This morning we checked out of the Tsukuba Daily Inn after having a mixed style breakfast: it was not really Japanese because they had bread and it wasn’t really Western style because it had Japanese cabbage as well. We hopped on a bus back to Tsukuba Center and then on a bus to the Tsukuba University. Because of some miscommunication and some idiots we got off way too early and walked for 35 minutes until we finally found the right building (a campus for 17,000 students is huge, whoever came up with the idea that we should walk should be shot).
The university was pretty cool and we saw some awesome experiments. One lab had a system in which the user made an imaginary picture frame with his hands after clapping and the computer would calculate what the user would be able to see and show that on a monitor. Every now and then the system would go haywire but in general it worked pretty well. On another floor we saw systems which used hands and gestures for input. One system required the user to wear a bright LED on his finger and then pointing your finger at the screen would enable you to operate the system. Another new input system used a laser pointer as input: by moving the pointer outside the projected area you are able to provide directional input. For example moving between slides in a presentation is a simple matter of flicking the pointer to the right and the next slide will appear.
After this cool visit (which at least restored our faith in Japanese universities) we moved to the next destination: AIST. Apparently we called the Dutch Embassy to ask if they could help out with the Japanese companies and we were told to try ourselves first (aka we don’t care – or so I have heard). However when AIST was interested to have us visit them, they called the Embassy to check who we were and what we did and that set off alarms all over the Dutch Embassy. Suddenly they became interested and they insisted they would accompany us on the visit – no doubt to make sure we wouldn’t make a dent in their reputation.
The political crap aside, the visit was awesome: we were welcomed by the big boss himself which means a lot in Japan. After the formal introductions (which I missed half because the bus was no large enough, forcing 4 of us to take a taxi, including me) we went off towards the AIST labs to get some cool demonstrations. We started in the technology preview area where they show all kinds of cool stuff that AIST has made, including a human robot, a full size walking raptor based on the humanoid technology (unfortunately we only saw it walking on video, its too heavy and thus too dangerous to let it walk around the demo area) and a robot baby seal that had some form of primitive AI making it behave like it was alive. Actually the baby seal was pretty weird: you know its not a real animal and still it responds to things like touch and sounds.
During the technology introduction we were shown a demo movie from AIST which was barely audible for people in the back and the free roaming time after the movie was way too short to actually see everything. After we were led away by our guides after 10 minutes or so, we ended up in one of the many labs that the huge site housed. We were shown 2 real demos of stuff that is still in progress and a presentation about grid computing (which was not really my thing except for the wall of Dell LCD’s that was used to show the images).
The first was a audio filter demo where they filtered out the drums and bass and then added a replacement drum and bass – all of this in real time! It was possible to simply replace the drums but also create whole new patterns. For this they had made an analysis of common patterns and the user was simply able to click somewhere in 3D space to select a pattern. Another cool part of this demo was the possibility to provide the demo program with the lyrics of a song and after a fast scan it was possible to jump to any word in the song. It was amazing to see how accurate the recognition was. The last part of the audio demo was a system that scanned online sources (Wikipedia) to get information like artist, background, genre, year etc. The next stage is to combine all of this data to order songs in rings with songs that show similarity being close to each other. Every genre has its own ring but genres that are much alike are close to each other. This results in a view that allows users to quickly find new music they like or a fast and convenient way to browse your own collection.
The second demo was a 360 degree vision system using 36 (or something) stereo camera’s. This provides a system with not only 360 degree view but also depth perception. They mounted this system on a wheelchair which could then autonomously drive the user to its destination. The wheelchair will avoid obstacles, prevent driving down stairs (very handy) but can also prevent bumping into things when the user for example wishes to back up and something is in its way.
After this visit (which was way too short because there was so much to see) we headed back to Tokyo for the last 2 days of the study tour.