PHYSICAL SCIENCES

Physical science projects run the spectrum from basic research to advanced development. ATR laboratories represent the basic research end, while projects such as the Super Silicon or the YRP projects are in the advanced development stage. The latter two projects do engage in some basic research, but their goal is well established and their purpose is to develop technology in fast moving fields. The Super Silicon project has a goal of developing a 400 mm silicon wafer, something that all industry is expecting to be done because of the requirements imposed by continued integration of electronic components. The current state-of-the-art is 300 mm, and 400 mm is the next logical step. ATR laboratories are known worldwide as performing first class research in telecommunications, including visual and auditory research connected to communications. Projects are staffed by Japanese and foreign researchers, and there does appear to be more of an international flavor there than in other projects visited.

Physical science basic research projects typically are funded for 7 years and require 70% government funding. Advance development projects are funded for a shorter period and often are funded more heavily by industry, in some cases up to 49%. In all projects the government has at least a 51% share to ensure that it is the majority stockholder. However, even though the government is a majority stockholder, participating industrial partners hold responsibility for the conduct of the project's periodic review. Industrial sponsors also hold reviews on a regular basis, often quarterly. The industrial partner review is separate from the two reviews performed by JKTC, which are held at mid point and end of the project's life. A good example is the Mixed Reality (MRSL) program. The staff at MRSL all come from Canon, the industrial sponsor, but while at MRSL the staff's loyalty is to MRSL and not to Canon, so during reviews there is often a heated debate, and at the end, MRSL can make its own decision. Canon staff can only make suggestions but can not direct the MRSL researchers.

Over the years, a few projects have been in superconductivity. These have included some materials development as well as development of superconducting devices. A good example is Advanced Mobile Telecommunications Technology, Inc. (AMTEL). AMTEL's goal is the development of highly efficient mobile telecommunication systems utilizing high temperature superconductors for next generation land mobile telecommunications and mobile satellite telecommunications. This is a high risk project with competition around the world, and more importantly competition from other (non-superconducting) technologies. The superconducting filters being developed by AMTEL potentially have a large market, but due to the high risk, industry is only putting up 30% of the funding.

The process for project selection in the physical sciences area varies widely. Some projects are proposed to JKTC, such as those by ATR and YRP. However, the typical mode of operation is for JKTC to openly advertise opportunities and solicit proposals from industry. This was the case, for example in the creation of MRSL. JKTC openly sought proposals for this area, and only Canon Corporation responded with a proposal. JKTC still funded the project along with Canon on a 51%-49% basis. This was the first project funded with only one company. Such selection was permitted due to a change in the law creating JKTC, which previously stated that there had to be minimum of two companies funding a project. Another example is the HITS Laboratory. Its only industrial sponsor is the Victor Company of Japan.

Project selection also takes into account funding of areas by other agencies. The WTEC panelists are not sure how this coordination occurs, and at what level, but projects selected under JKTC often are in areas that there is little funding available from other agencies.

The projects are grouped into two major categories: mining and industry; and telecommunications, and further broken down by technology areas. Appendix D is a complete list of projects. The classification scheme is as follows:

For the last several years JKTC has emphasized projects related to information technologies, including technologies related to telecommunications and the entertainment industry. Most projects are also heavily software related and indicate the renewed effort on behalf of Japan to develop this field since it is key to almost any area of technology and business. In some of the newer projects, JKTC seems to try to overcome the U.S. lead by jumping ahead and working in fields that have yet to be shown to have applications, while other projects are directly applicable to such fields as accounting and billing. Leapfrogging might work in some areas where current technology has come to a "real" dead end, but as silicon technology, magnetic memory storage systems, and optical lithography have shown, a vast industrial investment in a particular technology makes it difficult for new methods to replace existing processes and manufacturing. A number of projects appear to be targeted at social issues. The HITS project seeks to anticipate the difficulty an aged population in Japan or elsewhere might have in handling new technologies dealing with wireless entertainment and communications equipment.

The return on investment in the form of licensing or patent sales on these newer projects is reportedly still years away, although the training and experimentation that the research staff gain during this period could be very important for Japan's future and to the investing companies. It is building a population of scientists and engineers who are growing up in and helping to foster a new research culture.


Published: September 1999; WTEC Hyper-Librarian