Main menu

Olympus Corporation OPC Hack & Make Project Part 1

An Attempt at Open Innovation That Started from a Rough Sketch

On February 5, 2015, the Olympus Corporation unveiled the Olympus Air A01, an open platform camera ("OPC"). Roughly five years prior, it was a conceptual rough sketch. A new concept of camera was born: a camera that connects to your smartphone and can do everything from taking photos to processing and uploading them to social networking sites. It was Loftwork Inc.'s "OPC Hack & Make Project" that made this possible. This is an exploratory project for a new imaging experience that tackles the theme of open innovation through co-creation.

The Olympus Corporation's Kensuke Ishii and Akinobu Sato happened to incubate the same concept in different places. Loftwork Inc.'s Hajime Matsui, Yuya Tanaka, Mayumi Ishikawa, Shoma Terai, and Tomoko Sekiguchi are partners in the production process of manufacturers. These seven individuals reflect on the road they have just traveled, recounting how a project with no foreseeable end was both tense and fun.

Matsui (Loftwork Inc.): How did the OPC concept come about?

Sato (Olympus Corporation): Things began in 2010, when an employee from our design center proposed a rough sketch for a camera without an operational interface. We built a prototype and presented it within the company, but things stalled and I began to worry. That's when I met Ishii, who was researching at MIT's Media Lab. I remember him saying that they were working on a similar idea over there and that "This kind of coincidence is not a miracle. It's fate."

Olympus Corporation Development Lab - Business Development Office No.2 - Business Development Department No.2 - Development Group - Mr. Akinobu Sato, Group Leader

Ishii (Olympus Corporation): I was looking for the possibility of open innovation in research development. But I knew that in order to prove the value of this internally, I needed to bring in people from outside the company and make something happen. All types of cameras without operational interfaces served as great materials for bringing together people from outside the company to think about use and value. After speaking to a Loftwork Inc. representative about the OPC concept at an MIT Media Lab sponsored event in the spring of 2012, they readily cooperated with us on a trial hackathon for the summer of 2013. Taking advantage of the fact that they would be present as observers, Sato and I began preparing the product.

Olympus Corporation Engineering Development Division - Mobile System Development Office - Image Engineering Department - Research Group No.1 - Mr. Kensuke Ishii

Matsui: I first met Sato and Ishii in November 2013. They said they wanted to stir up activity aimed at bringing a product from planing and development to retail and asked if I could do hackathons or app development. I accepted and had three suggestions by December: "verbalization of the concept", "implementation of customer discovery", and "creation of a creator community".

The Project Starts Before Setting a Manufacturing Date! The Value of the OPC Is Verbalized over Roughly Three Months

Matsui: We had a plan to get expert creators to build us a radical app, but we didn't end up using it.

Sato: It was an interesting idea, but the OPC was still unknown territory for us. If we went entrusted everything to them, nothing would come out of it, even if they made a big bang. We had other fine proposals and didn't mind pushing things back a bit. But as for the planning overall, I felt an energy from Loftwork Inc. They left me with a favorable impression. None of their ideas could have come from within our company.

Matsui: They communicated the details of their proposals, and we kicked off the project in January 2014 without having set a manufacturing date. For the first three months, the Olympus Corporation and Loftwork Inc. held their weekly workshops a total of seven times, during which the value and concept of the OPC were verbalized.

Holding weekly workshops a total of seven times, the value and concept of the OPC were verbalized

Ishii: Getting mutual understanding and consensus from the members was a major accomplishment. Before that there were some heated discussions among members internal to the company, and this was very useful for motivating the members in development. In fact, we were able to come this far because these people gave their all. It was truly a team-building experience.

Sato: There were engineers and designers from the development side who went above and beyond their duties, and I'm glad that they got excited about it. Those who participated then continued to help out, and some of them formed their own team. We were able to lay a foundation for the project in seven workshops of thorough discussions.

Towards the Building of Spaces by Co-Creation: Bringing in Creators and Developers to "Create the Value of the OPC Together"

Matsui: We carried out user interviews after establishing the concept and target user developed in the workshops, but we had trouble trying to get people to understand what was "new"about the OPC. That's when we came to the painful realization that it would be difficult to appeal to users if we determined the value of the OPC solely by ourselves. We then regained our footing by "creating the value together" with creators and developers from outside of Loftwork Inc. Specifically, "hacker" developers and "maker" creators become community-focused OPC fans who use the OPC to form an "OPC community" for building a brand-new camera.The scenario involved us creating an "OPC community" through which developers (coming from "hacker" background) and creators (coming from a "maker" background) would use the OPC to create a brand-new camera and become community-focused OPC fans.

Hajime Matsui, Producer

At that time, KOIL, with which I am affiliated, was opening; open innovation had become a theme internally; and I was consulting the state of open platforms in the world, which is when I had a premonition that innovation would occur through the building of co-creation spaces. Meanwhile, a manufacturing date was coming into sight; and from April 2014, we seriously started discussing how we would design the period leading up to its release. I even went with Ishii and Sato all the way to the MIT Media Lab in Boston.

Sato: That's when I received some inspiration from Joichi Ito, the director of the MIT Media Lab, who told me about the "Four Ps": peers, passion, project, and play. That is, engage with a passion that you and some peers share, play around with some ideas, and then try them out in a project. These four Ps create an indispensable endless cycle. And I was still further impressed when I saw how MIT Media Lab students offered their opinions by starting with the word "Yes" rather than with negation.

There is no certainty that innovation will occur should manufacturers continue working as they always have. I realized that in order for innovation to occur, these kinds of people and this kind of process is necessary. All I can do is inject that essence into a project and share it, not with businesses, but with the general public from an ideal. You have to build things up by talking with your peers, not by thinking in a vacuum. Even if it's difficult to realize all of the four Ps right away, I think that a project will start moving if you have at least "peers" and "passion" to start with.

The Project Is First Unveiled at MIT Media Lab @ Tokyo and a Development Community Begins to Form

Matsui: Our own Ishikawa came on board in May 2014 to materialize plans for the creation of a development community.

Ishikawa (Loftwork Inc.): As an employee working four days a week, I was in charge of announcements, writing weekly articles on Gizmodo and Engadget, and blogging. One of the reasons I participated in this project was because I could disseminate information to media and bloggers interested in the OPC.

Mayumi Ishikawa, Public Relations

After joining, the first dramatic event was the unveiling of the project at MIT Media Lab @ Tokyo 2014 (July 10). It became open innovation at a stage where we couldn't say whether the product was going to appear or not. So there was this dilemma of whether or not we could make it open innovation, and the road leading up to exhibition wasn't exactly smooth, but all kinds of media covered the unveiling, and there was a large response on Twitter.

The MIT Media Lab @ Tokyo 2014 unconference at Toranomon Hills in Tokyo

Ishii: Making a commitment as a business is what is most important when you're implementing open innovation. An official exhibition is the first step. That happened on July 10, after which I really felt that we had come a long way.

Olympus CorporationPartnership