"A Vision of the World Where People Use Sound to See, Connect, and Enjoy" - Serial Articles in 2020 by President, CEO
Fuji Sankei Business i, 15 times in total, 2020
Atsushi TAKIGAWA – President, CEO of Evixar Inc.
After graduating from the Faculty of Commerce and Management at Hitotsubashi University, Takigawa founded the IT startup Evixar in 2004 and serves as its president. He noticed and started riding the emerging trend of digital contents distribution from 2008, by developing automatic contents recognition (ACR) technology and acoustic communication technology ahead of the competition. These technologies have been successfully applied to television, motion pictures, theaters, and disaster prevention/mitigation, among other fields. Takigawa has also enabled barrier-free enjoyment of movies by using smartphones and popularized the use of subtitle glasses. Takigawa was born in 1979, and was born and raised in the historic, scenic prefecture of Nara.
Remarks: The articles on this page have been translated from the Japanese newspaper series into English.
1. Audio Signal Processing Gives Birth to the Subtitle Glasses,
on 7 April 2020, Yahoo! news’s reproduce on 11 April 2020
Remarks: The articles on this page have been translated from the Japanese newspaper series into English.
These subtitle glasses, called “Jimaku Megane (literally ‘subtitle glasses’ in Japanese),” are essentially a text-guidance display device that can be worn by the user like regular eyeglasses. The subtitles indicated on the transparent lenses can be viewed as though they are on the movie screen, so the device enables those with hearing disabilities to enjoy movies. This solution, which lets disabled individuals watch and enjoy movies on the same screen simultaneously with individuals without hearing impairments, is a concept that has been tested in the film industry over the years. As such eyeglass-style devices had not spread, it was decided to rent out these subtitle glasses which are based on the concept.
Meanwhile, to offer a similar solution for the visually impaired, a free audio guidance app called HELLO! MOVIE has also been released, which lets individuals with impaired vision hear audio descriptions of what’s going on in the movies through their smartphone earphones, either on iOS or Android. As smartphones have become widespread, users can enjoy using the app on their own devices. The app has been popular since around 2015.
The company behind the development and provision of these Jimaku Megane and HELLO! MOVIE app services is Evixar Inc., and I’m its president. Evixar’s main business is audio signal processing, and we basically develop what’s commonly known as seed technology. In this article series, I’d like to explain to readers how novel technologies and systems get their names and what their key points are, such as how a certain application of audio signal processing technology became Jimaku Megane, while also taking into account various social themes like the sustainable development goals (SDGs).
During the proof-of-concept experiments on using the device in movie theaters, both the business requirements and technical requirements were identified, which included the following:
– The app must work properly in any movie theater nationwide with the existing equipment, set-up, etc.
– It must be very easy to operate.
– It must function properly when the smartphone is in airplane mode, with all signal transmission functions disabled, etc.
Such requirements happened to match what Evixar’s acoustic synchronization system could achieve. By installing a function into eyeglass-style devices and smartphones that can identify the exact scene of a movie that is playing at any given moment based on the sound from the movie, the users can receive synchronized subtitle and audio guidance data on their devices in a manner similar to augmented reality (AR), without having to perform any complex operations.
When I attended a movie-related symposium one day, I was approached by this person with visual impairment, who greeted me and said, “Thanks to this invention, more and more people with impaired vision are watching movies for fun, and I’m one of them.” It’s moments like that when I realize the importance of recognizing and catering to the unique needs and strong wants of those who are struggling with various social issues, in order to find workable solutions.
2. “There Is a Reason Behind Each Victory Won” General-purpose Technologies Are a Culmination of the Necessities of Adoption.,
on 14 April 2020, Yahoo! news’s reproduce on 18 April 2020
Remarks: The articles on this page have been translated from the Japanese newspaper series into English.
In day-to-day operations where seed technologies are handled and promoted, we often hear the term “general-purpose usability.” For instance, a prospective client might say to us, “This is such interesting technology. It has very high general-purpose usability. If we choose to adopt it to replace our current technology, it would open doors to a whole host of new possibilities we could pursue that have not been feasible before.”
This term “general-purpose usability” is understood to mean “characteristics that can be used for various purposes and applications broadly.” Those vying for business opportunities might think the phrase has a positive, idealistic sentiment. Indeed, a conference that I recently attended where the expression was used, turned out to be productive and lively, and the representatives of the prospective corporate client said that they wanted to sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) right away so the parties could start more specific talks, and that the next meeting should be scheduled soon, to be attended by some staff who were more hands-on and also individuals who were authorized to make key decisions.
I am in no position to deny the importance of such business dialogue and process altogether. However, it is a fundamental truth that consumers and prospective customers all want to see their needs and the value provided by available products and services match. So, each self-respecting developer of technology must realize that general-purpose usability is merely a consequence derived from various individual and particular cases in the past.
Indeed, each time I encounter a new first-time user, it’s a consequence of various trial and error. In this context, “first-time users” means those with whom we had no prior contact but were able to win over based on the merit of our suggestions, and excludes those that become our customers in some sort of barter deal and those that previously intended to adopt our technology using the remainder of their annual budget at the end of the year or that had already made a promise to use our technology before it was even developed. So for each engineer that develops technology, an encounter with a first-time user can be viewed as a successful experience achieved after years of hard work. When a company whose operations revolve around developing seed technologies encounters such a first-time user, it must rally all its available internal resources in order to present a business proposal that satisfies all of the customer’s requests.
When a company finds itself in such a fortuitous situation, it must ask questions as to why its technology has been adopted by the customer, why those requirements and requests arose with the customer in the first place, and why no other technology could be used instead, etc., and thoroughly analyze each such case and build up a wealth of related knowledge over time, so that the company’s seed technologies can achieve better general-purpose usability. Accordingly, when I analyze each new case of a first-time user and why it decided to adopt our technological solution, I call my findings “necessities of adoption.”
If such necessities of adoption are a consequence of an intrinsic value that we deliver to our customers, instead of it being a replacement for or an improved version of another technology, our technologies become more differentiated, gain better competitive advantage, and are applied to a wider range of uses, while their general-purpose usability improves. So, general-purpose usability is simply a consequence of the necessities of adoption. And each victory won has an explicable cause.
3. A Look Ahead to the Post-COVID-19 Era: The Secret to a Successful Debut of Proprietary Technology Lies in Accurately Reading Relevant Trends,
on 30 April 2020, Yahoo! news’s reproduce on 7 May 2020
Each year, Gartner, a major U.S.-based consulting firm, publishes a “hype cycle” report that contains analyses of emerging technologies and how they might get adopted by society. The phases that a newly developed technology typically goes through are mapped in a graph, consisting of the following five phrases, distinguished based on how little or widely the technology is used in society: (1) Technology Trigger, (2) Peak of Inflated Expectations, (3) Trough of Disillusionment, (4) Slope of Enlightenment, and (5) Plateau of Productivity.
For me personally, this annual publication from Gartner is a trove of information on the recent trending hot technologies. For a seed technology developer like us, the report is full of important clues that we can use to plan how to launch our proprietary products and services. More specifically, there are two crucial points that one must consider: How to attract as much attention as possible, and which fields might allow us to avoid excessive competition if we introduce our products and services there. In this article, I would like to focus on the former point.
With a desire to focus on some trending hot technology and execute an exciting idea that was never tried before, Evixar provided its audio signal processing technology to the movie Sadako 3D2, which was released in the summer of 2013 through the distributor Kadokawa Shoten. The idea was to amplify the effects of the horror film through the movie audiences’ smartphones, based on a concept called “smart 4D.” So as the audience watched the film while holding their smartphones, their devices threw them a series of surprises, such as receiving phone calls, and the camera function being turned on in sync with what was going on in the film. In this example, the trending hot technologies were the smartphone app, various sensors, and experiential 4D film, while the idea never tried before was using smartphones in movie theaters while the film was being shown.
This project was reported on by a number of media outlets and caught a lot of attention, including winning various creative and new technology awards. Although certain concerns were raised with the project such as the risk of creating an environment conducive to secret photographing/videoing and eavesdropping, we were able to showcase our technological prowess, and started receiving many inquiries on potential new projects with specific suggestions.
When some emerging technologies are already trending and hot, the level of social interest in them is high from the start, and they usually easily attract media coverage. On the other hand, when never-tried-before ideas are suggested, they are criticized for lacking common sense, and must address various risks. So in order for a new seed technology to be launched successfully, it is crucial to not only garner attention but also publicly answer various questions as to how the concept can be turned into reality, in addition to explaining the pending challenges and how they can be overcome.
4. In Technology Branding, It’s Better to Take Time to Cultivate the Desired Brand Perception,
on 12 May 2020, Yahoo! news’s reproduce on 18 May 2020
The practice of branding got its start with luxury goods and premium apparel but later spread to other industries and fields, encompassing even technologies and component parts and their commercialization strategy. As a result, a number of research projects have been done in Japan and around the world involving various case studies on component branding, element branding, engineering branding, etc. Thus, having a sound branding strategy is one of the essential requirements for any seed technology to become a commercial success today.
When people are presented with famous brand names such as GORE-TEX, Dolby, and Shimano, many of them probably conjure up images of winter clothes and rainwear, sound systems in theaters, and bicycles. As the chief role of technology and component branding is to help evoke a sense of trust when prospective customers imagine the sort of performance provided by finished products incorporating those components or elements they are considering purchasing, those brands I mentioned above are functioning properly as expected.
In the case of Evixar and its branding strategy, our first eight years after we started developing seed technologies with full commitment were treated as the preparation period, until we were later able to identify customers’ strong needs for our technical solutions in the field of entertainment. So, we made no effort to brand our technology initially. There were two reasons for this. The first was out of necessity as we were initially unable to provide any clear technical specifications to potential customers. And the second was because we were biding our time until we could clearly visualize our path to victory, in whichever field we entered, to become the top company there.
Dr. Geoffrey Moore, a marketing scholar widely known for his chasm theory, calls such preparation period “the bowling alley.” In niche markets, competition is not as fierce as in mainstream markets, so he argues that it is a very effective approach for a fledgling tech company to first compete in market niches to become a leader there, while building up its know-how and trust along with its overall core competency, and later, to leverage them to launch its brand with a bang. Bowling is a sport in which Moore reckons that even beginners can achieve reasonably high scores. So, in this analogy, company management is like a novice bowler that can at least roll a ball at will, and if the bowler can knock over at least one pin, it might knock over other nearby pins in a chain reaction.
The seed technology of acoustic signal processing that Evixar has developed was initially launched as synchronization technology used in movie theaters, to enhance the experience of watching a horror film. In the ensuing years, we ran a series of proof-of-concept projects to identify various other needs that we could address with our technology, such as barrier-free and foreigner-assisting services, and we were also able to find what our unique value propositions were. As we solved technical problems one after another, we became able to define our product and service specifications, which enabled us to launch our new technology brand, Another Track. This branding process gave us the confidence that we could always offer to our customers “a little something extra” that would be of value to them, in addition to conventional services.
5. The Important Concept of Accessibility,
on 19 May 2020, Yahoo! news’s reproduce on 24 May 2020
As my involvement with barrier-free motion picture and theater experience projects has increased, I have frequently been invited to speak at symposiums for the disabled, where I often exchange ideas and opinions with attendees on possible system designs that would enable them to conveniently leave their homes, get on the right trains and buses, and arrive at the scheduled meeting points, in addition to the system they can use after taking their seat at cinemas and theaters. And the first quote at the top of this article is from a vision-impaired individual I met at one of those symposiums, with whom I chatted to learn some of their needs.
The user assistance functions on smartphones, such as VoiceOver (i.e., the screen reader that converts visual information on the text and buttons displayed on the screen into speech data), magnifier, and dictation, are commonly referred to as “accessibility,” whereas people in Japan are more used to the term “barrier-free” for the same concept. Either way, in order for our society to achieve the key SDGs (sustainable development goals), this concept of accessibility to help users operate their devices freely as they please has become a crucial factor, as our collective commitment to leave no one behind.
In a 2018 project sponsored by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, our company Evixar put together a proposal on how information and communications technology (ICT) incorporating acoustic communication technology could be used to assist foreign nationals and disabled people in the event of an emergency evacuation from an athletics venue, in collaboration with major electronics manufacturers and think-tanks. In this endeavor, we tested the provision of on-site emergency broadcasts and signage in multiple languages and also visualization of audio information, and were able to verify their effectiveness. When tens of thousands of people travel from all over the world to attend events held in one concentrated area, culture gaps and difference in information obtained could result in people following different behavioral patterns in an emergency. As it is essential to leave no one behind in an emergency evacuation, the project required us to have some foreign and disabled people take part in our experiment as key subjects, with a view to applying the aforementioned proposal in everyday activities in addition to evaluating the technology to be adopted for specific athletics events.
At that point, Evixar had already conducted tests at various stadiums across Japan to see how smartphones could be used through simultaneous device control using acoustic communication. So we shared our findings with the project team, while various team members with different specialties actively exchanged opinions, which allowed us to put together concept execution procedures. Then we spent two days testing out the system at Tokyo Stadium (Ajinomoto Stadium) and the Musashino Forest Sports Plaza, both located in Chofu, Tokyo, and were able to successfully prove the effectiveness of the system concept.
In the latter stage of this government-funded project, some experts suggested to us that foreigners and disabled people might also want to understand each oral announcement being made at the event sites. My initial response was to tell those experts that the system requirements had the primary goal of “reliably communicating appropriate information through a stable system.” But then the comment of that vision-impaired person quoted at the top of this article struck me again. It reminded me of the importance of the concept of accessibility, of offering several options to system users which they can use as they like to satisfy their various unique needs, including using their own personal devices, instead of just us providing a fixed system.
6. Utilize Subsidies for Open Innovation,
on 26 May 2020, Yahoo! news’s reproduce on 30 May 2020
In that vein, our company Evixar was able to execute the following key actions in the past five years or so: (1) Become qualified for government-sponsored projects and conducted proof-of-concept experiments; (2) Provided its proprietary technology to co-creative hackathon and ideathon events; (3) Applied for awards; (4) Participated in and cooperated with user groups; (5) Executed an intellectual property strategy including patent publication; and (6) Formed capital investment and business alliances with other major companies, etc. I believe ours is a good example of open innovation by a small to medium-sized enterprise.
In 2017, Evixar applied for a new collaborative program grant (new business field development plan involving collaboration between enterprises operating in different industries) sponsored by the Small and Medium Enterprise Agency, and our proposal to develop and commercialize a highly-mobile stage information communication service for traditional Japanese theater was selected, resulting in three-year government funding for our project activities.
The project team consisted of three companies, including Evixar. The company that would play a central role in the project is a renowned provider of voice guidance services for many years, and also owns a large collection of kabuki drama and bunraku puppet theater contents. The other company is also a well-known player in the world of noh theater, with its history dating back as far as the Edo period. And, of course, the third company is ourselves, Evixar, a startup that owns reliable acoustic communication technology. As each of the three companies would contribute to the project in their respective areas of strength, the stage information provision service could be provided to theaters that are not large.
At first glance, the project might look like a simple collaboration between traditional theater and ICT. However, at its core, the project entailed many success factors that a typical small to medium-sized company cannot provide on its own, such as studying the universal values that users would seek in their theater experience, close and detailed communication with industry insiders, and achievement of a workable system design that considers the rules of theater operation. Also, if any company undertaking such a project lacks effective leadership, it will not be able to set medium and long-term goals, especially given the difficulty of cost estimation. However, in this project, the collaborating companies not only contributed in their respective area of strength and covered each other’s weaknesses to meet the market needs, but also worked together efficiently by first agreeing that the voice guidance company would play the central role. As a result, several dozen theaters nationwide are expected to adopt the system during the government subsidy period, and it has become a model case of the aforementioned new collaborative grant program sponsored by the government.
The presentation that each grant recipient is required to give at the new collaborative grant program’s review meeting is handled by the representative of the project member company that is assigned to handle the central role. In our project, the representative made a powerful plea during the presentation that the target demographic that we wanted to help understand and appreciate traditional Japanese theater the most was actually Japanese, and that we were emotionally dedicated to successfully commercializing the proposed system. The three companies were able to strengthen their working relationships and committed themselves to achieving specific medium and long-term business goals. In short, we were able to make this joint project a great success precisely because none of us did it simply to get the subsidy.
7. Aim for the Award. Create a Story on How Your Technology Emerged and Tell It to the World.,
on 2 June 2020, Yahoo! news’s reproduce on 6 June 2020
In 2017, our company Evixar launched a new technology brand called Another Track, which is an acoustic-communication-based device control solution, which won us multiple awards including an excellent venture technology award presented by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government and an excellent software award, which is a subcategory of the excellent new technology/product awards given to small and medium-sized enterprises, among other prizes. If a seed technology developer is yet to release its technology commercially, it can still send applications to various award-granting organizations. By going through this process, you can gain experience in succinctly putting into words what your technological and service concepts are, and what sort of business plan has been formulated, etc. Then, as you give your presentation for panel review, experts from a wide range of fields offer you insightful critiques. Unlike the real world of business where you are evaluated solely based on the results you have been able to produce, you are allowed to apply for awards with an input-centric mindset and could win an award or recognition for being an up-and-coming company, a diamond in the rough.
In the case of our Another Track technology, the award was given based on the proof-of-concept results and the track record that we had patiently built up over time, as well as the broad range of applications of the technology. For this technology, we were fortunate to have many opportunities to get media exposure, including the interviews I did at the award ceremonies. In those interviews, I not only answered questions on what the term “acoustic communication” means, what the technology could do, how we planned to promote the technology, etc., but was also able to tell the story of our challenging road to fully developing the technology, including the issue that we initially thought was so serious that we decided to embark on the development project, and what sort of trial and error we had to go through to refine the technology. It felt to me like those moments were my post-game interviews, with me being the best-performing player, during which the dots that only us insiders were concerned with became connected and formed our unique storyline to be shared with the public.
Through this sort of storytelling on companies’ technology development, their “reason for being” becomes evident. By being able to objectively tell our story of how we had managed to develop our proprietary technology and have it disseminated through various media outlets, we could recruit new talent and collaborate with major companies, thanks to the strong resonance which was created both internally and externally. Indeed, as seed technology developers often face the complex task of identifying novel market needs for their technologies and cultivating markets for them, it is all the more important to design and set up some sort of mechanism to share spontaneously among team members the right mindset and value system with which to work on the development projects.
In the case of small to medium-sized companies in particular, they usually have low name recognition, and so they tend to be subjugated by larger companies when collaborating with them or engaging in open-innovation endeavors. So for each small and medium-sized tech enterprise, it is crucial to create and be able to tell a captivating story of its technology development. This will not only lend credibility to the specifications of its technology brand, but also show to the public how the technology came into existence.
8. Merchants’ Tasteful Wisdom Bridges the Gap Between Collaborating Companies,
on 9 June 2020, Yahoo! news’s reproduce on 13 June 2020
When small and medium-sized companies participate in open innovation projects, they must usually deal with major companies that are much larger, which may only be ordinary customers but could later form deeper relationships and become “lead users” that can create advanced needs for what the small and medium-sized companies have to offer. And such “lead users” could become joint development partners and even shareholders making capital contributions. So, in order for those small and medium-sized companies to have the right contractual arrangements with their larger partners and also develop reliable trusting relationships with them, it is essential to clearly differentiate between the different stages of such relationships as they progress over time. More specifically, it is advisable to identify the collaborating parties’ shared qualitative objectives based on their quantifiable common interests, formulate their collaborative business plan accordingly, and revisit and revise it from time to time as their joint projects move along. Throughout each of these different phases, it is crucial for the leaders from both sides to adopt the aforementioned merchant mentality and exercise creativity, humility, and patience when dealing with each other to bridge any gap that may exist between them that is not specified in the contract.
In the case of our company Evixar, we spent five years between 2015 and 2020 to cultivate a relationship with a certain major electronics manufacturer through the following steps: (1) repeated commercial transactions, (2) evaluation of competitive advantage, (3) joint experiments, (4) sharing of investment and business strategies, (5) prioritization of prototyping and customization, and (6) collaborative execution of an intellectual property strategy. If a pair of collaborating companies have a shared vision of innovation to identify novel needs for their solutions and create new markets for those solutions, they must also share with each other various issues to be solved jointly, and also hypotheses to be tested together, which might take the form of conversations on the level of performance that must be achieved in order for them to be able to call it a new technology unlike any conventional technology, what sort of track record of reliable operation is required for a technology applied to a certain field to also become applicable to other fields, and the possibility of any already developed solution being combined with a novel technology in order to acquire new customers, etc. As any such partnering companies experience several shifts in their relationship over time and must overcome the challenge of adjusting to their constantly changing roles, they need to learn how to collaborate with and enhance each other in a competitive and yet friendly manner.
This sort of masterful coordination between collaborating parties is easier said than done. From the perspective of small to medium-sized companies, their technologies are their precious asset, and so they might not want to clarify all the associated risks and tend to use ambiguous expressions in order to negotiate better business terms. On the other hand, it is also difficult for large companies to have the courage to invest their corporate resources in highly uncertain projects. So when such partners share their respective issues with each other, it is like revealing their entire game plans.
When our company was building the aforementioned alliance with the major electronics manufacturer, opinions were voiced at some crucial point, asking us why such a large corporation with tens of thousands of employees should pick a small company like ours only having ten-plus workers. But the leader of the team representing the alliance partner vigorously defended the decision to proceed with the partnering deal through strong persuasion. For any collaborating companies working on open innovation projects, whether their joint endeavor succeeds or fails basically depends on whether they can form a trusting relationship as they overcome various challenges. This process can be reinforced if all individuals involved exercise their masterful merchant mentality.
9. The Joy of “Eating from the Same Cooker” with Engineers,
on 16 June 2020, Yahoo! news’s reproduce on 21 June 2020
Since around 2014, our company Evixar has been providing our technology to a number of co-creative hackathon and ideathon events. The term “hackathon” was coined by combining the words “hack” and “marathon,” the former being an expression of intense programming. Participants in such events spend just a few days or weeks creating new products and services that could solve various social issues, and compete with each other on how effective and robust their works are. Event participants are recruited from the general public and typically include engineers, designers, and planners. Even if most people taking part in these events don’t know each other, they might team up on the spot if they find good chemistry and tackle assigned challenges together, which makes for good drama. As contest winners are usually awarded prize money and opportunities to collaborate with event-sponsoring companies, the award ceremonies are usually very exciting.
From the perspective of companies like Evixar providing their technologies, such events can be beneficial in that we receive refreshing feedback from the developers’ perspective, unlike those we get in actual business transactions. Based on such feedback on our proprietary technologies, we obtain a clearer understanding of the format in which we should deliver our technologies to maximize ease of use, what sort of discussions we must have with our collaborators and how we should implement our technologies, and the optimal scope of information disclosure.
As I personally like the atmosphere at such events, I used to attend many of them. I also like the fact that all contestants are given the same material to work with and the same short time to work within, and each of the participating individuals understands the goal of creating new value. There is a tacit rule that each contestant participating in those events must think how best to contribute to the team as a whole, not only by helping create a viable solution but also by being able to communicate and demonstrate the value of the creation, otherwise they will receive a low rating. This resonated with me very much.
Through my own experience, I’ve come to realize that demo sessions with prospective customers are always high-stake situations in which just giving them a quick peek is not sufficient. Depending on the first impression we are able to make, the price of the solution we are pitching could drastically change. Shortly after I founded the company, I felt solely responsible for bringing in as much money as possible to the company by leveraging our technological offerings, and conducted business based on such self-righteous belief, which I now realize is not the right attitude. As corporate activities also consist of short-term projects occurring one after another, they might be viewed as continuous and repetitive acts of creation that the coexisting team members simultaneously become immersed in, through this cycle of conceptualization, prototyping, development, business negotiation, delivery, and implementation/operation. I am still driven by what I felt years ago at the most profound level, which is the joy of working with our engineers with a spirit of friendly competition, to see who can make the most impactful contribution to the team. I consider myself a lucky entrepreneur.
10. In the Post-COVID-19 World, Having a Competitive Edge That Evokes a Sense of Resonance Matters.,
on 23 June 2020, Yahoo! news’s reproduce on 27 June 2020
Indeed, the Japanese word “kyoso (competition)” is said to be one of the concepts translated by Yukichi Fukuzawa. If you look this word up in the dictionary, you will find it defined as an act of multiple parties determining who wins and who loses, or which is superior or inferior, while pursuing common goals, which makes a lot of sense. But some might find that surprising, considering that premodern Japanese history was filled with stories of warlords battling each other constantly. So this “new word” invented by Fukuzawa assumed that those participating in the same competition had some shared purpose. In other words, such concept could be conceived for the first time in history because of the emergence of the monetary economy that helped get rid of the class system and provided a level playing field for us all.
In the historical novel Ryōma ga Yuku, which is set in the same time period, there is a scene where the main character’s private navy and trading company Kameyama Shachū and maritime support force Kaientai are formed. The birth of those new companies are depicted with a great sense of excitement, as they signified novel values during that time where Japan isolated itself from the rest of the world and operated on its rigid feudal system, and an air of hopelessness and entrapment permeated the country. Many readers of the novel were apparently moved and inspired by Ryōma Sakamoto as he challenged and defeated common sense and rigid social constructs, and succeeded in achieving some great feats that had been considered impossible before Ryōma came along. I believe the roots of this concept of kyoso basically stem from our collective courage that seeks freedom and also the human intelligence that our ancestors developed by constantly striving to achieve noble goals.
In the case of Evixar, we are contributing to society through our acoustic signal processing technology. When we are presented with customs and values that are taken for granted by most people, we look deeper to find the social issues that underlie them, and come up with ways to conduct R&D that are consistent with our assessment, based on a deep analysis utilizing our seed technologies. By going through such process, we strive to identify new needs and value propositions for altering the basic way that people behave and to create new markets for our solutions.
As I often revert to the roots of kyoso as explained above, I think of what common defined goals we could pursue along with our competition to successfully commercialize our seed technologies, and then set out to attain a competitive advantage that can evoke a sense of resonance. When undertaking such challenge, we are often faced with the following difficult tasks: (1) We must make the optimal decisions within our risk tolerance while numerical goals cannot be clearly defined. (2) We must formulate and adopt a design method that allows us to discover how our technological solutions could be implemented in society, while meeting extreme or demanding needs. (3) Our technology development morale must be robust enough to be able to boldly implement work-in-progress technologies that are still in their research phase and to drastically modify and improve them again and again, in order to offer fundamental solutions to various social issues. Such endeavors have yielded success in certain cases, as corporate activities have become far more efficient along with the evolution of information and communications technology.
In order to raise the level of competition in the next generation, there must be a culture where various corporate managements can dynamically compete and cooperate with each other while sharing the same noble belief as Ryōma Sakamoto that “each person born into this world must have an assigned duty and mission to accomplish.”
11. Corporate Management’s Own Wellbeing,
on 30 June 2020, Yahoo! news’s reproduce on 5 July 2020
When I was once interviewed by a publishing company, the sales department manager from our company that accompanied me proudly uttered the above sentence in front of me, which caused me to feel proud too. As we live in a time where people’s values are becoming increasingly diversified, company managers are required to become more considerate towards their “internal clients” by paying attention to the level of employee satisfaction, instead of solely focusing on strategies to beat their external competition. So it’s only natural that this concept of wellbeing management has become a hot trend.
The term “wellbeing” implies the importance of each worker finding personal fulfillment and feeling it, including sound physical health, a highly motivated state, and being a good citizen, instead of just being healthy in a passive sense, free of known illnesses, etc. Corporate management comes into the picture in negotiating and achieving alignment between their employees’ individual pursuits and the companies’ business goals.
It’s been more than 10 years since I first embarked on this challenging journey of cultivating seed technologies and growing them into profitable businesses, during which time I came to realize that the essential bridge that connects between the endless endeavor of finding solutions to various social issues, for which there are no specified numerical goals, and the sustainment of employees’ motivation requires the management’s own perceived wellbeing, which I don’t mean in any self-serving or approval-seeking way.
Our company Evixar is a tech startup that had been able to raise funding worth several hundred million yen by 2019. We have been able to obtain financing from individual angel investors, venture capital firms, operating companies, etc. from one phase to another, along with bank loans, to continuously fuel the company’s growth, while constantly struggling to define the right key performance indicators (KPIs) for gauging progress in comparison to our business plan.
While I initially tried to cultivate new needs for our solutions and create customer value at all costs, trying to manage the company entirely myself, I failed to effectively communicate with most of the investors I came across, due to the lack of quantitative evaluation on our part. So when struggling to motivate and empower our employees but not knowing how best to do it, I heard the expression written at the top of this article, which allowed me to relax and just be my true self. Through these experiences, I believe I’ve learned to simply share my happiness of being myself, and to manage our company with my colleagues. This has allowed me to build a strong, united team internally, after so much trial and error.
In recent years, the government of Japan has been promoting a national policy of encouraging people to start their own businesses, as an extension of their research activities and intellectual pursuits. I predict that many successful cases will emerge along with the establishment of tried-and-true theories to replicate those successes, which will lead to the professionalization of entrepreneurship. Along with such trend, one might tend to think that the company one manages or works for should pursue its own unique style. However, both management and employees should go beyond their formal relationship defined in employment contracts and industrial relations, and share and rejoice in each other’s wellbeing, as just colleagues. If a sense of joint ownership can be cultivated, whereby both management and employees share a common vision of how their company should exist and operate, the company will stand a far better chance of surviving any future challenges it faces.
12. Our State-of-the-Art Technology of “Inaudible Sound” Is an Innovation 10 Years in the Making,
on 7 July 2020, Yahoo! news’s reproduce on 12 July 2020
This was the title of a TV program that aired on NHK this past April, which featured how Evixar’s acoustic communication technology was applied to various uses, along with my interview. As the developer of the technology, this experience made me feel proud and blush at the same time.
The term “inaudible sound” means the high-frequency tones that cannot be heard by the human ear. While humans are unable to hear them, we have technology that utilizes smartphones and sensor microphones to acquire and analyze their acoustic signals. The TV program covered this technology, showing viewers how the technology was effectively applied to information security, entertainment, and disaster prediction, among other fields, and could help solve various social issues.
It was around 2008 when Evixar started a project to implement this work-in-progress technology that allowed information to be hidden and embedded within sound, for socially acceptable applications. So when the TV program described our technology as cutting-edge, it had already been 10 years in the making.
In recent years, the technological movement that incorporates entrepreneurial efforts to tackle solutions for various social issues and grow them into viable businesses by cultivating key component technologies is called “deep tech.” In Japan, examples of deep tech include the bio startup Euglena Co., Ltd., which develops and markets euglena-derived products, and Kudan Inc., which is a specialist in spatial and 3D recognition technology. As the overall cost of applying newly developed technologies has come down with the advancement of ICT, this new deep-tech trend has been garnering much attention as a novel approach to market creation.
Since ancient times, the human senses have traditionally been classified into the five categories of sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch. For us humans living in this modern time, it has been estimated that the amount of information that each individual processes each day is equivalent to one year’s worth of information processed by someone living in the Edo period. In this age of information overflow, we must rapidly and collectively improve various accessibility functions while simultaneously enhancing our throughput, to help humans perceive invisible, inaudible, and/or intangible occurrences, along with the expanded provision of automated driving and other mobility services, in light of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) we’ve set for ourselves and various natural disasters that could strike at any time.
When I first came across the concept of this technology, my initial thought was simple: if we could invent a technology that lets users search for any sounds, videos, etc. like Google does based on entered keywords, the viewing and listening throughput could be enhanced both quantitatively and qualitatively. However, 10 years later with universal Internet access in developed areas thanks to modern wireless technology, we still struggle not to leave any substantial part of our humanity behind; society still needs acoustic signal processing technology like ours for many more years. Although many people view this particular technology as fully mature with little room to grow, our new findings change over time as we continue to address various fundamental issues of society and humanity. Through our journey, I’ve had many experiences through which I learned that even small accomplishments can turn into great new forces, if they evoke a sense of resonance. Although I consider our company Evixar as a deep tech startup in retrospect, there is clear evidence that this new approach for developing new technology and turning it into a commercial success by “leveraging happenstances to create solutions for various social issues while making necessary preparations” will become increasingly important.
13. Communication During a Disaster, to Any Desired Place Now,
on 14 July 2020
From the QR code displayed in shops that allows customers to pay using the camera function of their smartphones to various pictograms such as the green emergency exit signs, there are many methods in daily life that help us act intuitively and non-verbally based on visual cues. At Evixar, we have focused on enabling people to communicate their intention and information in real time, among people who are in the same location, from their vantage points, as to what their surroundings are like, and what type of information people around them are transmitting, etc., by developing and applying acoustic communications technology, and connecting large numbers of speakers, smartphones, and other microphone devices installed throughout urban areas.
But such technology could not be used to set off loud sirens for several seconds in our everyday lives if there is no real disaster about to unfold. And in a real emergency, the intention of the announcement and the type of information to be conveyed vary depending on the circumstances. So in our acoustic communications solution, we’ve incorporated necessary functions to address various needs, including the ability to momentarily communicate to the recipients in 0.1 seconds or so, and deliver the message only to the targeted recipients in an optimal manner, while allowing the recipients to see on the devices they are holding where they are with music playing on speakers or visual data being displayed on digital signage, and to become synced.
As the use of smart devices has spread, we have been implementing this solution at requested locations that already have some audio system, starting with television, radio, cinemas, and theaters and expanding to stadiums, public transportation, emergency evacuation, and disaster prevention and mitigation.
When a tsunami evacuation drill was held on Zushi Beach in Kanagawa Prefecture during the summer of 2019, we worked with Zushi City to embed certain signals processed using Evixar’s acoustic communication technology into the radio broadcast messages transmitted by the municipality for disaster prevention, and ran an experiment to receive them on our smartphone app and display them as text messages in various foreign languages, along with a detailed hazard map. The test was a great success, as all the intended information embedded using acoustic communication technology was accurately received at all preset geographic locations. The city staff gave us positive reviews, saying that any municipality like Zushi that has financial constraints could easily adopt our solution while using their existing disaster-prevention radio equipment.
Natural disasters are occurring more frequently worldwide. In today’s age, it is increasingly important to be able to communicate nuanced and detailed intentions to people in specific locations in real time, by using analog and digital technology in order to make full use of all existing infrastructure available to us.
14. Envisioned Image of Startups, Inspired by Geijutsu-Kōgaku (Art Engineering),
on 21 July 2020, Yahoo! news’s reproduce on 26 July 2020
The most renowned higher education institution and the pioneer of geijutsu-kōgaku in Japan was the Kyushu Institute of Design, which was absorbed by Kyushu University and became its School of Design. Under its unique slogan of “design for humanization of technology,” the School operates based on its practical education policy and philosophy of “explore optimal ways through which to adapt technology to human life” so that “humans can wisely use technology and lead fulfilling lives.” This ideal image of engineers might be appealing to startups whose mission is to apply advanced or elemental technology to various uses in society, in the fields of X-tech and deep tech.
When you visit the website of the School of Design at Kyushu University, the Japanese term “geijutsu-kōgaku” is translated as “design,” so its implied meaning includes process in addition to output. In recent years, the word “design” has been used to not only refer to artistic renderings but also to mean conceptual planning and drawing as well as any other creative works or processes, similar to the original definitions of the word in English.
While Evixar’s acoustic communication technology has been evolving along with the spread of smartphones since around 2012, our technology has also been applied to environments where the versatile functions of smartphones are restricted. For example, our acoustic communication solutions were typically in demand when people had to switch their smartphones to airplane mode in movie theaters, or when they could not fully use their smartphones due to communication congestion in stadiums with tens of thousands of people, or during an emergency or disaster where people could not rely on mobile communication, or when people are in certain rooms where wireless signals cannot pass through the walls, etc. In order for us to identify and seize such business opportunities, we must engage opinion leaders and users in conversation from an early stage of the project, instantaneously respond to any requirements they communicate, and adapt and implement the technology to suit each situation.
Such process is commonly referred to as inclusive design. For this process to be successful, it is important for companies like ours to listen to those users who have strong needs for solutions, no matter how extreme or demanding they may be, incorporate their views into the prototypes to run proof-of-concept experiments, and cultivate a sense of resonance based on the effects as social issues are solved one by one. Through such endeavors, systematic methods are being established for identifying various universal values applicable to our everyday lives.
As the value systems of humans today are expected to diversify in the future, we will need to overcome new sets of challenges. However, with information communications technology and various other evolving technologies, along with parallel efforts to design them to suit our human needs, I firmly believe that we can collectively adapt to any new changes and solve any problems that emerge, by leveraging the synergistic effect of collaboration among experts, who would remain mere individual dots if they worked alone.
15. A Vision of the World Where People Use Sound to See, Connect, and Enjoy,
on 28 July 2020, Yahoo! news’s reproduce on 1 August 2020
In terms of Evixar’s proprietary acoustic technology products, we not only provide solutions such as cloud computing services involving large data processing and “subtitle glasses” that are display devices shaped like eyeglasses and incorporating an app to show subtitles and other data, but also deliver solutions in the form of small module boards. In these latest solutions, the focus is on data acquired from various sensors, which are part of larger system concepts such as the Internet of Things and Society 5.0. Along with such technological trend, compact microphones and speakers that can be easily mounted onto small devices are effectively utilized.
When the Niconico Chokaigi 2018 event was held in April 2018, NTT set up its booth dubbed the “NTT Ultra Future Peta City,” where they showcased their fifth-generation mobile communication standard (5G) system, AI, and other state-of-the-art technologies along with creative presentations. Evixar contributed by providing technical support. In their demonstration on using next-generation mobile devices in a synchronized and coordinated manner with what was being shown on large displays and on stage, our ultra-small module boards with embedded acoustic communication functions were used, which were so small they could fit on a fingertip. The presentation was more than just another new technology. As one of the developers of the technology, I was so impressed by how it was showcased to appeal to the human senses, invoking sensations that were never felt before.
Actually, the acoustic communication technology took a background role to help highlight other cutting-edge technologies on display. However, through my experience of the event, I was able to reassess the effectiveness of our technology to avoid crossed and congested communications between mobile lines, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth, due to the many booths at the venue being attended by so many people. I was also able to confirm that our function for establishing links with devices based on the various sounds emitted through the visitor presentations was very intuitive and easy to use by on-site staff. I was especially pleased to see that the simple operation of our solution was highly effective on their compact devices, the settings of which could not be easily adjusted on a screen, unlike smartphones.
Sony’s portable Walkman players became popular around the world as their design concept let users carry music around with them wherever they went. In the case of karaoke, it turned ordinary microphones into handy entertainment tools. And in the case of Evixar, we have been augmenting and expanding the visual and audio experience with our acoustic technology, by enabling barrier-free cinema and theater shows, etc. while leveraging the widespread use of smartphones. As even more advanced wearable devices and IoT devices are released in the future, we remain committed to continuously improving our technological competency in order to develop and provide a more satisfying acoustic interface for people, including delivering values that help people feel safe and secure as they use our solutions.