My Purpose: Cooperating with colleagues, and to bequeath My Purpose: Cooperating with colleagues, and to bequeath
Voices 2024.02.05

Thinking about invisible radio waves... a great accomplishment born from constant research.

  • #My "Changes for the Better"
  • #Laboratory
  • #R&D
  • #Interview

In today's world of televisions, radios, cell phones, Wi-Fi, and numerous IT products, wireless communication is a vital part of social infrastructure. Any interruption or delay in communication can lead to deadly accidents. In such an important field, Ms. Kanako Yamaguchi has continued to research cutting-edge technologies since joining the company. She says she initially chose this career path because of her high grades in science subjects in high school, but she has continued to be remarkably active in the field, earning a Ph.D. while working at the company. She speaks calmly but enthusiastically about her thoughts and opinions of wireless communication using radio waves, the views she has been able to see as she has progressed over the years, and the motivation that has come from these efforts.

What is good wireless communication?

The word "researcher" may cause us to think of white coats, laboratories, chemistry rooms, and beakers, but this is not the case with Ms. Yamaguchi. She does not wear a lab coat or shake a beaker. She studies the invisible radio waves of wireless communication.

“In the movie, "The Matrix," you see streams of green letters on a black background. I write programs on a black background with a lot of energy, just like in the movie. Since radio waves for wireless communication cannot legally be emitted without permission, we check what kinds of tendencies they have by sending them through a program that is like virtual space. If there are no problems, we install the program on the board and demonstrate the method with a prototype device.“

Although we don’t pay much attention to radio wave communication because of its invisibility, it is now one of the infrastructures that runs this modern society. The services that are based on its technology are TV, radio broadcasting, cell phones, Wi-Fi, contactless IC cards, and ETC, to name a few. Because of this indispensable infrastructure, the research challenge in wireless communications is how to deliver large amounts of data to large numbers of people without distortion or delay.

“For example, we used to use cell phones only to send e-mails, but now we watch videos and send large numbers of photos. There are various factors in wireless communication, such as data volume, reliability, and speed, but I have been researching to create better wireless communication than what we have now. Compared to wired communication which use cables, wireless communication can cut out much easier. That is why reliably sending data is so important.“

The difference of between university and the company provided a change.

Since childhood, she has always enjoyed crafting things and working with her hands, and her good grades in science subjects led her to the engineering department at university to study wireless communications. After two years of intensive research in graduate school, she joined Mitsubishi Electric in 2014. How did she feel about the difference between university and the company?

“When I was a student, everything was desk research or simulation, and all I needed to do was improve the performance of a limited part which I was working on. But when I joined the company, I had to look not only at a particular part, but also at the whole balance of the system. So the field here is much wider to care for, and we even check to see if the system is overqualified. For example, we may receive a message from a customer that a certain specification is too high for them, and that they would rather reduce the cost. Also, when it comes to the actual commercialization of a product, we have to think not only about the system, but also about a wide range of issues such as heat and antennas of other components. The difference can be huge.“

In other words, she had to broaden her perspective from her time at the university. This, of course, requires collaboration with other departments.

“In the lab at the university, I basically worked alone, so I didn't have a sense of working with others. But in this company, we collaborate with experts in different fields and proceed with development. Of course, we can’t just throw everything at others and call it a day - we have to communicate and learn to understand their work properly. But sometimes, not only in different fields, but even among people in the same field, we cannot always understand each other, or we end up going in different directions because of gaps in our dialogue. Communication is very important.“

Struggling in the ocean - the pain of research

She often refers to data in English

Ms. Yamaguchi worked at the company while going to graduate school, and she successfully earned her Ph.D. degree. This fact alone shows her strong desire for research, and the episodes she casually recounts show the strength of her will.

“Since I was a student, I had heard that Mitsubishi Electric was a good place to pursue a doctorate, and since the best qualification that a researcher can obtain is a doctorate, I felt somewhat weird about not earning it. Universities let you remain a student for a long time as long as you pay your tuition, so it is easy to slack off and postpone tasks. That is why, as a company employee, I set time limits and my own deadlines when writing my dissertation.“

She also told us how she was unable to graduate from university due to a misunderstanding about credits right before her graduation. But in that extra year, she worked harder on her research by attending international conferences, and learned to be tougher as a person by studying abroad. She learned to "use failure to her advantage," and she didn’t miss out on obtaining her Ph.D.

She earned it in two years, when it usually takes three. However, the research itself has never gotten easier, even after earning her Ph.D.

“The lack of immediate, visible results is perhaps one of the most difficult parts of research. If we had a clear goal or mission, we would know the process and necessary tasks to get there, but we don't know the mission at all in the beginning, so we have to start from the point of defining it ourselves. Also, the path to the goal varies, and we have to try one way or another; we experience trial and failure, and sometimes we need to go back to defining the mission again. It’s tough work, really. But it is precisely these difficulties that allow me to enjoy a big sense of accomplishment when we finally reach the goal.

Research is a tough world - it’s 80% failure, 20% success

She connects a board to the computer to load a program.

In research - where forming hypotheses, and doing experiments and demonstrations are repeated - there is no researcher who does not fail. Only those researchers who have courage to fearlessly take on challenges, unalarmed by repeated failures, will be able to reach brilliant goals. In the case of a company, the key to innovation is whether or not it can allow its researchers to fail, as well as appreciate their willingness to take on new challenges.

“I used to have the impression that Mitsubishi Electric was a rather conservative company. There was a time when I had to go through a lot of processes to avoid failures before trying something new; as a company, we knew we would fail, but we really didn't want to fail as much as possible. Recently, however, the world is moving so fast that I feel firsthand how the atmosphere within the company is changing to encourage us to try first, look back when an error occurs, and move on to the next step.”

Ms. Yamaguchi observes that research is 80% failure and only 20% success. Nevertheless, she does not leave it to luck to determine whether the failure is a minor damage or a serious one. She has to be aware of what she is doing this work for.

“I try to clarify the purpose of each task, rather than just finishing them as some kind of routine. Otherwise, as I explore various paths, I may gradually lose sight of what I am doing. I try to minimize rework by going back to the meaning of each task.”

It’s important for research to think about the future.

Since Ms. Yamaguchi's work is directly related to social infrastructure, her job is about improving society. Moreover, its impact extends not only to today's society, but also to a future one.

I always think about what future may come. For example, in the field of railroads - which is my research field - if the birthrate is lower in the future, there will be fewer drivers, and the train system will become driverless. So I think about what kind of technology will be necessary to support that society. We often discuss at the company what kind of society we would like to see in 20, 30, or 40 years.”

However, no matter how much they contribute to improving society, they are very unlikely to receive any kind of direct appreciation from consumers, either in the present, or in the future.

“Infrastructure is something that we take for granted. If you are not aware of it, it means that it is so pervasive and stable in operation. For example, if we think about cell phone signals as a consumer service, we are able to smoothly watch videos, which are usually large amounts of data, but because we take this for granted, we are not aware of technological advances, are we? This is how important the radio wave is, and you don't realize it until you lose it. But that is precisely why I want to create something better, with responsibility."

My Purpose is to cooperate with colleagues, and to bequeath.

How can we create better services and products? There is a saying, "If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” This proverb seems to apply precisely to Ms. Yamaguchi's thoughts.

“I used to be able to handle all my tasks myself, but as I became more senior and the volume of tasks increased, I eventually learned the limits of my capacity. But what I wanted to do, and what I had to do, was beyond that capacity, and so the obvious realization is that we should work together. My individual performance may decline, but as a unit of a team or company, my work is more beneficial.”

Ms. Yamaguchi, who is now able to see not only herself but also those around her, has come to care more about others.

“I want everyone involved to feel something positive, not only about the product, but also about the process, such as that they enjoyed working together, or that they were able to be helpful. Since we are working together, it would be nice if we could influence each other in a positive way.”

Her vision is not limited to individuals or companies, but extends across generations and countries. However, she seems to see this as something natural she does, just as she does with her research.

“In the field of wireless technology, the barriers are breaking rapidly, and so pursuing the wireless communication technology of a particular product is no longer enough. I hope to achieve a bigger and better future by bringing different people, technologies, and products together. Also, I have recently been involved in work related to academic conferences, and I hope to collaborate with people not only within the company - and think not only about the development of technology - but also about how to pass this research and development to the next generation… how to raise the next generation of people in science.”

Kanako Yamaguchi

INTERVIEWEE

Mitsubishi Electric Information Technology R&D CenterKanako Yamaguchi

Entered the company in 2014 after graduate school
Dedicated to the research of wireless communication
A hard worker who earned a doctorate while still working at the company
From the north, but not a fan of cold weather

Written by Our Stories Editing Team

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