Wanting to Innovate in Organizations as well
As detailed in Part I of the interview, Honda started to develop Ontenna, an innovative device that allows sounds to be felt through the hair, thanks to a chance encounter with a deaf person during his university years. After graduating from university, Honda continued to develop Ontenna on his own while working as a product designer at a manufacturer. As Ontenna came into the public eye through exhibitions and media, he received many inquiries from deaf people, making him strongly wish to "make Ontenna commercially available as soon as possible."
Honda explained the situation at that time as follows: "I faced high hurdles in raising funds on my own, and I couldn't move forward with development. Under such circumstances, Fujitsu helped me to realize my wish. Because a number of people with disabilities were working at Fujitsu and the company had developed products such as LiveTalk, a communications tool for people with hearing disabilities, I had the impression that Fujitsu is a company with a high level of understanding and awareness of the disabled. I was also interested in its internal community of "Innov8ers" for employees who seek to realize innovation. It may be true that venture companies offer faster speed, but I thought that it would be valuable for a large company to produce a product like this and that I could be a role model for my juniors at my university and in the MITOH Program."
As a result, Honda joined Fujitsu Limited in 2016 and started to develop Ontenna into a commercial product.
Connecting Users with Engineers Is One Aspect of Design
The Ontenna project team consists of a variety of members, including Honda, Fujitsu product designer Ippei Takami, engineers from Fujitsu Advanced Engineering Limited (FAE), deaf people, and photographers.
Honda explained: "Mr. Takami is in charge of designing the housing case, and the FAE engineers are in charge of the circuit board. I listen to the opinions of deaf people and ask members to do this or that, so they may think of me as selfish (laughs). I think that connecting users with engineers is one aspect of design."
Promotion videos and photographs are created by outside creatives.
Honda continued: "People who have come to know Ontenna through exhibitions and media often encourage me by saying they support us, and I feel so grateful for that. A deaf friend served as a model, and a deaf copywriter who was moved by Ontenna wrote the wonderful copy, 'Oh, I felt the sound.' In this way, Ontenna has evolved by making connections to many people, transcending the borders between deaf and not, inside and outside the company, and so on."
TechShop - A Place for New Encounters and Creative Ideas
This interview was conducted at TechShop Tokyo, Fujitsu's membership-based, open-access DIY workshop. TechShop Tokyo is a new site for manufacturing with a spacious working area equipped with professional machine tools, such as 3D printers and laser cutters. Ontenna prototypes are created here.
Honda noted: "Ontenna is a product that has been developed in cooperation with deaf people. So, we have always kept two things in mind since the start of development. First, reflect deaf people's ideas as much as possible. Second, move our hands immediately to give form to their ideas. Until now, people have taken a one-way manufacturing approach by which users use products manufactured by engineers; however, now the era of 'inclusive design' has begun, by which engineers manufacture products together with users. To this end, the attitude of 'creating while thinking' is important, so I appreciate having an environment like TechShop nearby. TechShop provides tools and facilities that allow for quick prototyping as well as an environment where people who are interested in innovation and technologies can naturally get together to form communities."
The other day, a workshop was held on Ontenna usage at TechShop. People of different ages and careers gathered together and actively exchanged opinions with deaf people.
Honda continued: "Many innovative ideas were presented, such as having an orchestra concert in the dark and confessing love using Ontenna. I think this was because of TechShop's open atmosphere and having an environment that helps us immediately give shape to ideas."
Ontenna Also Receives an Enthusiastic Response from Overseas and People with Hearing
Honda actively appears in exhibitions and media in Japan as well as overseas and at events such as TEDxHaneda in order to demonstrate the appealing features of Ontenna, which is attracting more and more attention from around the world.
Honda summarized the reaction: "We have also received a large response from people overseas, saying it is cool and that they would like to use it soon. We are now in the test marketing stage, aiming to spread the use of Ontenna to all deaf people by 2020. Ontenna is scheduled to be used in schools and organizations for the deaf as well as in the medical field. Ontenna may also be useful in the lives of the elderly and people with dementia."
In addition, what is interesting is that there have also been many requests from people with hearing who want to use Ontenna. Ontenna has the potential to change their lives as well. For example, they can use Ontenna to instantaneously become aware of someone calling them from behind or the presence of a car when they are using a PC or running while listening to music with earphones.
To Support Deaf People Playing Sports
At present, Honda has received offers from various fields to collaborate with Ontenna. In the future, Ontenna is expected to be used in various scenes, including music festivals, sports events, and movie theaters.
Honda remarked: "In particular, I want Ontenna to be used in the field of sports, where technology will become a key concept in the future. If deaf track and field athletes wear an Ontenna, they can easily grasp the rhythm and timing to step out, which may help them set new records. I get excited when dreaming about such a future."
Collaboration with Users and Passion for Getting People Involved
Honda has listened to deaf people's voices, evolved the product by actively interacting with people, and even expanded the potential uses of Ontenna. What factors allowed him to open up the new future with Ontenna?
Honda responded: "I think it is important to collaborate with users to create a product by putting ourselves in their shoes and to have passion for getting the people around us involved in development. No matter how innovative the idea is, we cannot do anything alone. I think I owe what I am today to my colleagues and supporters who think and work with me. Deaf people play an extremely important role as development partners. They are specialists who have a special sense that hearing people do not. I think we can realize new innovation by developing products together with them, and I'm happy if it changes all of our lives for the better."
Not only does Ontenna deliver sounds to deaf persons, it will also open up new sensations and experiences to people with hearing. Honda will continue to challenge himself by aiming to create a future in which everyone can live comfortable, enriched lives regardless of whether or not they have disabilities.
- Tatsuya Honda
Design Center, Marketing Unit
- Born in 1990 in Kagawa Prefecture. During his university days, he volunteered as a sign language interpreter, established a sign language club, and started an NPO. Under the theme "to expand the body's capabilities and senses," he carried out research and development of a new audio sensory device together with deaf people. He was selected as an MITOH super creator in 2014 and received the new face award at the 21st AMD Awards. Honda is currently working to develop Ontenna at Fujitsu Limited's Design Center.