Message for students 2017: Natsuki Kai
February 1, 2017
Researcher, System Platform Research Laboratories
Kai conducted research into SIMD operations as a student, but elected to enter the network research field when he joined NEC. He is now researching live video streaming via mobile networks and is working hard on product commercialization, having successfully completed a proof of concept (PoC) for a technology that he developed and received an award for at an academic conference.
Taking on the challenge of mobile network research in an area outside of my specialty
One of the missions of my research team is to be able to predict the state of networks. Predicting the state of networks is essential for the stable operation of applications. Prediction enables advanced control, which allows optimized operations. Within this field, I am mainly involved with live video streaming via mobile networks.
But as a student, my area of research was SIMD operations, a type of parallel processing, so network research is outside my area of specialty (laughs). Of course, I studied not only SIMD operations but also other information technologies related to networks, so it wasn't the case that I knew nothing at all about networks. But when I was thinking about what I would like to do as a researcher in the future, I thought I would rather conduct network research than parallel processing, so I did my job-hunting in this spirit of taking on a challenge in a new area. NEC seemed to understand my thinking. At NEC, there is a corporate culture that values diversity. There can be no doubt that it is better to have someone with a totally new perspective to provide new stimulus to research, rather than just having people all with the same perspectives. In fact, apart from me, there are various other types of researchers also conducting network research, such as my colleague who comes from a background in physics.
But researching a new field is tough (laughs). In particular, the mobile networks that I am researching at the moment are quite different to ordinary networks. I have to keep borrowing books from senior members of my team and trying to catch up by studying hard. But whenever I get stuck with my research, there is always a senior colleague who notices and comes and asks me what is wrong, which I am really grateful for. There are lots of great people around me whom I respect both as people and as researchers. I hope that when a junior member of the team arrives, I can be as helpful to them as others have been to me.
Scrambling to apply and commercialize the technology that was awarded a prize at an academic conference
In my second year at NEC, I went ahead and presented my research as a paper in an academic conference for the first time. In fact, my paper was awarded the Network Research Prize. The paper described research I was doing to enable smooth video streaming via mobile networks even from mobile terminals with low CPU performance. The name of the technology is Adaptive Video Streaming and it is used to optimize the compression ratio of streamed video by predicting processing capabilities. I had spent two years perfecting this technology and I was very happy to have it recognized by this prize. I have achieved a proof of concept (PoC) for this technology and I am now moving on to actually applying it.
One solution I have proposed for using this technology is policing of outdoor events. Have you heard of the Running Police before? They are security staff used for policing large-scale marathon events, and they run together with marathon participants, wearing wearable cameras. The wearable cameras are constantly linked to stream video images in real time to a control center, and this system enables rapid and precise response to sudden illness, suspicious items or suspicious persons. Over the past six months, I have conduced 16 demonstrations of this technology and the response from customers has been very positive, saying that they could confirm the streaming of clear and smooth video images each time. Having achieved this proof of concept, I am now looking to quickly apply the concept to a product.
Apart from this, I have also proposed a solution for use in emergency medical care. This solution aims to help doctors make decisions using real-time video streaming of the patient's condition when transporting emergency patients, so that they can decide on the best place to send them for treatment. Doctors need to see details such as the degree of pupil dilation that require very high-definition video streaming, and I believe that our technology can be useful for this.
Another objective is the implementation of this technology for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games. If we achieve this, it will be easier to deploy the technology globally under the banner of an "Olympic" technology. I will do my utmost to develop this technology into a product that can be used in the Olympic Games.
Becoming an internationally renowned researcher
You can probably tell from what I have said, but at NEC, you can experience the entire process, from research through to commercialization of a product. First you identify your own research topic, develop a technology to solve it, and present the technology as a paper. Then, you obtain a patent to turn your technology into intellectual property, and apply its principles to a product that can actually be operated. Experiencing all these steps brings lots of unexpected discoveries and is really very satisfying.
At the moment, I am putting all my efforts into commercializing my Adaptive Video Streaming technology as a product, but in the future, another thing I would like to do is to study overseas. NEC has a study abroad system and I am seriously considering using it. In fact, the reason that I became a researcher was that I wanted to go abroad (laughs). I have been looking forward to going overseas to academic conferences and developing international connections. But to succeed in this, I will need to study more while I am overseas and continue to produce papers of a standard that can be presented at international conferences. I intend to continue working on my research and preparing to study abroad, so that in about 10 years' time, I can become an internationally renowned researcher, and I'll be the one whom internationally renowned researchers call me by my name.