We will introduce our thoughts on the research and technology of Alxis Data.
Make Image Sharpening Technology an Infrastructure
in Information-Oriented Society.
The Future ALXIS DATA, Inc. Designs.
Inheriting the business of image sharpening technology from Casley Consulting, Inc., ALXIS DATA, Inc. was founded in September 2020.
“Ring”, further evolved image software “Discovery V '' that is equipped with a world-class image sharpening technology enables image analysis at ultra-high speed and has high expectations for its high practicality of image data used in extensive areas such as industry, medical and academic.
Jun Nishigata, the director, and chief scientist in ALXIS DATA, Inc. has developed this image sharpening technology of “Discovery V” and “RING”, and has been leading the research from Casley Consulting, Inc. to the present. Taku Kustuzawa, CEO of ALXIS DATA, Inc. plays a role in implementing the technology in society.
In this interview, an interviewer was invited from outside and asked the two of them about their careers, the potential, the future of ALXIS DATA’s technology, and the image of the organization that will realize it.
Jun Nishigata, Director and Chief Scientist, ALXIS DATA, Inc.
Providing Image Sharpening Technology to All Fields.
-Please tell us about the business of ALXIS DATA, Inc.
We mainly research image sharpening by using a tool called integral geometry.
The word, “ALXIS” comes from alchemy, and it has the meaning of converting image data into a more complete form(image sharpening).
We have a mission to provide image sharpening technology for applications in all fields. After providing, we will participate as a player to examine how it is being used and how society changes.
Underlying Thoughts is a Challenge for Unsolved Optical Problems.
-It’s not the end after you’re finished with research, but you are aiming to implement as a player. Why did you become interested in research and implementation of image sharpening technology?
One of the reasons was because I used the application, Google Earth in the past. When I operated Google Earth, I experienced my desire for research and felt like I wanted to develop technology myself.
Also, the field of integral geometry and optical imaging technology have high affinity.
During my high school days, I liked challenging a book that had unsolved exercises in geometry on it. Since then, I started studying integral geometry. Today, there is still an unsolved optical problem with the human eye, and I want to solve this problem, improve the regulation of life, and hardware specifications.
Innovation Brought by “RING” in a Modern Society Full of Sensors.
- What kind of problems was “RING”, using image sharpening technology created from?
High pixel count has been talked a lot about in society today.
Not only is there 4K, but higher pixels such as 5K and 8K have appeared and as downsize proceeds, image pitch size is becoming smaller and smaller. Again, we live in a life full of sensors.
While each person owns their own smart phone, and all kinds of sensors are used in infrastructure, there is a situation that image data is becoming enormous. Then, there comes two problems. One is a problem of a blurring image due to diffraction by lens. The other is a problem of calculation amount.
For example, 4K is used for security cameras and bio-related areas, but the image blurs easily due to the optics of the sensor. Furthermore, all enlarged image data in society as a whole must be processed and is compressing the amount of calculation which leads to a large task. There has been an existing image sharpening technology, called deconvolution, but it had a problem that the amount of calculation was very large.
- How does RING solve these problems?
Since the existing deconvolution estimates, analyzes blurring, and repeats try and error against blurred images that deconvolution can’t apply and adjust, it made a loop occur, and the amount of calculation becomes large.
On the other hand, our company succeeded to calculate optical properties by only one calculation, so the amount of calculation is drastically reduced. As a result, we can’t find any competitors because in theory our technology became faster a million times as existing technologies.
“Discovery V” can’t be activated if it doesn’t have optical information put in, so it was necessary to make some assumptions. However, “RING,” which has all algorithms remade can be used under the situation even when you don’t know what kind of properties the optical system used.
Therefore, there is a possibility for all kinds of optical systems to apply. Double the improvement of high resolution of image as before was the limit, but our company is aiming for 20 times more.
Causing a Paradigm Shift
-That’s an incredible number. The impact on society seems to be great but what kind of future do you think will be waiting for us beyond solving such problems?
I think it’ll become a world that optical technology is used for things of various range and scale. It will be effective for operation of artificial satellites, nanotechnology, and areas where material development was impossible because it was too small to see. I envision such a society where we can respond immediately to things like coronavirus by observing the physiological state of a virus.
To accomplish such a future, we want to go beyond the limits of high-resolution theory in the form of a paradigm shift. This is very difficult because there is no way to explain that it can be high resolution just because it’s theoretically like this. The paradigm shift is preceded by experimental data. Then, the next process is to create a theory to explain the experimental data. After firmly doing so and raising awareness, I want to spread the application.
In Paradigm theory advocated by Thomas Kuhn, paradigm means the truth of that era.
In measuring light, projection measurement was the previous measuring method, but a new measurement technology, called weak measurement is being established without a theoretical background in recent years. ALXIS DATA aims for a paradigm shift by researching technology which the theoretical background isn’t decided on yet.
What is Important is an Attitude that Emphasizes Both Theory
-Aiming for a paradigm shift like that, I believe business partners and colleagues are important. Who are your main business partners?
Most of our partners are Universities. When the partner is a company, we face challenges like having them show us their issues. However, when we develop new applications, universities enable us to ask questions frankly such as, “Please confirm if the function works effectively.” or “What kind of new function do you need?”
Their reactions against our questions like, ”It is useless for us” make us appreciate them for their honest answers.
-You have such relationships with your partners, so the research and development necessary for paradigm shift can be progressed. In the end, what kind of person is desirable as a colleague to make a paradigm shift happen from now at ALXIS DATA, Inc.?
The person should have expertise, but we emphasize interdisciplinary more.
For example, it is easy for the person who understands both image and the medical area well to go and find the customers’ issues. Researchers doesn’t always only research, but he or she has different assignments as a sales engineer that goes to see the customer and find issues. We think the person who can work like this is desirable.
Studying physics in addition to mathematics is one of my great strengths.
The world of physics is very interesting and it’s not a subject that you can solve everything if you understand its theory.
Taking and analyzing the data from the experiment can lead to the theory. It’s a way of thinking that emphasizes the importance of both the theory and data. Even in business, we emphasize the attitude of going to see customers, receiving data, and ask in detail about the meaning of the data, what kind of background it has and ultimately put that information into our technology.
Furthermore, it doesn’t mean it’s for the company, but I think it’s important not to be influenced by the external environment. I want to work with someone who has an important mindset of doing what that person likes and can bring out their own interests into work.
Taku Kustuzawa, CEO, ALXIS DATA, Inc.
I Was Fascinated by the Attitude of Balancing Research and Business
-Please tell us about the story of how ALXIS DATA, Inc. was founded.
I met Nishgata and Sunagawa, and then the three of us founded ALXIS DATA, Inc. Although I started working for Casley Consulting, Inc. right after I graduated from university, the reason I joined the company was because of my encounter with the two of them.
I had been interested in astrophysics since I was child and had a dream to be a physicist.
I belonged to the Department of Physics, Faculty of Science in a university and studied astrophysics and astronomy. While I was in university, I did research for two years at a Japanese research team in National Astronomical Observatory, which succeeded in taking a picture of black holes for the first time in the world.
However, the environment in the Japanese academic world is very tough now, so we can’t make a living by doing research alone. In this situation, I wanted to make the most of my love of thinking, intellectual curiosity towards physics, and my strength in mathematics into my career, so I decided to jump into the business world, and started job hunting.
At the beginning, I was taking interviews with a foreign-affiliated consulting company, but one day, a recruit agent told me, “There is an interesting person. I recommend you meet him.” Then, I met Sunagawa.
He was searching for students like me, who loved mathematics, and physics, and wanted to make the most of those interests, and was searching for a job. I also met Nishigata through Sunagawa and had a strong impression about his attitude toward the research in the meeting. I was, so to speak, a stereotypical scholar who loves playing with formulas by feeling the romance through intellectual curiosity about black holes in space and gravitational waves.
However, Nishigata didn’t only have the attitude of strong intellectual curiosity for the research, but he also had a business perspective with an eye on commercialization.
Balancing the two attitudes, kind of conflicting ideas, he was working hard on his research, which was impressive.
While basic research is decreasing in Japanese academic society, I had expectations for the roadmap to implement it to society as a business. Therefore, I wanted to join the company to work with them. After I joined, I eagerly engaged in sales of technology and created a business plan, and we founded ALXIS DATA, Inc. last September.
Issues of Academic Research and Business Utilization of Technology
-You said that the academic environment is rough. What issues do you think there are?
The most obvious issue is money. The budget of Japanese academic research among the National budget has been reducing drastically every year.
There aren’t any exceptions, but the budget cut of basic research that I was studying about, or astrophysics and astronomy are decreasing more and more. Therefore, excellent researchers don’t remain in university and take jobs in companies or go to university overseas. There’s a mechanism that excellent researchers don’t remain in Japanese academic institutions, universities, and research institutions.
-In this situation, you have dived into the world of business. Do you see issues to utilize the technology of a technology venture company like ALXIS DATA ?
I think a start-up, having technology can’t produce things by itself and grow the company unless it’s licensed to major companies, which is exactly the issue we are facing.
If Deep Tech like us don’t have any place to sell, it will not be a business. I think the business issue of a technology venture is that major companies don’t want to buy its technology, even if it’s a great technology.
For example, in the optical field, Japanese companies, such as major camera manufacturers and microscope manufacturers have a large share of sales in the world. I see the situation that they like the technology, but they don’t buy licenses from technology ventures because they will lose marketing areas.
Looking overseas, the situation is completely different. When we talk to western companies, they are very positive about start-up technology, since they want to create better products by taking in great technology into their products. On the other hand, in Japan, technology is hard to be bought even if the technology is great. This is the problem we are facing.
The Vision and Mission of ALXIS DATA
-So, it will be the role of ALXIS DATA to solve this problem in the future. Please tell us about the future you see beyond solving these challenges and about the vision of your company, “Maximize the Use of Information.
The development of an information-oriented society in the future is being talked about. In an information-oriented society, 80 to 90% of the information perceived by the human being is said to be image captured from the eyes.
Today, there is a problem that with a model where images are taken in by the mechanism of physics, the information deteriorates, so information can’t be fully utilized.
Our technology can remove the limit of information, so the image data can have full information and it will be able to utilize the information as an infrastructure. It can be incorporated into software, hardware devices such as cameras, or anything that uses image data. In that sense, we believe that the ultimate ideal is that all optical devices will be equipped with our technology and that a society of information utilization can’t be obtained without our technology being realized.
-Please tell us about your mission to realize the vision.
We have the mission to make “Practical Use of Deconvolution Technology.”
Simply put, deconvolution technology is a technology that can restore the details of images and videos obtained from smart phones and cameras that we normally use. Therefore, if deconvolution technology can be applied to the video data that we see now, there is an advantage that we can have a very large amount of information.
However, processing speed of deconvolution was so slow that it couldn’t be used practically.
"It was so slow that it took one hour to process a single 4K image. The practical application we are aiming for is to make the processing speed super-fast. By commercializing “RING” as high-speed deconvolution, we can incorporate it into various devices, and we believe that we can achieve practical implementation of deconvolution in society.
We Need Colleagues to Go Towards Our Ideal
-What is the division of roles between the three founders to achieve your VISION and MISSION?
Nishigata is the chief of research and development. As the central pillar of our company, he will carry the core value of the company, such as culture and technology, and move forward. Sunagawa supports all sales activities. I have the role as a flag-bearer, looking over finance, sales activities, and exterior communication. Since technology has a lot of technical terms, it’s difficult to explain technology easily for customers to understand. It’s my role to lead transaction by understanding the academic content, technology, and business to appropriately inform general companies about technical terms and proceed with business.
But there are issues in terms of human resources as an organization in running towards the ideal future.
Nishigata is a mathematician, physicist, and software developer. I can lead the activities to implement the technology into devices and put them out to society, and deal with the business, but I don’t have any experience with developing devices. For that reason, we still have little knowledge of products that incorporate the device, so if there is anyone who has experience and are interested in the area come join us as a colleague, it will be a strength that makes us move towards our ideal technology.
The Power Needed for an Organization To Create a Market That Doesn’t Exist Yet
-What is your outlook and what are your thoughts and images on the kind of organization necessary for that outlook?
We have just been able to stand at the starting line to bring our technology to the world.
For my outlook, we will take the first step to implement our technology properly to society by solidifying intellectual property and strategy. After that, we think we will raise funds, provide our technology to major companies, or some companies that can be our partner, and bring out actual products to the world.
During this period, we believe these three elements are necessary in our organization: intellectual curiosity, gut, and honesty.
Although we run towards our mission which is practical use of deconvolution, the deconvolution market doesn’t exist yet. We must create a global market as a leading company of deconvolution.
Where will this technology be incorporated into? What kind of product? What kind of market will be opened, and what kind of society will be realized because of the opening of that market? These answers will become visible by always thinking about and doing business by the sweat of a brow. In this sense, I believe we need intellectual curiosity in pursuit of an answer that hasn’t existed yet, and motivation or guts to find the answer that isn’t visible.
As for honesty, since I always have something to be aware of, I cherish the awareness and apply it to my actual work. For example, it is said that it is important to make an effort and continue something, but if you don’t understand “that I can’t make an effort, I can’t continue, I can’t do this,” it’s difficult to make an effort, and continue.
The power to realize and be aware of what you can’t do, which is called ignorance of knowledge in difficult words, always be aware of your weaknesses and improve them. As an individual and organization, I want to keep moving forward, cherishing such awareness.
ALXIS DATA is trying to open up an unexplored market by capturing the era of trillion sensors and sharpening images.
We can feel their energy to change the world by the paradigm shift in optics.
Image sharpening technologies such as "Discovery V" and "RING" might open up the future soon.