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Message for students 2022:Hiroyuki Oyama

January 31, 2022

Environment That Fosters Both Academic Research and Commercialization for Social Contribution

Data Science Research Laboratories
Senior Researcher
Hiroyuki Oyama

After building work experience at a major enterprise and a start-up after graduating from university, Oyama took up learning in academia once again in a master’s degree program. After earning a doctorate, he joined NEC in April 2018. Persistently devoted to research in control engineering, he currently aims to “create a society where robots and humans work together” through the utilization of control AI.

Resonated with the vision of social contribution

After graduating from the Faculty of Engineering with a bachelor's degree, I found employment at an airline company. However, I ended up leaving the company thinking that rather than being a generalist there, I would like to pursue career development with skills for the next step up. After working for a venture business for some time, I returned to university and took a master’s degree followed by a doctorate before joining NEC.

My first encounter with NEC was an e-mail from the supervisor of the team back then. He seemed to have liked my research paper and invited me for a visit. That was when I learned about the Data Science Research Laboratories. From what he told me, I realized that NEC was quite different from the image I had about the company—this meeting left me with the impression that NEC was trying out new things.

There are several reasons why I decided to work for NEC. One reason was because I thought I could use my expertise in control engineering. I felt that I could commercialize my research. It seemed attractive to be able to take on new business challenges. I also had an expectation that I could do something big, considering that NEC is a major company. Additionally, a corporate culture that appreciates academic contribution, such as research paper publications, and allows for simultaneous pursuit of commercialization and research was appealing. NEC declares itself to be a social value creation company. I myself have long harbored the desire to contribute to society. Being able to resonate with NEC’s direction and vision was a major determining factor.

Research of robots that move with just task commands

I am currently doing research on the technologies and control engineering for safely controlling and operating a system. Specifically, I study control AIs that autonomously and safely operate robots in order to enable anyone to easily and flexibly use robots that currently only experts can handle and are limited to use on certain occasions or in specific settings.

For example, conventionally when you want robots to do work, you need to program its actions from beginning to end. We are aiming to achieve this by simply giving it task commands. When given a command, current robots cannot think about what order to perform the tasks in. This means that, in the case that something unexpected happens or if the command is slightly too complicated, the robot does not know in what order it should perform the tasks.

We are working on the development of a control technology that automates this ordering as a task plan. Furthermore, in order to increase the success rate, we also adopted the task & motion planning technique and combined it with a formal language called temporal logic, which is easy-to-use for writing task commands, to develop a technology that enables robots to simultaneously plan tasks and motions from a command at the same time. This is our Objective-oriented Task Planning—a control technology for robots to perform tasks with just a command for tasks given, eliminating the need for people to write up detailed programs for each task.

The Objective-oriented Task Planning technology has a potential to be applied to all sorts of fields, such as warehousing and logistics. While both warehousing and logistics are already seeing advanced automation, current robots can still only do simple tasks. For example, humans are still doing things like taking out products from one box and repacking them neatly into another. Our mission is to make this difficult handling be precisely executable by robots using control AI, with simple commands given by people.

Research with a wider field of view and passion

Our research is still at a halfway point. While I don't feel that I have achieved something yet, I feel motivated being able to try out new things every day and being granted the discretion on what to research. It is very fruitful to develop technologies while talking with other people in the company working to commercialize our results.

I have been building experience centered on research, but I would need business skills to launch a new business. It is a pleasure to find myself growing everyday by acquiring new knowledge during the course of work. When technological outputs are recognized through research papers and when customers are interested in the technology presented in a press release—those are also very rewarding moments.

What I aim for as a corporate researcher in NEC is to commercialize my research as a substantial offering to the world to contribute to the society. I will continue to work on my everyday research so that I can be a help to solving social problems.

I hope you, as students, take interest in different areas with a wide field of view, not to mention in your field of specialty. Getting inspiration from a variety of domains often leads to new ideas. While you may run into walls now and then in research, I hope you overcome each one with passion.

  • The information posted on this website is the information at the time of publication.

A day at work

Message to my past self in my school days

Private column

Since I can’t casually go out due to COVID-19, I often play online games recently. I team up with friends for battle games. Sometimes I enjoy playing with my wife, but she gets upset when we play for too long. *Laugh* On sunny days, we often go out for a walk. We walk around for about an hour while talking, on roads nearby that we have never taken before. When COVID-19 comes to an end, I would like to start up table tennis again with my buddies.