More university collaboration for future technologies: the first Fujitsu Small Research Labs National Conference

Fujitsu / December 19, 2023

Since April 2022, Fujitsu has been deploying "Fujitsu Small Research Labs" both domestically and internationally, beginning with Fujitsu research bases built within universities. Established in close collaboration with researchers from a wide range of universities, these laboratories provide a framework for industry-academia collaboration activities aimed at solving various complex and advanced social issues.
Through the Fujitsu Small Research Labs initiative, Fujitsu is working to strengthen collaboration with individual universities, as well as to promote mutual collaboration between the research bases at each campus.

As part of this initiative, the "First Fujitsu Small Research Labs National Conference" was held on October 6, 2023, at Hokkaido University. Approximately 100 people from Fujitsu and 13 universities nationwide gathered in-person alongside more than 70 online participants.
In this article, the Industry-Academia Collaboration Promotion Office, which promotes the initiatives of Fujitsu Small Research Labs, introduces the results and insights gained at the national conference alongside comments from participants.

Status of Fujitsu Small Research Labs initiatives

Traditional industry-academia collaboration at Fujitsu has largely consisted of individual researchers collaborating around common technological themes. However, this tactic raised concerns about bias towards initiatives depending on particular technologies and existing researcher networks, as well as theme choices aimed at short-term results.

Thus, in order to build an effective research framework that addresses social issues without being bound to existing themes and networks, we established a place where teachers and students from a wide range of universities could work closely with Fujitsu researchers on research, human resource development, and more.

Since April 2022, we have established research bases at domestic and international universities, sequentially opening "Fujitsu Small Research Labs,” where Fujitsu researchers conduct research activities in close collaboration with universities while residing on campus. So far, we have opened 13 bases in Japan and 3 bases overseas, and are conducting activities at each base.

Overview and aims of the first Fujitsu Small Research Labs National Conference

As research activities progress at each university, beginning to lead to results, there is an appetite for opportunities to collaborate on a larger scale, as well as the belief that an even more expansive collection of knowledge is required to solve complex social issues. Further, because Fujitsu Small Research Labs is still a new initiative, each base is working, to some level, on a trial-and-error basis.

These considerations sparked the notion that creating a place to share and discuss initiatives and challenges related to research methods and human resource development could further activate and develop collaborations with academia starting at Fujitsu Small Research Labs bases, leading to major breakthroughs such as the resolution of social issues and increased innovation.

Fujitsu Small Research Labs across Japan, as of November 2023

Fujitsu Small Research Labs across Japan, as of November 2023

It was this notion that led to the "First Fujitsu Small Research Lab National Conference," which gathered researchers from Japanese universities involved in Fujitsu Small Research Labs with researchers from Fujitsu at Hokkaido University.

The aim was to present and share the efforts of each Fujitsu Small Research Lab in order to promote horizontal collaboration. Providing researchers across fields with an opportunity for intensive interaction and discussion was an unprecedented attempt both inside and outside of the company.

The conference was held with hopes for the emergence of new research directions from mutual exchange, as well as the activation of creativity and action for initiatives such as human resource development, with Fujitsu Small Research Lab as an axis.

The day of the conference saw presentations on a wide range of activities beyond traditional joint research, such as "perspectives on what kind of social issues we aim to solve in the future" and "human resource development and external company collaboration and related events starting at each Fujitsu Small Research Lab base."

With an active exchange of opinions and discussions initiated among the participants, the conference was a success.

Hiroyuki Higuchi, Senior Research Manager, Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, Fujitsu speaks at the first Fujitsu Small Research Lab National Conference in Hokkaido, October 2023.

Participant voice: Companies as hubs for a new form of innovation!

At the social gathering held as a part of the National Conference program, there were many comments resonating with the purpose of the conference. One comment, from Takashi Toyota, the Executive Manager of Academia-Government-Industry Collaboration Department at Hiroshima University, serves as a good example.

"It's wonderful that Fujitsu has brought together so many universities, and in such a lively event. While there are times when universities serve as a base to gather companies together in the same space, between companies, in open places, there often seems to be an atmosphere of reserve—perhaps because of confidential matters. But today is different. With a company acting as a hub to create a space for universities to gather, everyone is speaking very frankly from various perspectives, without just sticking to specific interests. We all seem to want to have genuine conversation. This could lead to new discoveries."

Several comments in the post-conference survey shared that Fujitsu should drive these initiatives more often as a hub.

Participant voice: Discussions between researchers with diverse perspectives

The social gathering saw the fusion of researchers' diverse perspectives alongside active discussions. Here are some examples:

Discussion on "the correctness of information" (Mathematics x Trust)

With fake information as a growing social issue, a discussion on "the correctness of information" began among researchers. In response to a comment from a mathematical standpoint, "I'm interested in how far we can delve into the correctness of information with language models and mathematics (Professor Kamiyama, Kyushu University)," a challenge was introduced from a trust standpoint: "I'm challenging how far we can go with the mechanisms on the Internet (Senior Research Manager Futamura, Data & Security Research Institute, Fujitsu)." This sparked a discussion that heated up from both a mathematics and trust perspective.

Challenges to the integration of humanities and engineering

Researchers from a wide range of humanities fields, including psychology, philosophy, and social sciences, also participated in the conference, leading to lively discussions among humanities researchers. Fujitsu Small Research Labs at Hokkaido University and Ochanomizu University have been established around the theme of humanities (university) x engineering (Fujitsu). Researchers working at these institutions had a discussion focused on their different approaches to combining humanities and natural sciences.

For example, a research method that determines an AI target and then obtains the social science and psychology knowledge necessary for that AI (Associate Professor Kashiwagi, Social Collaboration Lecturer, Ochanomizu University), and a research method that works to improve motivation and more in combination with various well-being-related AI (Assistant Professor Ikeda, Hokkaido University), held a stark contrast, with each professor passionately discussing their differences as well as potential learnings from each other’s positions. To see an academically lively discussion hold, at the same time, a mutual sense of sympathy about the difficulty of integrating humanities and engineering, was impressive.

Left: Discussing "the correctness of information"(From left: Kazuaki Nimura, Senior Research Manager, Data & Security Research Laboratory, Fujitsu; Takuya Sakamoto, Data & Security Research Laboratory, Fujitsu; Professor Naoyuki Kamiyama, Kyushu University)
Right: Discussing "the fusion of humanities and engineering" (From left, Ayumi Ikeda, Specially Appointed Assistant Professor, Hokkaido University; Shiho Kashiwagi, Project Associate Professor, Ochanomizu University; Kumi Yoshihara, Research Administrator, Ochanomizu University; Professor Etsuko Saito, Ochanomizu University)

Towards the Further Development of Industry-Academia Collaboration

The First Fujitsu Research Labs National Conference boasted the participation of not only researchers, but people from the industry-academia departments and research support departments at various universities. We heard many voices, such as "I felt the seriousness and enthusiasm of the people involved" and "I felt the possibility of collaboration and development," and were able to share our own thoughts on promoting and developing the activities of Fujitsu Small Research Labs.

In particular, we received many comments about the efforts in human resource development at Fujitsu Small Research Labs at Kyushu University and Keio University, saying that "active participation of students utilizing the Excellent Social Doctor System" and "a mechanism to absorb students' ideas through intensive lectures, including group work conducted by Fujitsu researchers," were very helpful.

As detailed above, an expansive exchange of opinions across organizations and fields took place between university researchers and Fujitsu researchers at the First Fujitsu Small Research Labs National Conference, confirming results that aligned with the purpose of establishing both Fujitsu Small Research Labs and the conference itself.

In the world of technology, Fujitsu cannot neglect collaboration with universities if it hopes to continue to lead the evolution of technology and cultivate and hire excellent human resources. From this perspective, Fujitsu Small Research Labs will aim to strengthen the win-win relationship between the company and universities.

Masayoshi Shimizu
Industry-Academia Collaboration Promotion Office, Technology Business Management Unit, Fujitsu
Hirotaro Ohira
Industry-Academia Collaboration Promotion Office, Technology Business Management Unit, Fujitsu
Jun Sonobe
Communication Strategy Division, Technology Strategy Unit, Fujitsu

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