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VTT Dr Kentaro Watanabe Timo Aalto Dr. Rafael Popper

​​​​​​​ ​​Photos Miika Kainu​

Passion spurs research

Marjatta Pietilä | 5.10.2016

​VTT's researchers are spurred by passion for their research area, by their good working environment, and by interaction with other researchers. In addition, many just want to make the world a little better.

Dr Kentaro Watanabe has just begun work as a visiting research scientist in VTT's Value-driven decision making team in Tampere. At home in Tokyo, he is a researcher at the Artificial Intelligence Research Center of the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST). Watanabe came to Finland due to his long-standing cooperation with VTT and AIST, and a joint research project which had been granted funding.

– In my research, I am comparing Finland and Japan's service systems for the elderly and performing methodology research on the application of technology, particularly ICT, in care for the elderly. Care for the elderly is becoming a topical subject around the world, as populations age. ICT and robotics are expected to improve the quality of care for the elderly, maintain their ability to lead independent lives and lighten the workload of care staff, says Watanabe.  

– I have studied the methods used when designing technologies related to care services for the elderly. The key issue concerns the kinds of technologies that can be developed and how these can be effectively applied. Technologies should be developed in step with the conditions, service processes, working practices and lifestyles in question.

Another key issue in R&D relates to meeting the needs of stakeholders in the elderly care sector, and taking account of institutional and cultural factors related to service design.

– Stakeholders include the elderly, their families, carers, service providers, as well as municipalities and the public administration. Account needs to be taken of all of them when adopting new technologies. In addition, institutional and cultural factors have a major effect on the adoption of technologies in the everyday lives of individuals and on an international scale, comments Watanabe.

– These issues interest me and should be examined on a multidisciplinary basis. As part of the joint research project by VTT and AIST, these will be investigated under the heading Meaningful Technology for Seniors: Safety, Comfort and Joy (METESE) - Models of Digital and Human Networks. The aim is to create a holistic approach to developing and deploying effective technology in the care of the elderly.

Watanabe points out that VTT understands the need to take account of the related social impacts when deciding on the introduction of a new technology. He regards the fact that technical and social experts are working together on the project as highly progressive.

– I enjoy working together with top experts from various fields. Finland is known for its generous welfare system. I think that, while here, I will have a better opportunity to study care of the elderly and the related technology. For my part, I want to collaborate in helping to build societies that are more sustainable, Watanabe adds.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   

Silicon photonics a matter of the heart

Timo Aalto began work at VTT to do his masters thesis in 1997, and soon he had become absorbed in his research topic – silicon photonics. He obtained his MSc degree a year later, and defended his PhD thesis Microphotonic Silicon Waveguide Components, in 2004. He now leads a 27-strong Photonics integration research team at VTT.

 – Although the team has a broad research area, silicon photonics remains as Aalto's strongest expertise area. When I started my master's thesis, I was the first researcher in Finland and one of the first in the world to study silicon photonics. It feels a little like its 'my baby', Aalto says.

Silicon photonics is a generic technology which, like microelectronics, can be used in a number of applications. However, silicon photonics is in its early stages compared to microelectronics. The photonic integrated circuits that are patterned on silicon wafers find their first major applications from optical data transmission.

The production, storage and processing of data is steadily shifting from individual computers to super computers, cloud services and data centres. As a result, new shopping-centre-size data centres are being built around the world. 

– Huge numbers of optical modules and components – which are used to transmit data internally – are needed in data centres. As the amount of data grows, more data transmission capacity will be needed, Aalto comments.

– The data transfer speed should be raised from 10 gigabits per second to 40, 100, or even 400 Gbps. At the same time, we need to lower the cost of each transmitted bit, first to one tenth and then a hundredth of what it is now. If data centre energy efficiency cannot be improved, the centres will soon need their own nuclear power plants. Another important issue lies in the mounting security risks. New technology and solutions are needed in order to solve all the challenges related to data transfer.

Aalto would like to see a silicon photonics clusters emerging in the Finnish environment. Partners have to be sought abroad at the moment. Aalto dreams of a large business operation based on silicon photonics.

– Over the last three years, the volume of silicon photonics projects has grown by almost 100 percent a year at VTT. Our goal is to create a selection of production solutions for enterprises in our VTT's Micronova clean room, to complement our research services. This will cover some of our clean room maintenance costs, making us less dependent on internal support from VTT, or external support, says Aalto.

 

Foresight enables smart decision-making

Principal Scientist Dr. Rafael Popper joined VTT in the late summer, as a member of VTT's Foresight, Organizational Dynamics and Systemic Change team. Popper graduated as an economist from the Central University of Venezuela and obtained a doctorate on the subject of foresight from the University of Manchester in Great Britain.

At VTT, Popper has rapidly identified synergies with several teams, senior experts and members of VTT's management. Among other tasks he has been requested to support VTT's strategy work by bringing an external, international and foresight-based perspective to the work of VTT Lighthouse teams.

Foresight is a systematic process combining prospective, participatory and policy approaches to support decision-making. Its objective is to better understand and explore systemic change in order to anticipate, recommend and transform possible futures, through the analysis of technological, economic, environmental, political, social and ethical drivers of change.

– Foresight often serves as a catalyst and fuel for innovation. This forms an explicitly and implicitly fundamental R&D component in cross-cutting areas such as ICT, energy networks, intelligent transportation, nanotechnology and biotechnology, says Popper.

– Foresight has also been a critical success factor in many key processes of organisations at all levels of strategic, tactical and operational decision-making; its importance is acknowledged when strategic solutions to the societal challenges facing Europe and the world are being proposed.

Radical innovations, wild cards and weak signals are often seen as the most exciting and challenging research issues in foresight. Many innovations of the 2000s have irreversibly transformed the world. Popper mentions the emergence of iTunes, Skype, Facebook, YouTube, iPhone, 3D-printing, Über and Tesla Motors as examples of game-changing product, service, system and social innovations in the ICT and digital habitats industry. However, the world has also witnessed countless organizational, governance and marketing innovations in the same industries and other sectors. With such a dynamically changing innovation landscape, uncertainty analysis will almost certainly remain the hottest issue in foresight forever, predicts Popper.

– I draw inspiration from three challenges in foresight. How to combine knowledge based on expertise, evidence, interaction and creativity? How to successfully translate the insights of anticipatory intelligence into sound advice and recommendations? And how to map and assess the dynamics of foresight-driven systemic change? Popper adds.

So what attracted Popper to Finland? Without hesitating, he answers that he was drawn by the professional expertise and team spirit of VTT employees – its management and researchers – which form the basis of a working environment in which employees can thrive and have confidence, as well as VTT's expertise in applied research. Customers, companies, research funders and governments view VTT as an internationally reliable provider of foresight solutions.

– Of course, in the case of families it is important that it is easy to adapt to the new environment. Finland's excellent education system, its society based on trust, its safe environment, ethical value base, as well as its gender equality and respect for children's rights, are important factors in this respect. The beautiful scenery also deserves a mention, Popper adds.


 

​ TulevaisuudenTekijät_e8r1914 2_lo.jpg

Kentaro Watanabe

  • Visiting Research Scientist from the Artificial Intelligence Research Center, National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST).
  • Senior Scientist in VTT's Value-driven decision making team' in Tampere
  • B.Eng., University of Tokyo, 2003
  • B.Eng., University of Tokyo, 2005
  • D. Eng., Tokyo Metropolitan University, 2012
  • Research interests: service design, engineering design and service engineering


 

TulevaisuudenTekijät_3_lo.jpg

 
Timo Aalto

  • VTT's Research Team Leader in Photonics Integration
  • MSc (Technology), Helsinki University of Technology, 1998
  • DSc (Technology), Aalto University, 2004
  • Research area: Silicon photonics
  • Joined VTT in 1997

 

TulevaisuudenTekijät_e8r1914 2_lo.jpg

 
Rafael Popper

  • Works as Principal Scientist in VTT's Foresight, organisational dynamics and systemic change team
  • Researcher at the Manchester Institute of Innovation Research of the University of Manchester
  • BSc (Hons), Universidad Central de Venezuela, 2001
  • PhD, University of Manchester, 2011
  • Extensive international experience of applying foresight in academic, commercial and social projects

 

 

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