Descriptions of projects at two companies, NTT and Sony, help convey the state of HCI research in Japan. NTT has one of the largest and most mature HCI efforts that the panel saw. Sony has a relatively new lab that is different in character from most of the other labs the panel visited. It was established in 1988 as a computer science research lab with a strong emphasis on human-computer interaction. One project in each lab was chosen to demonstrate novel hardware and software developments. The final result is an interesting example of a laboratory organized to better integrate human-computer interaction work within the overall framework of a large company.
NTT's ClearBoard project is well known to the HCI community. It is a striking example of excellent work with an innovative approach to the new area of computer-supported cooperative work. The goals of the project are to explore new uses of video communication technologies, maintain a continuity with existing work practice, and provide a smooth transition between functional spaces. It began as the development of a team workstation and has evolved through four prototypes to provide shared interpersonal work spaces.
The ClearBoard (see Chapter 3, Fig. 3.3) uses a translucent video overlay technique to create a panel through which distant participants can interact via a clear work surface. Through the ClearBoard they can see each other as if they were on opposite sides of a glass partition. The joint work is overlaid on this work surface and creates the collaboration media. Sketches done by one person are reversed as they are transmitted so they appear normally to each participant.
Sony's Navicam is an example of an area that is becoming known as augmented reality. Rather than an immersive approach such as that taken in artificial reality, in which users are removed from the world to be placed in artificial worlds, this approach augments the existing world. Researchers at Sony are developing a novel device that employs a camcorder connected to a computer system that does real-time image processing. What this allows is recognition of objects and the general location associated with the view in the camcorder. Even without general object recognition, one can place easily recognized identification (ID) tags in the world. The computing system, based on information associated with the ID tags, can selectively place other information in the view that a user sees. For example, one might use such augmented facilities to aid people in navigating through a space. The system could paint directional arrows into the view that can be used to direct users to the particular location they are seeking. With more advanced image processing techniques, one can imagine a host of very useful applications. This general notion of augmenting the real world via computation seems extremely powerful and interesting.
The Human Information Technology (HIT) Lab is chartered to bring human interface development to bear in the implementation of NTT's products and operations systems. In contrast to other HCI labs the panel visited, the HIT lab appears to have a much broader view of human-computer interaction, a view that encompasses both organizational and social issues in the use of computing. This idea is captured in the goal of constructing macro and micro interface structures. The approach is related both to the situated cognition approach in the United States and to the European approach of participatory design. The goal is to aid in the design of work processes as well as the information systems that are embedded in the overall organizational work context. HIT management sees three main stages in developing a project: clarification and development of shared understanding of problems, making plans for solving the problems, and execution of the project.
As part of their design approach, HCI researchers view users as coparticipants in the design process. Through interviews, questionnaires, and observation, they develop an understanding of what their clients' main tasks are, what are problematic tasks and their priority, and what are the political and social constraints on the potential solutions. Rapid prototyping then provides concrete images for discussion between clients and system designers and serves as a basis for negotiation and iteration.