It's the Field That Is at the Forefront of Sports!: Gymnasts' Dedication to Performance Sets Researchers' Hearts on Fire
(Continued from Part I)
In pursuit of a mission to make complicated scoring of gymnastics competitions more accurate and easy to understand, development is underway for the 3D Sensing Project. It is a big project comprising more than 40 members involved in development work from the Fujitsu Group alone. Kazuo Sasaki, who leads the development, visits a gymnastics arena where gymnasts are practicing as much as time permits. He places the most importance on understanding what can only be gained in the field.
"It's the field that is at the forefront of sports. There are many things that you wouldn't understand if you spend all your time confined only to a laboratory. For example, the anti-slip white powder that gymnasts always use before their performance. When we first brought the 3D laser sensor to the gymnastics arena, it didn't work normally. We checked the cause and found out that that powder got into the device. The device was originally designed to resist fine dust and a cloud of dust assuming it would be used outdoors. However, we had not anticipated that an anti-slip white power would affect the operation. In the field, we often become aware of such things that ultimately allow us to fine tune our techniques. Also, looking closely at gymnasts dedicating themselves to gymnastics, my hope to complete this project successfully is further strengthened." (Sasaki)
Sasaki and his co-workers are devoting themselves to the development as they sweat and get covered with powder in the field of sports together with gymnasts. According to Sasaki, by seeing them working as such, those people who originally opposed to him doing so gradually came to support him. Such people even told him that it is reckless to take up the challenge of gymnastics, whose scoring system is believed to be the most difficult in all of sports. Sasaki says that like-minded research colleagues increased day by day.
Hoping to Make Good Use of This Technology for Viewers and Athletes
The 3D Sensing Project started with the aim of reducing the burden placed on the people supporting gymnastics competitions (judges). However, according to Fujiwara, who leads the planning and implementation of the project, it offers various benefits to both viewers of gymnastics competitions (spectators, fans) and the athletes participating in gymnastics competitions.
"I think that people have an image that gymnasts are doing a great thing, but their techniques are too difficult to understand. But, if the degree of difficulty and scores are displayed on a screen in real time, it will become much easier to understand and more interesting to watch. In gymnastics competitions, whether a gymnast is able to win a medal depends on a slight difference of a thousandth of a point. This is why gymnasts aggressively go after difficult techniques. I believe this exciting appeal of gymnastics can be conveyed only because it is scored in real time. I think this technology is beneficial for gymnasts as well. By adding accumulated data from 3D Sensors to conventional training methods using video images, new training methods will be created." (Fujiwara)
Will There Come a Time When Even the Movements of Traditional Art Performers and Craftsmen Are Sensed?
3D Sensing technology has the potential to change the future of gymnastics competitions. It is anticipated that 3D Sensing technology will be applied to various sports and other fields in the future.
"I think this technology can be used for some Olympic events scored by judges, such as figure skating, diving, trampoline, and the halfpipe, among other sports. Don't you think it would be interesting if we could sense the movements of horses' legs in an equestrian event? And someday we would like to sense all kinds of human movements - like a KABUKI play, dancing or manufacturing - beyond the boundaries of sports. For example, if we sense the hand movements of a skilled craftsman and store the data on the cloud, anyone in the world could learn such movements through e-learning. By sharing numerical expressions of various senses on something that we previously acquired by watching other people do with people around the world may give rise to new talents. Or, on the other hand, fading traditions and culture may be passed on to the next generation. Such a future is not so far from reality." (Sasaki)
Technology and Fellow Researchers Are Vital for the Success of Innovation
Sasaki and Fujiwara started taking on the challenge of developing 3D Sensing technology determined to "change the world of sports with Fujitsu's technology." What factors do they think led to achieving the world's first innovation?
"I believe the seeds of innovation must be hidden in everyday life. As the source of an idea on 3D Sensing came to me from my hobby, golf, if you are always conscious of something, it may result in innovation. When small questions and issues are accumulated, it occurs. To turn an idea into a reality, you must continue having passion and keep moving forward without being disheartened by any failure. Gymnastics was an area that we were unfamiliar with, and we faced many challenges. I believe it is the passion of our team members that brought us to this point." (Sasaki)
"Excellent technology and great ideas themselves are useless unless they are accompanied by the ability to act. No matter the outcome, you should take action without fear of failure. I think the sense of speed that enables you to think as you walk is important. I visited all kinds of institutions to give presentations on 3D Sensing technology for this project. While Sasaki's job is to develop technologies, my job is to get people involved in the project to increase the number of fellow researchers who support us. Explaining a difficult technology in an easy to understand and attractive manner is vital in increasing the number of fellow researchers. For that, I'm motivated and committed with pride and passion. I believe the success of innovation is reliant on both technology and fellow researchers." (Fujiwara)
Propelled by technology and fellow researchers, the 3D Sensing project is making mighty progress while overcoming various difficulties. Going forward, there is no doubt they will change the world of sports and arouse great excitement on the stage of Japan's gymnastics.
- Kazuo Sasaki
Director, Life Innovation Laboratories,
Applied Innovation Research Center, Fujitsu Laboratories Ltd.
- 1969: Born in Shimane Prefecture. Served as the deputy-captain of the Shorinji Kempo (a modern Japanese martial art based on Shaolin Kung Fu) club in his school days.
1994: After joining Fujitsu Laboratories Ltd., Sasaki engaged in research into IoT platforms, and was a pioneer in releasing the results of research on distributed processing technologies, a precursor of modern-day edge computing.
With focusing on the sports field as an area for the application of IoT, Sasaki is currently working on to accelerate improvements achieved by sportspeople by digitizing human movements.
- Hidenori Fujiwara
Vice President, Planning and Development Division, Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Headquarters
- 1970: Born in Osaka. Previously, Fujiwara worked at a financial institution. After joining Fujitsu Limited, he engaged in sales to major system integrators.
2015: As the vice president for planning and development of sports business at the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Headquarters, Fujiwara starts up plans for new businesses. They include entering into ICT partner agreements with B.LEAGUE (Japan Professional Basketball League) and Japan Basketball Association and conducting joint research with the Gymnastics Association.
Currently, he is in charge of the world's first gymnastics ICT project enabled by 3D Sensing technology. While being involved in sports administration as a committee member of the Sports Agency, Fujiwara is striving for the industrialization of sports and sports&health promotion for the public.
Photographs in cooperation with Nippon Sport Science University and Artistic Gymnastics Club