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DLab connecting people despite COVID-19 challenges

Together. Designing our future. DLabTogether. Designing our future. DLab

The challenges brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic are affecting us all, but the Laboratory for Design of Social Innovation in Global Networks (DLab) continues to seek and find ways of connecting people. Tokyo Tech looks back at the 2020 highlights on DLab’s path towards a better future.

What is DLab?

Together. Designing our future. DLab

DLab is a platform established in September 2018 to connect Tokyo Tech faculty, staff, students, and alumni with members of the public to create together the “future we want” while going beyond the conventional reach of science and technology. As a result of regular workshops and events attended by academics, business professionals, government representatives, high school students, and other members of the broader community, DLab announced its image of a future society — the Transchallenge* concept — and the Tokyo Tech Future Chronology in early 2020. Global turmoil soon followed, but DLab remained active and flexible, approaching the COVID-19 era as a time of new hope, opportunity, and meaning.

Tokyo Tech Future Chronology and 24 future scenarios

Tokyo Tech Future Chronology displayed on Ookayama Campus

The Tokyo Tech Future Chronology, currently consisting of 24 future scenarios, was announced at a public event in January 2020. The chronology offers a bird’s-eye view of the various desirable futures created at DLab workshops, which are displayed in the order they are expected to materialize between 2030 and 2200. This visual tool encourages further discussion and development of scenarios that represent the community’s shared goals.

Turning obstacles into opportunities

When the first state of emergency was announced in the Tokyo metropolitan area in April 2020, approximately 1,000 Tokyo Tech researchers suddenly found themselves at home, away from their familiar research environments. DLab reacted quickly, launching the online Stay Home, Stay Geek — DLab connects during COVID-19 interview series to keep colleagues, students, and members of the public connected and updated on the Institute’s research activities.

Discussions ranged broadly from cutting-edge science and technology to behavioral changes, coping mechanisms, and study and lifestyle recommendations for students during the COVID-19 era. In one of these interviews, it was noted that DLab’s future scenario #8 — the role of a strong, complete, balanced home — had arrived much faster than initially predicted due to the pandemic.


Future scenario #8 arrived sooner than expected
Future scenario #8 arrived sooner than expected

Future Scenario #8 arrived sooner than expected
Future Scenario #8 arrived sooner than expected

The 47 participants interviewed between May and September 2020 included some of Tokyo Tech’s top researchers, such as the following:

DLab Challenge: Encouraging involvement across different fields

The DLab Challenge: Laboratory for Design of Social Innovation Global Networks (DLab) Research Grant was launched in September 2020 to encourage researchers from various fields to join the DLab conversation. The grant supports research connected to the realization of the future image and scenarios created by DLab, and research that contributes to the creation of new disciplines required to realize this image. In academic year 2020, four teams embarked on exciting journeys to conduct research on the following topics:

  • Creation of Real-time Superimposed Projection of Machine Vision Images onto the Real World: Transcending the Limitations of Human Perception and Contributing to the Creation of a Future Society
  • The Quest and Realization of Remote Control Robotic Systems Achieving Working at Home for Essential Workers
  • Exoskeleton for the Mind (Elemi): Augmenting Metacognition with AI
  • Development of Isotopomic Diagnostics

Academic year 2020 DLab Challenge grant recipients with notices of award

Academic year 2020 DLab Challenge grant recipients with notices of award

Academic year 2020 DLab Challenge grant recipients with notices of award

In addition to contributing to DLab’s future image and scenarios, DLab Challenge grant recipients in academic year 2021 will be asked to focus on one or more of the following:

  1. 1.Research that focuses on societal issues during and after the COVID-19 era
  2. 2.Research that experiments with co-creation involving the humanities, social sciences, and STEM
  3. 3.Research that creates broad societal impact

DLab Partners: Creating together with the business community

Efforts to involve the business community in the DLab dialogue have also begun to bear fruit. As of September 2020, seven companies — Sony Corporation, Asahi Kasei Corporation, NEC Corporation, Nihon Unisys, Ltd., Mazda Motor Corporation, Inspire Corporation, and Curious Capital Corporation — had joined the platform as DLab Partners. In regular workshops, these partners can expect an open setting where participants work together towards new businesses and services that support society in the COVID-19 era and beyond.

DLab Partners connecting online
DLab Partners connecting online

Despite the ongoing challenges, the unwavering efforts of Tokyo Tech’s DLab continue to connect people who share the goal of a better future.

* Transchallenge — Transcending limits, embracing challenges

In a "transchallenge" world, limits traditionally associated with geography, physical ability, and other factors do not exist. Irrespective of who or where you are, science and technology offers everyone the opportunity to take on any challenge confidently. Innovations in virtual and augmented reality make co-experiences involving any or all of the five senses a natural part of life. Climbing the world's highest peaks at any age, empathizing with the emotions of other humans, animals, and plants, and other limitless possibilities expand our minds and better prepare us for future uncertainties. Those who are held back against their will by psychological obstacles can simply uninstall any unwanted experiences or memories. Science and technology, which has always advanced humanity, has become a driving force of the future. Some may be discouraged by the potential of failure, but in a "transchallenge" world, no efforts are in vain. There are no meaningless experiences. All actions and results are acknowledged and applied by those around us to create new value and build a better, brighter future. In this kind of new world, what is your next challenge?

Research Center for DEsigning Social Innovation in Global Network

Designing our future together
By gauging the needs and desires of society through dialogue, and by designing our future together, DLab aims to create a brighter, more prosperous world.

Research Center for DEsigning Social Innovation in Global Networkouter


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Published: March 2021