Upgrade 2023: IOWN and Innovation Demos (Part 2)

The Upgrade 2023 annual research summit opened on March 15 with 24 technology exhibits at the NTT Experience Center (XC) in downtown San Francisco. See part 1 for the first half of this review article. In addition to the IOWN’s All Photonic Network (APN) and the greener urban solutions it can deliver (discussed previously), another IOWN-driven technology that impacts sustainability, as well as safety and health, is digital twinning. 

Several exhibits showed how digital-twin computing realized via IOWN technologies can support sustainable cities by optimizing logistics, transportation, and infrastructure preservation. An NTT-based traffic digital twin, for instance, could enable the safe movement of autonomous vehicles without traffic signals. 

At the level of more fundamental science, the NTT Research MEI Lab is developing a cardiovascular bio-digital twin (CV)BioDT that can inform better healthcare and disease management. The related demonstration in the exhibit hall showed how a CVBioDT could be used to explore different clinical scenarios related to a blocked coronary artery. On Day 2, MEI Lab Research Scientist Iris Shelly discussed a method of parameter estimation that can be used to personalize the CVBioDT model. 

While digital twins mirror reality, digital humans are designed to operate autonomously. Combining natural language processing (NLP) with a human avatar, a digital human – which is typically given its own name – can act as an enhanced chatbot. One demo showed how NLP enables digital humans to appear more conversational than chatbots and respond in a natural manner with patience. Another demo showed digital humans embedded in a virtual world and responding to a user’s voice prompts. While associated with gaming technologies, digital humans have numerous use cases in business settings, interfacing with both customers and employees.

New technologies, including IOWN, can upgrade user experiences in other ways. The low latency of IOWN can reduce the typical delay in video communication from 0.2 seconds to less than 0.02 seconds. This capability can enhance not only business applications but also entertainment and arts. “I was able to play as usual – I was very surprised,” said the Japanese conductor of a geographically distributed orchestra performing Mozart in a recorded video. A similar demo showed how latency-managed network adjustments can also eliminate the lag in remote e-sports, allowing the IOWN APN create an optimum and level playing field. 

Wireless technologies featured in several exhibits. By combining machine vision and specular photometry with private 5G and edge computing, NTT demonstrated a way to detect production line and surface defects, as well as maintain products and detect corrosion, wear, and cracking. A second wireless exhibit showed by increasing the number of connection paths in ultra-high speed 6G communications, a New Radio Network Topology can eliminate holes that would otherwise impair coverage. A third exhibit illustrated how optical wireless communications linking satellites can help build a “space data center.” 

NTT has also been exploring another wireless frontier on earth. By using spatiotemporal equalization to develop underwater acoustic communication that overcomes barriers to existing radio wave transmission, NTT showed how vehicles that previously needed cables could be operated remotely by radio. 

Two more exhibits underscore the wide expanse of technologies on display at Upgrade 2023. The NTT Research PHI Lab is working on photonic integrated circuits based on thin-film lithium niobate. This technology has the potential to revolutionize information processing systems by enabling all-optical computation – not just transport, as in the IOWN APN. This approach is far from being ready to scale and challenge silicon-based processing, but an exhibit featured a live demonstration of devices in development. On Day 2, PHI Lab Principal Scientist Tim McKenna talked further about this new computing scheme based on coherent networks and integrated photonics. 

Finally, in a theater demo that reflected NTT’s heritage as a telephone company skilled with sound waves, NTT showcased a combination of technologies that can create a personalized sound by blocking sound leakage, removing external noise, and allowing only the sounds one needs to hear. The applications include devices like open-ear earphones (given to attendees who experienced the demo and took a survey) and headrest speakers that can be used to create private sound spaces, without being isolating, as is prevalent today.