Saki Asakawa

What does it mean to you to be an engineer?

Engineers are the “engine” of any team, so they don’t necessarily have to be programmers or technical specialists.

How is your field being redefined for today and tomorrow’s needs? What contributions do you hope to make to this redefined landscape?

Right now, I’m leading a user-experience research project with Professor Regine Gilbert to develop accessibility guidelines for Extended Reality, which involves things like augmented reality and virtual reality. Not all that long ago, that would not have been a possibility, but those technologies are rapidly moving into the mainstream, just as mobile devices did. Who knows what’s next?

My thesis project involves ways to help people with vision impairments enjoy sports events. Currently, they rely on audio descriptions by commentators or sounds produced by crowds and players, and the quality of the experience varies widely. Based on field research, I designed an IOS application that incorporates haptic feedback during tennis matches, and users reported that they understood the gameplay much better with haptic signals added to the audio. I’d like to expand the system to other sports eventually.

Many people have been working in the accessibility field, but the world is still not accessible enough. Perhaps what I can do as an individual is limited, but I can keep moving forward and taking small steps towards making it a more accessible place for all.

How did NYU Tandon help you redefine yourself?

I studied at Carnegie Mellon before coming to Tandon, and I did some interesting projects there, such as collaborating with the Andy Warhol Museum to implement a navigation system and location-based audio description on iOS. I was fully focused on people with visual impairments. When I got to Tandon and learned from people like Professor Gilbert and Professor Amy Hurst, I expanded my awareness of mobility challenges and other issues important in the field. Students have a lot of opportunities to learn new things here and discover new paths to follow, and that’s part of what makes Tandon so special.