October 11, 2017
  • Rakuten, Inc

Rakuten Announces the Winners of the Rakuten Technology & Innovation Award 2017

Recognition of achievements that contribute to the evolution of society through cutting-edge innovation

Tokyo, October 11, 2017 - Rakuten, Inc. today announced the winners of the Rakuten Technology & Innovation Award 2017, to be presented at an awards ceremony at the Rakuten Technology Conference 2017 on October 28, 2017.

The Rakuten Technology & Innovation Award is given to individuals, organizations or products in recognition of achievements that contribute to the evolution of society through cutting-edge innovation. Gold and silver prizes are awarded for the most revolutionary developments in technology and the societal contributions they have made in recent years, while Concept Prizes are awarded according to the theme of each year’s conference.[1]

The theme for this year is “Head, Hands, and Heart.Head represents AI and big data, while Hands represents IoT, robotics and devices, and Heart represents people and education. Concept Prizes will be awarded to the most outstanding individuals in each area.

Until 2016, the award was simply called the “Rakuten Technology Award,” but this year it has been renamed as the “Rakuten Technology & Innovation Award.” Our corporate philosophy is to empower people and society through innovation. Based on the belief that by continuing to produce innovation, we can reach beyond the boundaries of the company, support the realization of people’s ambitions and deliver happiness and joy worldwide, we have changed the award’s name and criteria to place more emphasis on innovation.

Through initiatives such as this award, Rakuten continues to boost awareness of the importance of innovation that contributes to the evolution of society and the development of the Japanese economy.

[1] This year there is no group prize.

Winners of the Rakuten Technology & Innovation Award 2017

Gold Prize
Winner: Linda Liukas
Children’s author

Reason for selection:
The importance of diversity has been the subject of much debate in recent years, and while various initiatives have been undertaken to improve gender equality, the number of women in programming remains limited. To address this situation, Linda Liukas has been carrying out programming education projects focusing on women and children, and has garnered recognition for her leadership of the community in this field.

Liukas published an innovative book, “Hello Ruby,” for children to learn the basics of technology and programming without the use of a computer. The book was highly acclaimed and has been translated into 22 languages thus far. It is widely used in programming education.

Liukas is also a founder of the non-profit group Rails Girls, which provides programming education to women free of charge. The group has held workshops attended by over 10,000 people in over 270 cities, and has greatly contributed to the study of programming technology by women and the growth of the women’s programming community.

This award is given in recognition of the publication of innovative children’s books that teach programming without the use of a computer, sustained support of women’s participation in the field of programming, and also in expectation of further contributions in the future.

Silver Prize
Winner: Masako Wakamiya

Reason for selection:
Often having been developed for use by younger generations, most IT services and smartphone apps can be difficult to use for elderly people. In 2016, recognizing the need for apps that take into account the way seniors use smartphones, Masako Wakamiya began learning the programming language Swift, before releasing her iOS game “hinadan” in February 2017. She was selected to participate in the scholarship program of Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference 2017 (WWDC2017). In his keynote speech, Apple CEO Tim Cook introduced her as the oldest developer at the conference at age 81.

Despite having no previous experience in IT or programming, Wakamiya decided to buy her first computer after her retirement at the age of 60 so she could “connect with more people.” In 1999, as the internet was beginning to take off, she was involved in the creation of a website aimed at elderly people called Mellow Club, where she launched the Mellow Denshokan – a project to archive the accounts of those who had lived through the Pacific War. In 2005, the project was awarded the Culture Prize at the Japan session of the United Nations World Summit on the Information Society.

Wakamiya believes that it is important to enjoy what you are doing, even when you face setbacks. She demonstrates that IT can be learned by anyone regardless of age or experience, and that through the use of technology anyone can get involved. This prize is awarded in recognition of her limitless energy for taking on new challenges and also the expectation of further success in the future.

Concept Prize: Head (AI and big data)
Winner: Kazuo Yano
Corporate Officer and Corporate Chief Scientist at Hitachi

Reason for selection:
In the age of IoT, sensors and network technology are being developed at a rapid pace, and through the use of wearable devices and robots, it is possible to obtain a huge volume of sensory data in a short period of time. AI has become essential for processing such volumes of data.

In the past, AI was developed for specific uses, meaning each application required specialized settings, development and optimization. Kazuo Yano led a project to develop artificial intelligence that can be used for multiple purposes: Hitachi AI Technology/H. This AI creates programs from data based on the objective set for each project, enabling it to find the optimal solution for any situation.

Yano also developed a sensor that obtains human behavioral data, and discovered that it could be used to measure people’s level of happiness. Based on the quantified happiness data, he proposed to employees behaviors at the workplace that could improve productivity, such as communication habits and time management. As such, Yano opened the door to new uses of big data for implementing improvements in the workplace. The Head Prize is awarded for his pioneering achievements in the field of AI and in expectation of further developments.

Concept Prize: Hands (IoT, robotics, devices)
Winner: Dot Watch

Reason for selection:
In recent years, smartphones have become so commonplace that it is easy to forget those who cannot take advantage of their convenience. Focusing on this problem, Dot Incorporation, a South Korean start-up, developed Dot Watch for the world’s approximately 285 million visually impaired people. This instantly garnered attention on a global scale.

Instead of a watch face with hands showing the time, the Dot Watch – a smartwatch for the visually impaired – uses a tactile display. A braille translation engine that was developed in-house enables the information to be displayed in braille in “tactile mode.” When connected to a smartphone via Bluetooth, text messages, chat messages, push notifications and other information can be read in braille on the watch. For this groundbreaking invention, Dot Incorporation placed first at both Get in the Ring 2016 and the Slush Tokyo 2017 pitch contest.

While devices that told the time or information through voice input and speech recognition had existed previously, they could only be used where there was no background noise. Through the use of the Dot Watch’s tactile display, visually impaired people can get information in noisy or silent settings without having to worry about their auditory environment. The Hands Prize is awarded to Dot Watch for making use of technology to create a product that dramatically changes people’s lives.

Concept Prize: Heart (people and education)
Winner: Nanako Ishido
Founder of the NPO Canvas, President of Digital Children’s Books, and Associate Professor at Keio University

Reason for selection:
With advances in science and technology, environmental changes, and globalization, our society is changing dramatically. It will be our children who build this new diverse society, and it is important to teach them to respect different cultures and values. Based on this conviction, Nanako Ishido is committed to the enhancement of children’s education, in particular with regard to the digital and technology fields.

Ishido has continued to highlight the increasing importance of creativity and communication skills in a diverse society in the information age. Under the concept of a “hideout for playing and learning,” the NPO Canvas, chaired by Ishido, carries out creative workshops across the country combining both analog and digital teaching methods. To date, the workshops have been held over 3,000 times for a total of about 500,000 children to great acclaim.

Ishido has led a wide range of initiatives including the development, implementation and expansion of the Digital Kids project, a new educational program that uses IT; digital children’s books, a new method of digital expression using e-books and tablets; and digital textbooks, a movement for creating an environment where all children can learn digitally.

In addition to creating activities for children, Ishido serves on the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications’ Information Council and as Associate Professor at Keio University. She works tirelessly to bring together industry, government and academia for the advancement of children’s education. The Heart Prize is awarded to Ishido for her achievements in creating innovative education initiatives using technology.

Selection Committee
Chairman:        Hiroshi Mikitani, Representative Director, Chairman and CEO, Rakuten, Inc.
Committee Members: 
                               Yasufumi Hirai, CIO & CISO Executive Vice President, Rakuten, Inc.
                               Masaya Mori, Global Head, Rakuten Institute of Technology World Wide
                               Hiroyuki Matsumoto, Fellow, Rakuten Institute of Technology World Wide
                               Rakuten Technology Conference Bureau

*Please note that the information contained in press releases is current as of the date of release.

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