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Technology developed by Japanese students receives attention at the SXSW World Tech Event in Texas


Yasuhiro Kobayashi / The Yomiuri Shimbun
Taiga Someya, right, explains his team’s motion capture technology during the South by Southwest tech event in Austin, Texas, on March 13.

AUSTIN, Texas – Digital technology developed at Japanese universities turned heads at South by Southwest (SXSW), one of the world’s largest information technology-related events held in Texas last week.

There is a growing enthusiasm among students for starting a business, and many actively travel abroad to gain experience at a young age and make a leap forward globally.

“By converting an athlete’s movements into 3D images, we can check if there are any problems in their decision-making or in the way they move,” says a member of a research team composed mainly of former members of the football club of the University of Tokyo. team.

At SXSW, the team demonstrated its technology in which cameras capture the movements of goalkeepers or other players and convert them into 3D images that can be analyzed to help improve their performance.

The research team was allowed to exhibit this technology at SXSW after winning the university’s selection competition. During the U.S. event, officials from several prestigious European soccer clubs visited the stand and expressed interest, the team said.

“I was able to have an experience that I would never have had if I had stayed in Japan,” said Taiga Someya, 25, who ran for the national youth football team. “By participating we gained momentum toward commercializing our technology in the future.”

In addition to the University of Tokyo, teams from Tohoku University, Gifu University and the Nagoya Institute of Technology set up SXSW booths. One such booth demonstrated technology that uses ultrasound waves to simulate the sense of touch for 3D images, and another demonstrated technology that automatically dubbed dialogue for anime using artificial intelligence. Some stands had long lines of visitors eager to try out their offerings.

According to the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, the number of startups launched by universities reached 3,782 in the fiscal year 2022, more than double the number in the fiscal year 2014. Behind this increase is growing support from universities and an increased awareness of entrepreneurship among students.

Taketo Sugawara, director of the University of Tokyo’s Startup Incubation and Entrepreneurship, which has been sending students to SXSW since 2014, said: “The level of students has definitely improved over the past decade.”

On the other hand, technology giants like Apple Inc. and Google LLC are still emerging in Japan. Compared to the United States, startups have difficulty attracting investment in Japan, and entrepreneurs are said to lack international experience in times of globalization.

Austin, the city where the event takes place, is known as one of the leading high-tech cities in the United States and the location of the headquarters of electric vehicle manufacturer Tesla Inc. Many IT professionals attended SXSW, which offered potential entrepreneurs the opportunity to expand abroad.

“A continued increase in the number of globally minded youth could ultimately help Japan produce a business leader like Elon Musk within the next decade,” Sugawara said.

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