ResearchResearch at Tokai

Research ExcellenceConfiguring a Social-network-based Information Provision System for Use during Major Disasters

When young, he looked up to researchers and got excited in Akihabara as a young budding 'otaku'

Professor Osamu Uchida's specialty is mathematical engineering. He is researching the use of computer science to solve various real world problems. As a child, Uchida read the biographies of such people as Thomas Edison and Hideyo Noguchi and looked up to researchers. It seems his upbringing greatly influenced him to enter his current research field.

According to Uchida, "For reasons related to my father's job, we had a computer in our house from early on. I first tried using it when I was in the fourth grade. 'This is incredible!' I thought. I also became engrossed in amateur radio, which I'd heard about from an elementary school teacher, and I got my license while in junior high school. I remember that my father often took me to Akihabara. It was not the well-ordered Akihabara of today; it was crowded with electronic parts dealers at the time. It was so fun I could hardly stand it. I may have been turning into what is now referred to as an 'otaku.' This was when I became interested in the communications field, and my interest gradually shifted to the information technology field after the Internet began to become popular when I was in college. These things are related to my current research."

Aiming to configure a disaster victim support system even information illiterate people can easily use during a disaster

Twitter, Mixi and other social networks are said to have been the most effective means of communicating during the Great East Japan Earthquake. Individuals sent out an enormous number of tweets on Twitter.

When the quake first occurred, almost all comments were something like, "It's an earthquake. I'm scared." Then victims in various places gradually began providing and exchanging much useful information such as the intensity of the quake on the Japanese seismic scale and shelter locations. If you use social networks on a regular basis, you can gather information like this yourself when a disaster occurs, but there definitely are many people who are information illiterate, such as the elderly. So Uchida is researching and developing a disaster victim support system that responds to the needs of each individual and that even the information illiterate can easily use.

Uchida commented, "We are aiming to develop a system where if you've registered your personal information in advance, during a disaster a computer system will collect information from social networks and automatically display the information most suited to your current location and background."

Of course there is also a lot of incorrect information included in tweets. There are some who think it must be very difficult for a computer to accurately make such judgments.

"The problem could be solved by combining human and computer abilities to increase information accuracy. For example, you could have a “Correct" button, similar to the Facebook "Like" button, pressed when information was correct, and the comments that received a lot of "Correct" clicks would be displayed higher in the rankings," Uchida said.

When asked about future issues, Uchida said, "There are many issues such as confirming the safety of family members and making a system all-purpose enough to cope with disasters other than an earthquake. I am developing the system in coordination with professors in a variety of fields inside and outside the university. This has become my life's work."

From the laboratory emerges the next Steve Jobs

Uchida's motto is "realizing a safe, secure and comfortable society through the power of information science." His aim is to use his own research to solve problems and issues in society, and he wants his students to think the same way. One aspect of this is that he is allowing students to choose the themes of their graduation and master's theses themselves. He is always telling the students in his lab, "Think about what kinds of problems are occurring in society now and how this research can contribute to solving those problems." The students seem to respond to that and find various problems and issues in their own lives and in the state of society from their own points of view, and then engage in research to solve them. "They teach me many things," Uchida said.

Uchida shared his dream with regards to those students: "I would be happy if a second or third Steve Jobs came out of this lab in the future."

Professor Osamu Uchida

Born in 1973 in Ibaraki Prefecture. After graduating from the Department of Electronic Communications Engineering, School of Science and Technology, Meiji University in 1995, he completed a master's program in 1997 at the Department of Information Science of the Japan Advanced Institute of Science and Technology. He then completed his doctorate at the University of Electro-Communications in 2000.

In 2002, he became a junior associate professor in the Department of Human and Information Science, School of Information Technology and Electronics, Tokai University, before assuming his current post in 2007.

From April to September 2014 he was a guest researcher at the University of Hawaii.

In 2012 he was awarded the institute activities contribution award by the Institute of Image Electronics Engineers of Japan. Doctorate (engineering).