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What would you think about a mask that allows you to enjoy the synthesized smells of fine cuisine? How about a floating house for people displaced by higher sea levels due to climate change?

These are among the ideas that Sony Group Corp. have dreamed up — all based on stories created through a collaboration between science fiction writers and Sony’s young in-house designers.

Such stories offer a peek into the future envisioned through an author’s bold imagination, with details of the imagined futures used to develop prospective products and services. This method is called sci-fi prototyping.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has presented scenes like those from a sci-fi movie, such as eerily empty cities due to lockdowns, Japanese companies such as Sony are starting to explore unconventional methods to come up with novel ideas.

Sony gave shape to products and services that appear in stories drawn up through workshops between writers and designers, with words like “2050,” “Tokyo,” and “romance” designated as keywords for the overarching theme.

Models of products and services conceived through sci-fi prototyping were exhibited this summer in Tokyo’s Ginza district.

In the past, Sony had relied mainly on practical methods for seeking the general consumers’ point of view to fine ideas for new designs.

Yet in the collaboration with sci-fi writers, the in-house designers had unique moments of insight. They often found that writers and designers look at things in totally different ways, according to Shigeki Ono, a senior official at Sony’s Creative Center.

“At first, there were times our communication was not smooth,” Ono said.

Designers are good at drawing pictures, but they are not used to writing stories with characters.

One designer who participated said, “I’ve realized how interesting it is to pay close attention to every detail, including a setting for the story and relationships among characters,” according to Ono.

Sci-fi prototyping spread among technology companies on the U.S. West Coast in the 2010s.

Many famous entrepreneurs have been influenced by sci-fi works. Among them is Elon Musk, who founded Space Exploration Technologies Corp., or SpaceX. He aims to take humans to Mars.

Sony’s sci-fi prototyping project was supported by Wired Sci-Fi Prototyping Lab.

It has worked with online advertisement company CyberAgent Inc. to envision possible futures for the media industry.

The laboratory is also working out a concept of a new city that uses advanced technologies in collaboration with a local government.

“We hope many people will learn sci-fi writers’ ways of thinking and utilize them for business,” said laboratory head Tomonari Kotani.

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