Developing Smart Glasses for Both People with Low Vision and Normal Vision
(Continued from the first part of the interview)
QD Laser, Inc., a spin-off venture of Fujitsu Limited, has been overcoming various challenges to develop the Retinal Imaging Laser Eyewear. With a view to commercialization in 2018, more than 5,000 individuals have already tried the product at trade shows and clinical trials both in Japan and abroad. This laser eyewear was recognized as an important technology that contributes to resolving social issues, and is anticipated to be used in a wide range of fields; it received the METI Award, which is the highest award at CEATEC JAPAN 2016's awards ceremony, and the grand prize for the CEATEC Innovation Award "As Selected by U.S. Journalists" in fall 2016. People around the world have told us that they eagerly await the product's commercialization.
"First we would like to improve the product's accuracy as a medical device for people with low vision. Studies are now in progress through industry-academia collaboration to perform image processing to correct for individuals' vision problems, such as blurry vision, hazy vision, or deficiencies in vison. After achieving this, we want to apply the technology to developing smart glasses that allow users to experience AR (augmented reality) and VR (virtual reality). This product differs greatly from existing smart glasses in that it requires no focus adjustment or visual acuity because it directly projects images onto the retina. As images and text information are sent directly to the brain just by wearing these glasses, concentration is not disturbed and the eyes do not tire even after wearing the glasses for a long time. We believe we can develop smart glasses that can be comfortably worn by both people with low vision and normal vision." (Sugawara)
Application to Various Areas: Surgery Support, Entertainment, and Sports
Building on these features, in the future this product is expected to be used in a wide range of areas, such as surgery support, work support, movies, stages, concerts, virtual reality games, and sports.
"We hope these glasses will be used by people with low vision as spectator glasses at various sports competitions, including the 2020 Olympic Games. By wearing this eyewear, low vision athletes can check their form and share images of their strategies with their teammates, which may improve their records and raise their levels of performance. In this way, sports for the disabled will become more exciting. We absolutely want to realize this in collaboration with Fujitsu, which has been promoting the use of ICT in sports." (Kounoya)
Professionals in Various Fields Who Support Japan's Manufacturing Gather Together
The development of Retinal Imaging Laser Eyewear is a major project that QD Laser, Inc. is working on with the company's 12 members, who are diverse individuals mainly from major Japanese manufacturing companies.
"If you hear 'venture,' you may think of a company made up of young people, but the average age at our company is 47. So, our company is a venture by middle-aged people (laugh). All our members are passionate about achieving innovation that surprises the world as the culmination of their business lives. For the parts other than lasers, we conduct development, manufacturing, and clinical studies in collaboration with external partner companies and universities. Thus, professionals in various fields who support Japan's manufacturing are involved in this project. I call this an All-Japan Structure." (Sugawara)
Taking Advantage of the Strengths of a Venture Company and a Large Company
Even if blessed with experienced personnel, a venture company has a corporate climate and culture that differs greatly from that of a large company. Sugawara explained: "To realize innovation, all members keep in mind the need to not stifle others' opinions and ideas, to maintain doubts about everything, and to keep up constant communication."
"A venture company must have an atmosphere where employees can speak freely and collaborate smoothly across divisions and hierarchical levels, even transcending corporate boundaries. As soon as problems arise, we quickly share them among employees, exchange ideas with each other, and carefully resolve them. As this medical device development project requires a huge budget, financial support mainly from Fujitsu, using its risk money, has helped us out a lot. Of course, the Fujitsu venture support system conducts a rigorous screening to determine whether ventures will be successful, but once a venture passes this screening, the program is very supportive. In addition to this product, I believe there are still many more innovations that can only be achieved by spin-off ventures that have the free atmosphere and sense of speed unique to ventures as well as the resources and reliability provided by a large parent company." (Kounoya)
All Innovations Are Products of Fighting against Existing Concepts and Limitations
The ultimate goal is "to expand human sight." With technological progress in cameras and lasers, products will evolve rapidly and objects far away or in dark places will become clearly visible--this is the future envisioned by Sugawara and Kounoya.
"We could develop this product thanks to the epoch-making idea of scanning lasers onto the retina, the funding, the human resources, and the networks that enabled us to actually put the idea into practice, as well as the cooperation of many people, including our partner companies, universities, investors, and people with low vision. We hope to continue to challenge ourselves with the belief that our technology will change the world." (Kounoya)
"All innovations are products of fighting against existing concepts and limitations. Innovations are possible only by breaking away from existing concepts and overcoming existing limitations. I will be happy if we can stimulate young people, who will be the main players in the next generation of manufacturing, by succeeding in this project." (Sugawara)
Retinal Imaging Laser Eyewear was born from the know-how and passion of Japan's manufacturing. These glasses of the future will greatly expand your world by allowing you to see what you could not before.