Keiko Katsuragawa's work as a researcher has focused on interface models for navigation systems and other in-car applications. As part of her ongoing efforts to further improve and refine the performance of these systems, she recently spent time as a visiting scholar at Stanford University as part of the Center's Short-Term Assignment (STA) program.
“Stanford's Professor Clifford Nass is an authority in the field of communication studies, and I knew that his participation was essential. When I spoke to him about the project, I think he could sense my passion for the work we’re doing. I tried to communicate to him how exciting and progressive I find this research. I think that passion is what convinced him to join us.”
This was Katsuragawa's first stint as a researcher overseas. She says her biggest challenge was to assemble a team of programmers, designers and other staff to realize the project. “Front-line research and technology is just like any other project: It only becomes a reality thanks to the skills of the people who turn ideas into something tangible.”
Just like when she persuaded Professor Nass to lend his support, Katsuragawa was passionate about putting her team together. “Once the work got underway, more and more people came forward on a voluntary basis, offering to help. They just wanted to be part of the project! I really got a sense of how vital it is to be passionate about what you’re doing. Your network widens, and this becomes a driving force that helps to push your work forward.”
In February 2013, the Nissan Research Center opened its new laboratory in Silicon Valley. The facility will act as a spur to open innovation based on collaboration with leading-edge suppliers. Following her 18-month STA at Stanford, Katsuragawa has continued her work at the new office.
“The ultimate aim is to put our results to use in actual products. A number of processes are necessary for this. We need to build prototypes and run tests using cars in real-world conditions. Silicon Valley is the ideal place for making rapid progress with these processes. Everything moves faster here!”
“The most important thing I gained from my STA experience was connections with people,” Katsuragawa says. “Even when the project was still at the idea stage, I met so many people who made me think, ‘With these people, we can find the methodology to make this a reality.’ In Silicon Valley I want to build on the networks I have already developed. I want to work with companies, universities and a variety of people active in the field, collaborating more widely to create the ideal environment for carrying the project forward together.”
“In order to offer society products that embody new values, researchers need to have a sense of curiosity.” This lesson, imparted to Katsuragawa by her mentors, is one she has taken to heart. “First, set your target far in the future.” That same spirit of curiosity serves as an antenna for envisioning what is yet to come.
“As a workplace, the Nissan Research Center allows you to work on the challenges that interest you most. After obtaining my doctorate my next aim was an overseas research assignment. I achieved that around two years after finishing my PhD. I think that the passion you show to convince people of the value of what you’re doing ranks right up there with curiosity. I know both of these were key for me when I embarked on my joint research project in an academic setting.”
Stanford University attracts students and researchers from all over the world. “Opportunities to meet and be inspired by new people are not limited to the research lab—they’re everywhere. I started chatting with someone at a party after a lecture, and things took off from there,” says Katsuragawa. It's an unparalleled opportunity to make new contacts and expand your network.
“Finding the right people is the biggest challenge. But there's nothing as invigorating and exciting as meeting new people.”