Training Researchers to Face the World

Yasuaki Kakehi

Computers Serve Only as a Catalyst

When we use a computer everyday to access information, we generally have a mouse and a keyboard in front of us. These devices have been developed to make it easier for us to use the computer. At the Kakehi Laboratory, we carry out research into new types of interfaces, not from the point of view of linking people to computers, but based on the idea of using computers as "filters" to build new relationships with our bodies and our surrounding environments. For example, I once developed a device with a student; every time a raindrop landed on it, it would display an image at the point of contact. The objective of this device was not to view the images, but it was built with a focus to make new discoveries about rain.

In actual fact, from an early age I was never that interested in the world of computers, but I was rather more interested in people in the real world. I started using computers at around the age of 20, so I was a relatively late starter for a researcher. As far as I am concerned, computers exist as a catalyst to make enhancements, and my desire is to understand and create sensations and relationships within the real world.

Copying and Pasting Tactile Senses

One of the projects we are concentrating hard on at the moment is a research project on tactile senses. The fact is that if we were to lose our tactile sense, we would not be able to stand up or even breathe. Everyday there is an enormous amount of input/output generated through our tactile senses, but we are unable to process them consciously. Compared to the senses of sight, hearing, taste, or smell, there is hardly any content or media based on touch. This has led us to concentrate our efforts completely on thinking about what it means to create tactile senses, as well as finding ways to express them.

To start with, we are testing out the idea of "copying and pasting tactile senses." We have developed a relatively simple device, and we are now in the process of taking it into various universities to collect output samples. The project as a whole has been named "TECHTILE," and is being widely developed in collaboration with art centers and designers. Although I also find the technology itself interesting, the end is not marked by the completion of the development as we would also need to take some additional steps, such as setting up a structure for extracting feedback very skillfully through the web and workshops. Our aim here is to explore a new design for conducting research.

Kakehi lab
Kakehi lab
山岡 潤一、筧 康明 導電性を有する粘土を、くっつけたり
Kakehi lab
中垣 拳、今野 恵菜、田代 俊太郎、池澤 彩野花、木村 優作、仁義 勝、筧 康明

Enjoying Tactile Cafés in the Future

There are still many areas within the world of tactile senses that are yet to be explored, which provide very extremely interesting subjects for research. It is somewhat difficult to isolate tactile senses and consider them on their own, but nowadays there are many approaches being used for creating tactile senses, which include audiovisual senses as well. For example, in one previously published research project, we built a device that would make a person holding an empty paper cup feel as if there was a ball inside the cup. This was achieved by making the person experience the vibration that would be felt if the person had shaken the cup with a ball inside. Also, if the person holding the empty cup made a shaking movement, then the feeling of having a ball inside would become even more real. Tactile senses are based on a strong relationship between the body and the mind's perceptions, causing us to imagine situations or to see related things, suddenly making the "feeling of touching" become real. There are many areas that provide variables (parameters) for manipulating tactile senses, and as long as this is done consciously, it will give us scope for creating a completely new type of media.

Thinking about designing a way of life centered on tactile senses could provide us with ideas for many new products and tools. For example, just as you would listen to a CD or go to a concert, maybe you could buy a new type of tactile media to enjoy back at home, or you could go somewhere like a "Tactile Café" where you could join other people and try out new tactile experiences. A future like this would be rather interesting, wouldn't it?

Training a Triathlete

Our policy is that students who join the Kakehi Laboratory are treated as researchers in their own right from the start. There is no preparatory period, and they go straight into doing research. Although having said this, we do not just leave them to their own devices; we do get them started by brainstorming research topics together first. Research is like a triathlon; it is a tough job that demands a lot from them, starting from the creation of an idea, followed by design, implementation, and finally ending with the writing of a thesis to discuss and present their research. Our aim is to teach our students to master all these processes as professionals.

Classes are held twice a week, 6 to 8 hours weekly, and we follow a format where each publication is discussed as a group. It can be quiet hectic as there are presentations every week, but we are continuing with this format as it gives strength to our students by teaching them the process of discussion. Also, our laboratory is not just used for doing research; it is also used for presenting research results in the form of academic meetings and exhibitions. You throw ideas out into the world, and then bring them back in and think about them. The key to their growth is the ability to go through this experience over and over again during their student lives. We also teach our students how to write and present their thesis appropriately.

Can One Earn a Living as a Media Artist?

Since my student days, I have always wondered whether people who study Media Art and Design at university are able to earn a living in that field. This also links directly to the path followed by our laboratory graduates. I myself, since my student days, have set up companies wondering if I could build some sort of model or other, but now I finally feel that there is an increasing number of people with jobs where they can use what they have learned before.

Also, I would like to give my utmost support to people who aim to become researchers. Even with a specialization in design, it is important to obtain a doctorate as you would in other departments, with an outlook to build your future career. By using everything learned in XD, I would like to promote around the world, increasingly more receptive attitudes that are linked with society.

Kakehi lab
山本 祐介、内山 英昭、筧 康明 紙に印刷された楽譜を用いた音楽演奏インタフェース。
Kakehi lab
living floccus
今野 恵菜、筧 康明