User Interface Designer
AsianScientist (Feb. 4, 2022) – Whether it is the call of birds, the rustle of leaves, the beats of a song or the lilt of laughter—we experience sound in more ways than we realize and often take it for granted. While sign language is an effective and functional form of communication the Deaf, an accessible solution to experience the characteristics of sound without surgery is not yet widely available.
That gap jumped at Tatsuya Honda when he was volunteering as a sign language interpreter during his first year as an undergraduate student at the Future University Hakodate in Japan. To fill that void, he began designing Ontenna—a device that clips onto peoples’ hair, earlobes or shirt collars and allows them to experience different sounds through light and vibration.
Currently a user interface designer at Japanese technology provider Fujitsu, Honda designed the device to translate the rhythm and volume of sounds into a series of vibrations and flashing lights. After testing the design out by attaching it to users’ arms and clothes, Honda and his team discovered that clipping it onto an individual’s hair resulted in the most accurate and unobtrusive experience.
Since the launch of the prototype in 2016, the device has won Honda several honors—including a spot on the Forbes 30 under 30 Asia list in 2017, as well as being named one of Falling Walls’ Science Breakthroughs of 2021. Ontenna is currently being used in about 80 percent of the schools for the deaf in Japan.
In this interview with Asian Scientist Magazine, Honda shares the success of Ontenna and his hopes for a world in which everyone can access sounds.
- How would you summarize your research in a tweet?
Ontenna is a device designed to make sound more accessible to the Deaf. It converts sound into vibrations and light, capturing characteristics such as rhythm and patterns.
- Describe a completed project that you are proud of.
To make the Ontenna even better, we gave deaf students the opportunity to program how its vibration and lights work. By modifying the device in the classroom, students can experience something different and discover a whole new world of sound to enjoy.
- What do you hope to accomplish with your design in the next decade?
I would be happy if deaf people all over the world could touch the world of sound and feel things that they could not feel before.
- What motivated you to go into your field of study?
When I was a freshman in college, I met a deaf person for the first time. I started learning sign language and began volunteering as a sign language interpreter.
For my graduation research, I wanted to create the opportunity for them to feel sound, so I started working with them to develop Ontenna.
- Did you face any difficulties while developing Ontenna?
It was difficult to commercialize my research at a company to produce Ontenna at scale. There were various obstacles like business and safety, but we were able to overcome them with the cooperation of many people involved.
- What are the biggest challenges facing the academic research community today and how can we fix them?
A lot of research at universities is difficult to implement in society. We believe that we can make breakthroughs by working together with companies.
- If you had not become a scientist, what would you have become instead?
I’m a scientist and a designer. I believe that in any work I do, I will always remember to work with the people involved to create things.
- What do you do outside of work to relax?
On my days off, I go to museums, libraries and hot springs to relax.
- If you had the power and resources to eradicate any problem using your research, which one would you solve?
I want to create a world where everyone, regardless of disability, can be themselves and recognize each other’s differences.
- What advice would you give to aspiring researchers in Asia?
Do research that can truly make one person in front of you happy.
This article is from a monthly series called Asia’s Rising Scientists. Click here to read other articles in the series.
Copyright: Asian Scientist Magazine; Photo: Tatsuya Honda.
Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily reflect the views of AsianScientist or its staff.