[Voice of Researcher]


Travis Bartley

S. Tanaka Laboratory, Microsystem Integration Center, Tohoku University


Q1. What kind of research activity you are doing in your research center?

A1. The Micro System Integration Center at Tohoku University focuses on advancing silicon process technologies for things like sensors, actuators and circuits. I am working on a tactile sensor project at the Tanaka Shuji Laboratory, which is just one of many projects here. We are collaborating with Toyota to research and develop a practical sensor network for robotics applications. The commonly held view is that robots will play an increasingly important role in society in the future. However, in order for that to happen, robots need to have better awareness of their environment so that they can successfully accomplish tasks without any accidents. A practical tactile sensor system is necessary, but developing such a system is not simple. Sensor fabrication, system integration, signal processing and network communication are just a few of the major technical challenges we are solving, and I am excited to play my part developing digital circuits and algorithms and building whatever we need.


Q2. How do you feel since joining in your research center?

A2. I think the main thing that sets Tanaka Lab apart from others is the mindset of the members here. Perhaps if we had a motto it would be something like, “you can do it,” because we are encouraged to learn processes and technologies ourselves rather than outsourcing our work to other design teams. If you don’t know how to solve a problem that you’re working on, you should learn how to do it, instead of having someone else do it for you. This kind of mentality means that every member is a bit of a generalist, which is unusual in a world of ever-deepening specialization. It is not uncommon for a single lab member to do system or design, fabrication and testing. Of course, that’s not always the case, and we do depend on each other and on our relationships with collaborators in other labs and in industry.

Another thing I like about this lab that Professor Tanaka is directly involved in each project in the lab. I think it’s somewhat common for leaders to take strictly administrative or managerial roles, but he is actively engaged in understanding and offering guidance for each member’s work. That’s not an easy thing to do since the research done here spans over many different areas of science.


Q3. What is the future goal for you?

A3. My goal is to advance science and technology in a way that benefits the global society. Currently that goal is being met in my work in sensor networks. I plan to continue working in this lab to advance tactile sensor technologies. Our goal is to make the tactile sensor system easy to fabricate and implement, high accuracy, low latency and high resolution. If we can achieve that, then we will have made an important step towards practical robots that are both dexterous and safe.

After this project, I hope to transition to working in artificial intelligence applications. AI is fascinating to me because it’s the only innovation that has the potential to innovate by itself. For example, if you can develop an AI whose intelligence is comparable to your own, that AI can then go on to improve itself or develop a better AI. As this cycle repeats, the level of intelligence increases, allowing for more challenging problems to be solved, and greater innovation to take place. I think intelligent automation and AI will be powerful tools for removing bottlenecks in many fields in the near future. I am excited to not only watch the rapid development of science and technology, but also to be an active participant.