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Front Runner Interview: Ryohsuke Kasahara

【FrontRunner】The Opportunities are Infinite Taking Imaging Technology to New Realms Ryohsuke Kasahara

“Whenever I come across a new technology, I have to absorb it.”

My specialty in graduate school was electrical and electronics engineering in the communications engineering field. My master's thesis was "Production method of optical fibers." I chose Ricoh because of the enthusiasm expressed by a college friend who had already joined the company. "Here you can do lots of things across the whole spectrum; you’re not limited to one field." I’ve found that to be true. Drive control for optical disk drives was my first job when I joined the company in 2004. Ricoh was a leader, both in CD-R/RW media and drives at the time. The company, however, withdrew from the drive business half a year after I entered and stopped producing media a few years later. Nevertheless, research and development of optical memory has continued, although less vigorously. The company does not casually cut off an important technology, and that is a unique Ricoh attribute. Someone is continuing research somewhere. Therein lies the breadth and depth of Ricoh's technology.

Image:Whenever I come across a new technology, I have to absorb it.

I next became involved in research and development on various image processing technologies, including signal demodulation for super-resolution media. During that period, a very unique optical system design method was developed by Ricoh Innovations, Inc. (RII) in Silicon Valley, USA. It was near the end of 2005. The system is called Joint Optics/Image Processing Optimization (JOIPO). This new approach unifies the design of lens and digital-image-processing into a single system, which had been done separately in the past. Combining the two sharply reduced the load of optical design of the lens in image system development, and made it possible to manufacture miniature, lightweight products at low cost.

Whenever a new technology is born, we should try it at once. Precisely this kind of spirit prevails in the R&D group at Ricoh. With JOIPO, I realized that a new image system currently considered difficult to create might be expectations grew. My colleagues at RII and ourselves were instantly charged with examining applications, and I was chosen to lead image system development for mobile objects. The technology features an epoch-making function, which I cannot describe in detail because it is not yet in commercial production. It is the first time for Ricoh to develop an image system in this field. When I joined, I never imagined I would do such serious work <grin>.

Leading edge isn't everything - Balancing the whole is important too

The first prototype on the JOIPO-base was completed in 2008. The resulting system was so compact that we ourselves were surprised, as were the various customers we presented to with our sales people. We wanted to go along so we could see the customer’s spontaneous responses. Although the technology acquired a good reputation in general, things didn’t progress easily from there. Customers hesitate to adopt a technology from a company with no track record in that field. Nevertheless, the high evaluation given our miniaturization results gave us confidence. We repeatedly visited one customer who showed interest, made various adjustments, and were rewarded when they adopted the technology. The deciding factor was that we solved an image turbulence problem that had plagued the customer. We are proud that it was made possible thanks to Ricoh’s strength in image processing technology.

I realized an important point after taking charge of the image system development for mobile objects for the first time: although it is important to deliver outstanding features in the research stage, we must enhance overall performance with the right balance and respond to customer requirements in commercialization. I became keenly aware of how difficult it is to "fill customer requirements" through my own experience. Because the product was in a field never before commercialized by Ricoh, it took time for us to understand those requirements. There were also many things we didn’t need to bore the customer with. We would present something and our customer would give us a look as if to say "Hey, that’s commonsense." So the pleasure we felt on initial visits turned to trepidation as the practical stage drew near, and functionality in the real world became necessary. Emotions ran high.

The product has now entered the mass-production phase. I was also in charge of mass-production design, as a leader of the firmware part, including image processing. Since this was another first for our division, we shared mutual technologies and know how to make them ready for mass-production. Once it reaches the market, the product will be evaluated on its own merits. Because it directly bears on the way people will evaluate Ricoh, I feel humbled. Although R&D engineers are generally thought to conduct calculations and experiments far removed from the market, Ricoh's research style is different. Beyond listening to customer requests, we also occasionally do joint development under our company policy of "Put ourselves in the customer’s shoes."

Image:Leading edge isn't everything - Balancing the whole is important too

Targeting Machine Vision in the near future, using my experience in image systems

During my time in commercialization, I built a development platform. The image system generally consists of two lines: the optical system and the image processing system. Matching these two lines is a key to determining performance of an image system. No matter how far we suppress aberrations or improve resolution through optical design, it is meaningless if the image processing system remains poor, and vice versa. That said, it is not enough merely to improve both performances. As I referred to the importance of balancing for commercialization, points of focus for image quality differ depending on product needs and customer requests. The platform I developed quickly draws out the image quality most suitable to meet specifications. Designers can now easily select required components, interfaces, design tools, etc. for every specification. The platform has significantly improved productivity in image system development. Because technical innovations in this field are prominent, we will continue evolving the platform for years to come, for example, adding new technologies emerging from JOIPO and other projects.

Chances to provide new value have also increased because the platform is in place. Ricoh has accelerated the movement to create new value by combining interdisciplinary technologies, focusing on optical systems. For example, one idea is to incorporate a special filter loaded optical unit with the new image processing technology on one LSI. The technologies and talent needed to do this are available in Ricoh: optics, electrical and electronics, communication, mechanics, software, LSI, and chemistry. Companies with this rare mix of technology and talent are rare indeed.

I'm presently most interested in Machine Vision (MV). MV integrates optics, mechatronics, computer technologies, etc., and the attack focuses on imparting intelligence to mechanical systems. I believe this is a perfect fit for Ricoh, which has abundant technological assets, and in this context I hope to achieve even more in the image system field. Voluntary desires are entrusted if expressed, and there are many excellent "experts in the field" everywhere in the company. I can find no reason not to challenge <grin>.

Message from management

“Join us in a voyage of discovery!”

Wataru Ohtani
General manager
Device and Module Technology Development Center
Corporate Technology Development Group

"Creating business with technology" is not easy. We may overcome hurldes, both big and small, yet still not progress as hoped. It is important to feel that, although we may experience pain, there is also pleasure, if only for the pain. Kasahara is an ace who fully understands the mixed thrill and pain of technology development. And he enjoy it.

We visit the market to see firsthand the value delivered by the products we develop. As Kasahara says, the market brings us both emotion and fear, but the experience strengthens our engineers. Technology development is like an adventure into unexplored lands. Won't you join us as we chart new territries ?

Image:Wataru Ohtani - General manager Device and Module Technology Development Center - Corporate Technology Development Group


Profile:Ryohsuke Kasahara

Ryohsuke Kasahara

Majored in electrical and communication engineering, and in electrical and electronic engineering at a graduate school of engineering. He joined Ricoh in 2004. After research and development of a drive control technology for an optical drive, a system simulator, the demodulation algorithm for super resolution medium, etc., he started research into practical applications for a miniature, highly efficient image system for mobile objects in 2008. Having accomplished commercialization of this system, he is currently in charge also of mass-production design of the image processing part. He also plays an active role in broad areas, such as building the original development platform that realizes the optimal interface between the optical system and image processing system. Hobbies are cooking and deep-sea fishing.

(December 2010)