Moto Kaneko, President and C.E.O of Shinano Kenshi Co., Ltd. shares the history of his company, its establishment as a silk spinning company almost 100 years ago, its transition to modern industry, and very importantly, how Shinano came to its ongoing commitment to DAISY.
In 1918, Yukinori Kaneko established Shinano Spun Silk Spinning Co. Ltd. Over the decades the world changed and along with it industry was changing. Forecasting changes in industrial trends, the company entered into the electrical industry with small precision motors in the early 1960's. This was followed by an expansion into electronic equipment in the 1970's – electronic equipment that would often utilize our motor products. Our design and manufacture of audio cassette players is one example of this.
With successful business expansion behind us, the company launched and built the Plextor brand in the early 1990's. This brand – Plextor – became well known for high performance and highly reliable products such as high speed CD-ROM drives, and professional business audio players for background music systems (BGM). It was around this time that the 'DAISY story' began.
First Contact with Talking Books for the Visually Impaired
In 1993, Mr. Sakimori Ikeda, who was a managing director of sales and marketing at Shinano, received a call from a researcher at the Japanese Ministry of Welfare. The Ministry was looking for a CD based talking book player for the visually impaired. He knew that Shinano Kenshi had a special CD player that could realize up to 8 hours playback time with the 12cm CD media used for the BGM application. After this call, Mr. Ikeda immediately started market research.
Another key person was Mr. Hiroshi Kawamura, who was at that time the Chairman of IFLA/SLB (Section of Libraries for the Blind). He helped lead us to organizations such as libraries for the blind around the world. He also helped introduce our company to experts in this field.
Concepts and Starting New Developments
Following our market research, we knew that all countries in this field had similar difficulties. They were tied to the technology of the existing analogue system which was used for talking books, and many realized that the analogue system would soon be obsolete technology. Some organizations had already started work on developing digital systems. But it became apparent that not having a global standard for a digital technology for accessible reading material would also bring limitations to the digital talking book field and its users – people who would come to rely on such technology for improvement of life, self-reliance and leisure.
The vision Shinano Kenshi had at this time was driven by our understanding that a global standard would be needed and in fact, should be a top priority in this market. It was then that Shinano Kenshi lent its commitment, brand and full support to the development of DAISY so that people around the world could enjoy devices that could deliver many benefits associated with digital technology. But before the DAISY standard could be established, it was necessary to achieve a common understanding about a global standard. This was difficult to do as the people who needed to understand were often unfamiliar with or had no knowledge of digital systems generally. Helping them understand and imagine this format and its benefits was a challenge. A product of this type had not yet been invented. We were venturing into a completely new area.
As a first step to help organizations understand this technology and its benefits, Shinano Kenshi began the actual prototype development of a digital player in late 1994. By utilizing our principle technologies for speech compression and our CD drive technology that included a file management system, the first prototype player was completed in April 1995. Through this development process, Mr. Tatsu Nishizawa, an engineer with Shinano Kenshi directly involved in this development, applied for basic patents for digital talking book players. However, through our company's desire to make this technology known and available to potential future users, Shinano Kenshi's current President and CEO, Mr. Moto Kaneko, made the decision to allow DAISY Consortium Members and its Friends to use these patents. For more detailed information, please refer to the
policy area of the DAISY web site.
Editor's note: this is considered a "defensive use of patents", that is, something is patented to ensure that someone else does not patent it and restrict its use. It was a way of ensuring that the technology could be implemented by others worldwide and that it could benefit people with print disabilities everywhere.
In May 1995, Shinano Kenshi formed a development partnership with the Swedish software company "Labyrinten Data AB" (which in 2001 became a part of Dolphin Computer Access Ltd.). The Swedish firm would focus on the development of PC-based, digital talking book authoring software which was funded by TPB, the Swedish Library of Talking Books and Braille. It was agreed that through the partnership, Shinano Kenshi would concentrate and fund the development of the DAISY Digital Talking Book player itself.
Standardization of DAISY
Through these developments and the promotion of the new digital talking book system at various exhibitions and conferences, it was Shinano Kenshi's honor in December 1995 to host an international meeting at our mountain resort with the founders of the DAISY Consortium. Later, in 1996 through 1997, Shinano Kenshi received funds from a Japanese government organization, the "Association of Technical Aids", to provide the prototype players for the worldwide DAISY field trials of the DAISY Consortium. In all, a total of 32 countries joined the trial and Shinano Kenshi provided some 400 players for evaluation. Through this field trial, the new digital talking book concept could be understood and accepted both by organizations producing talking books and by people who read them. This was the beginning of worldwide acceptance of DAISY digital talking books and the DAISY Standard.
Launching of the First Commercial Player and Others that Followed
By applying feedback from the field trial results, the first commercial CD-based DAISY talking book player, the TK-300, was developed and then launched in May 1998. In 2002, the world's first portable DAISY recorder, Plextalk PTR1, was launched. And then in 2004, the first DAISY network software player, NET-Plextalk, was successfully launched.
Today, Shinano Kenshi remains as committed to DAISY and its related technologies as we were back in 1994. The company continues to design and develop advanced players, delivery devices and support mechanisms in response to the changing and growing needs of our global community of people...people who have come to rely on and trust our products. We invite all to visit our company's website at www.skcj.co.jp and/or our Plextalk website for additional information.
Editor's Closing Note:
From silk to electronics to DAISY players and recorders - it has been an incredible journey, one that has benefited many, many thousands of people around the world who are unable to read standard publications. Through the commitment of Shinano Kenshi and other companies that are Friends of the DAISY Consortium, tools to read accessible information that provides a truly enhanced reading experience are a reality. It is important to note that Shinano Kenshi has not left the silk industry. It holds a major share of the world spun silk market.