with having an attitude of enjoying restrictions.

Funada My dream is to create a world where people can share things though communication. Communication has allowed us to connect various things, but they are not always used. There are many things that are not being used.
I would like everyone to share things and communicate with each other, for example young people would be able to learn by sharing high quality resources without having to spend money. I want to move from the age of owning things to the age of sharing things. I think new possibilities will emerge and increase.

Nakano I would like to fast-forward the history of technology. This is something that researchers feel every day, but it is incredibly difficult to create new things. Most of them are combinations of new technologies that our predecessors have created, and the only really new things are created by large numbers of researchers en masse, or to put it crudely, in a labor-intensive way.
I would like to be able to fast forward the development of technology, by adding the power to search to a calculator.

Harada It maybe because I come from a natural sciences background, but I believe in the concept of placing importance on human beings and think that communication should definitely not interfere with humans. I’ve heard of people getting depressed because they weren’t getting any replies to their SNS messages, when they could tell that they had been read. But it is not healthy to be at the beck and call of communication.
In a similar vein, I always question whether being useful is really a good thing for the human race. For example, you may experience inconvenience with a vinyl record, but I think it also has the effect of allowing you to feel pleasure, honing your hearing and helping you learn.

Even though the theme of “play” is far removed from the areas that the engineers normally work in,
they engaged in a lively discussion that was informed with a series of
distinctive opinions and ideas.
They often attracted each other’s attention, so we hope that it will be useful to their future research and activities
in communications technology on their return to
their respective research institutes.