Friday, March 13, 2009

Exploring Tokyo: Setagaya Dori and NHK

I did have a section written up on the NHK R&D lab, but I accidentally overwrote it with the Daikeizan Temple description. I'll try to re-write this entry from memory. Sorry about that, chief.

There's not a lot to write about the STRL (Science and Technology Research Lab) since the majority of the building is normally closed to the public. It's really like a large apartment building, with housing on the top floors, and the labs throughout the rest of the building. (STRL page in Japanese.) The ground floor is open to the public, and largely consists of a small number of displays (plus a cafe). The displays include photos of old TV equipment and cameras, plus monitors showing NHK news broadcasts. There is an HDTV with a selection of high-speed capture videos of things like hummingbirds in flight, an egg falling from a height, and a balloon popping under water. The video recognition display is fun - you stand in front of a camera and hold up cards with question marks on them. On the TV, little NHK cartoon figures pop up over the question marks and track the card as you move it around. There's also an example of motion capture used for sports, showing how the path of a baseball can be tracked during the commentary.

My favorite display was the scanning laser. A small model of a house sits on a turntable. When you turn it on, the house spins at a couple hundred RPM, and a white light source (maybe a laser, I'm not sure) scans up and down over the house (also at a high frequency). Now, you can select different paths for the laser, from sine, square, triangle and other wave patterns, plus random noise. Depending on the resulting strobe effect, the house can appear to warp, curve, shatter into wedges and pieces, or explode into a white cloud. The effect looks very real, and when the house stops spinning, it returns to normal.

The lab's mascot is Labo-chan. And, if you move your mouse over the 7th link at the bottom right side of her page, you can see an example of the warped house (AKA: Morpho-vision).

There's a public open house from May 21 to 24.

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