Future Lab Program is a program for creating new products in collaboration with users by making concepts public in the early stages of the research and development process and using feedback from users to create new products using Sony's technology. "N" is a device which frees up eyes, ears and hands from smartphones and makes possible information exchange and communication by new methodologies. "T" is a new projection system which breaks down the barrier between the real with the virtual by turning an ordinary table into a touch screen display. User's opinion and feedback were essential for completing this program, including these 2 prototypes. The 4 developers and Naoya Okamoto, General Manager of the Solution Development Department talk about the program.
Creating new life styles
by turning R&D into an open process
"Generally speaking, a company's R&D (research and development) activities, due to their high level of confidentiality, are usually top secret and are very rarely made public. However, when you are set on creating something really new, something that may bring about new lifestyles, listening to what future users have to say in the initial stages of the R&D process becomes absolutely crucial. Gathering feedback at an early stage and incorporating it into R&D can really help you down the road. With this in mind, Sony has launched the Future Lab Program as a forum for these activities. We believe this program represents the key to future innovation."
"When we decide on a goal, when we come up with an amazing concept, if we do not have the necessary technology for bringing it to life, we develop one. When we hit a wall, we resort to technology to break through it. This approach is, I think, what defines Sony. We believe in technology, therefore we are able to overcome barriers through the power of technology. By letting those who embrace this approach join forces with us and participate in the creative process, I believe we will be able to create new, evolved products."
N: freeing people from the constraints of smartphones
"We asked ourselves whether it wouldn't be possible to develop a new device for communicating and interacting with information in a way which was different from that of a smartphone. With a smartphone, you inevitably look down at the screen and become immersed in that world. We wanted to free up the eyes. By developing what we call an eyes-free, ears-free, hands-free device, and by reclaiming functions that smart phones have usurped, we strived to create a more natural way to interact with information and to relate to music; this is how "N" came about.
Makoto Murata/Service developer in charge of applications
"N" was intended as product to be enjoyed while engaged in activities like riding a bicycle or walking, and which would not disrupt those same activities. Imagine, for example, a radio DJ reading to you information on recommended nearby restaurants or cafes based on your current position gleaned from GPS data. Or a device that recognizes, through a motion sensor, when you're stopped at a traffic light on your bicycle and relays interesting news during those boring moments. In other words, we have developed a service that brings you programs which fit with what you are doing and where you are."
Toshiyuki Sekiya/Voice recognition technology developer
"The task of developing a voice recognition system to be used when cycling was a great challenge. Achieving a way to do that was extremely difficult and was in itself quite a technological innovation.
The biggest challenge was creating a streamlined headphone design which takes into account the wind hitting you head on and continuously passing around your body. When developing this kind of device, design is always first and foremost. Design, microphone placement and signal processing were all incorporated in the best possible form so as to be integral parts of a whole."
T: adding new functions to any flat surface
"T" was similarly born from the "Future Lab Program" as a conceptual prototype for turning any surface into a touch screen display. Sony's Mr. Handa tells us why he believes this product has tremendous potential.
Masaki Handa/Developer in charge of "T" Touch Recognition Technology
"'T' is designed to turn an ordinary table or a desk into a potential touch interactive display; it can add new functionalities to any existing space: walls, floors, ceilings and so on. Furthermore, this new type of projection system doesn't just project images but it also allows you to interact with them and, by recognizing objects, delivers to users a new experience which fuses the real with the virtual."
A future where users create in collaboration with Sony
Project Manager Naoya Okamoto tells us why an approach like that of the Future Lab Program, where innovation is sought through collaboration with users, will in the future become the norm when conducting R&D for new products.
"For Sony, Future Lab is a new experiment which connects people directly to R&D allowing us to communicate directly with potential users. We too were somewhat anxious about its results and a certain dose of courage was needed to embark in this project. We have high expectations regarding the feedback we hope to receive and we truly believe that this concept has the potential to generate not only new future products but new life styles as well."