For prosthetic hands with easy and natural controlMon, Mar 26, 2018
Akira Kato is a second-year doctoral student in the Graduate Program for Embodiment Informatics, in which students can obtain their Master’s and doctoral degrees in a total of five years, and specializes in powered prosthesis.
“Prosthetic hands assist bodily functions of amputees who have lost their hands due to accidents and so forth,” Kato explains. “Not only do they neutralize their disability, but prosthetic hands can also strengthen human power, augmenting their original performance.”
As a child, Kato was fascinated by robots featured in movies and anime, such as Star Wars and Gundam. The very reason why he decided to pursue research in prosthetic was because of a simple question he has had since his childhood: Why are humans unable to control prosthetic without restraints, as characters in movies and anime can? Further, Kato was moved by the words of Dr. Hugh Herr, Head of the Biomechatronics Group at the MIT Media Lab who said, “Humans are not disabled… We the people need not accept our limitations but can transcend disability through technological innovation.” He then became determined to produce prosthetic hands with a more easy and natural control.
When he realized, Kato was following the footsteps of his late grandfather, Professor Ichiro Kato. Professor Kato was a pioneer in robotics research at Waseda University, and was involved with producing Japan’s first electric prosthesis. Not to mention, Professor Kato’s students were encouraged to participate in interdisciplinary robotics research, which lies at the foundation of the Graduate Program in Embodiment Informatics, and Kato now does research under Professor Shigeki Sugano, a former student of Professor Kato. “Professors who knew my grandfather encourages me to go beyond what he has accomplished,” Kato says with a smile.
For his research, Kato programs and designs prosthetic devices at the Kobo Workshop, a shared research space where graduate students in the embodiment information program can become academically stimulated through interactions with peers who come from varying backgrounds in disciplines from mechanical engineering to communication. Because there are no physical partitions in the Workshop, students are able to talk to each other whenever they feel stuck, motivating them and facilitating interdisciplinary research.
“Your peers who are experts in fields aside from your own are always nearby, and there is a welcoming atmosphere to ask each other questions without hesitation. My research progresses through daily interactions and communication here.” In addition to doing his own research, Kato advises his juniors and prepares for research presentations at the Kobo Workshop, where he sometimes spend nearly 12 hours.
Kato’s goal now is to take advantage of such study environment and conduct interdisciplinary research. “As the first cohort member of the program, I would like to take on tasks and serve as a role model for the underclassmen.”
*This article is based on an interview published in Vol. 226 of CAMPUS NOW, a publication for guardians of Waseda students produced by the Office of Information and Public Relations.
Second-year doctoral student, Graduate Program for Embodiment Informatics
Kato, who hails from Tokyo, started his undergraduate degree at Waseda’s School of Creative Science and Engineering in 2010. In 2014, he decided to pursue his graduate degrees in the Graduate Program for Embodiment Informatics, recommended to him by Professor Masakatsu G. Fujie, his former advisor. During his second year as a doctoral student, Kato studied abroad for half a year at the University of California, Berkeley, where he learned how to manage time between work and leisure. In his spare time, Kato enjoys watching basketball and American football matches.
Graduate Program for Embodiment Informatics
Embodiment informatics is an academic field that integrates embodiment with information to produce application benefits in important fields, such as production, medicine, and the environment. At the same time, it aims to create composite value from the computing benefits of information technology, the network benefits of communications technology, and the benefits of embodiment in mechanical technology. The curriculum of this program is designed to enable students to acquire a broad range of engineering knowledge. Mechanics graduates are required to take basic informatics subjects, while informatics graduates are required to take basic mechanics subjects. For more information, visit the Program’s website.