Technology Developed by Japan Students Receives Attention at SXSW World Tech Event in Texas

Yasuhiro Kobayashi / The Yomiuri Shimbun
Taiga Someya, right, explains his team’s motion capture technology at the South by Southwest tech event in Austin, Texas, on March 13.

AUSTIN, Texas — Digital technology developed in Japanese universities garnered attention at South by Southwest (SXSW), one of the world’s largest information technology-related events held last week in Texas.

There is a growing enthusiasm among students for starting a business, and many are actively traveling abroad to gain experience while young to make a big leap forward globally.

“By converting an athlete’s movements into 3D images, we can check if there are any problems in their decision-making or in the way they move,” said a member of a research team made up mainly of former members of the University of Tokyo soccer team.

At SXSW, the team demonstrated its technology where cameras capture the movements of goalkeepers or other players and convert them into 3D images that can be analyzed to help improve their performance.

The research team got to exhibit this technology at SXSW after winning the university’s selection contest. During the U.S. event, officials from several prestigious European soccer clubs visited the booth and showed interest, the team said.

“I was able to have an experience that I would never have had if I had stayed in Japan,” said Taiga Someya, 25, who had been a candidate for the national youth soccer team. “By participating, we got momentum toward commercializing our technology in the future.”

In addition to the University of Tokyo, teams from Tohoku University, Gifu University and the Nagoya Institute of Technology set up SXSW booths. One such booth demonstrated technology that uses ultrasonic waves to replicate the sense of touch for 3D images, and another demonstrated technology that automatically dubbed dialogue for anime using artificial intelligence. Some booths saw long lines of visitors who were keen try out their offerings.

According to the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry, the number of university-launched startups reached 3,782 in fiscal 2022, more than double the number in fiscal 2014. Behind the increase is a growing support from universities as well as an increased awareness of entrepreneurship among students.

Taketo Sugawara, director of the University of Tokyo’s Startup Incubation and Entrepreneurship, which has been sending students to SXSW since 2014, said, “The level of students has definitely improved over the past decade.”

On the other hand, tech giants like Apple Inc. and Google LLC have yet to emerge in Japan. Compared to the United States, startups have a hard time attracting investments in Japan, and entrepreneurs are said to lack international experience amid globalization.

Austin, the city hosting the event, is known as one of the leading high-tech cities in the United States and the location of electric vehicle maker Tesla Inc.’s headquarters. Many IT professionals have visited SXSW, providing an opportunity for would-be entrepreneurs to expand overseas.

“A continuous increase in the number of global-minded youth could eventually help Japan produce a business leader like Elon Musk in a decade,” Sugawara said.