Denso Corp’s X-mobility is mini electric mobility vehicle with in-wheel motor system controlled by smartphone

Written by: William on October 15, 2014 at 8:54 am | In PRODUCT INNOVATION | No Comments

At Ceatec Japan 2014 last week Denso Corp showcased a prototype mobility device for transporting babies and light luggage that can be controlled by your smartphone or tablet.

The X-mobility can have three or four spherical wheels, each with its own motor, battery, decelerator, controller, sensor and Bluetooth module.

denso x-mobility electric vehicle carry luggage in-wheel motor smartphone tablet app control

It could be used to carry babies (presumably it would have to be made a bit taller) and also small luggage at futuristic airports and train stations, or even at malls to transport customers’ shopping to their cars. It can hold up 20kg, 44 lbs.

The X-mobility uses a smartphone or tablet app called X-mobi to steer the vehicle. The wheels exchange data by infrared light and their batteries last around three hours on a single charge.

See the X-mobility in action here, being controlled by a tablet.

No plans have been announced for commercialization yet but we think there will be lots of applications for such a nifty small mobility device.

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Times Car Plus – Affordable Car Sharing for City Dwellers

Written by: William on October 3, 2014 at 7:40 am | In LIFESTYLE | No Comments

This article by Greg Lane first appeared on Tokyo Cheapo.

While it’s great not needing to own a car in Tokyo (with all the incumbent expenses) there’s no question that it can be fun or sometimes necessary (big shopping trips) to get behind the wheel. That’s where car sharing services – like Times Car Plus – come in really handy, and for much less money than you might expect.

car sharing services tokyo japan times plus

Times Car Plus is a service run by the company that operates the Times Car 24 parking lots which seem to sprout up on vacant land whenever a building gets demolished. There are literally thousands of locations dotted throughout the metropolis and beyond, so there is more than likely one nearby wherever you are in Tokyo. While the carparks are almost ubiquitous, not all of them have Times Car Plus cars available. Small parking lots may have only 1 or 2 cars while the bigger ones may have up to 10 or more cars available.

Getting Signed Up

Although sign-up and reservation is all in Japanese (if you don’t read Japanese, you’ll definitely need a friend to help). When you sign-up, you’ll have the option of joining as a corporate member or as an individual. If you have your own company in Japan, you’re best to sign-up as a company as it’s cheaper. Individual membership fees are ¥1,030 a month while the company plan has no monthly fees. The individual plan however, does include ¥1,030 worth of free driving each month, so if you use it regularly it will balance out.

After you’ve entered your information in the website, you’ll be given a few options to complete the membership. The fastest way is to head to the one of the Times Car Plus offices with your Japanese driver’s license. If everything is OK, they’ll hand you your membership card – which you need to unlock the cars.

How It Works

Reserving the car is relatively easy – even if you don’t speak much Japanese. Just install the Android or iPhone app, play with the map until you find a car nearby that meets your search criteria and then click the reserve button. This is where the system breaks down slightly – you’ll be sent to the mobile web page (which you’ll need to sign-in to) to complete your booking. When it’s time to pick up your car, head to the designated car park, put your card over the touch scanner on the back window and then climb in. The car will then start talking to you, telling you to remove the key from the device in the glove box. Then, you’re free to drive off. When you return it (to the same car park) you just do this in reverse.

car sharing services tokyo japan times plus
Using the map, you can find nearby cars that fit your search criteria, then book them.

The Charges

Times Car Plus has a super simple system for charging. If you just want to grab a car and start driving, the cost is ¥206 for each 15-minute interval. So if you drive around for an hour, you’ll be charged ¥824. There are no charges for fuel or mileage. If you need to fill up, there is a fuel card attached to the driver side visor which you can use almost anywhere. If you do stop to fill up, they even give you a 15-minute free bonus. The ¥206 fee is for what they term “basic” cars – Suzuki Swifts, Mazda Demios and even larger Toyota Prius and Honda Fit Shuttles. If you want a “premium” car, the pay as you go fee is ¥412 for each 15-minute interval. The premium cars include BMW 116s, Mini One Crossovers, all electric Nissan Leafs (leaves?) and Audi A1s. However, if you reserve one of the longer time packs, you can get the premium cars for the same price as the basic ones. For example, if you get the 6-hour pack, you can choose any car you like and the total stays at ¥4,020. The only condition is that the premium cars are popular, so you should make sure you reserve early.

car sharing services tokyo japan times plus
Nothing like a Chiba traffic jam to remind you how awesome the train system is.

After you’ve completed your trip, you’ll be sent an email summary of your trip – with surprising detail. Listed, is the total time of rental, distance covered, maximum speed reached (I hit 99mk/h), emergency accelerations (apparently I had two), emergency braking (zero) and any subsequent penalties. The fact that it records everything means you should think very carefully before opening up the throttle on a deserted country road. As the maximum speed limit in Japan is 100km/h, presumably if I had gone a few kilometres an hour faster, I would have incurred a penalty.

Special Deals

In addition to the 6 hour pack, there are 12-hour packs, 24-hour packs, early night packs, late night packs and all night (strangely termed “double night”) packs – each with a mileage component. They also run regular campaigns. For example, there is currently a whole weekend pack during autumn for approx. ¥9,000. Generally, for longer rental periods, you may find places like Niconico Rentacar to be better value.

So how is it?

It generally works really well. However, you are sharing the car with others, so you’re hoping that the previous occupants cleaned up properly after themselves. On my first experience, the car was spotless. On the second, it contained rubbish, empty drink containers, food crumbs and even two boxes of cigarettes – all of which I had to throw away. After you’ve returned the car, Times Car Plus sends you an email asking about the state of the car which gives you the chance to tell them that it contained rubbish – so presumably the previous driver will get a black mark against their membership or some kind of penalty.

The actual driving is more fun than I expected. Tokyo’s blade runner style road system with tunnels, multilevel bridges and elevated motorways taller than a 10-storey building and toll booths every 5 minutes can seem intimidating, but you’ll likely find traffic levels much lower to what you’re used to at home and finding your way around isn’t difficult at all. If you can’t use the Japanese sat nav system, Google Maps turn by turn instructions also work pretty well.

Alternatives

Car sharing has really taken off in Japan recently. In addition to Times Car Plus, there is Orix Car Sharing and a another company called Careco – both of which partner with other car park providers to offer similar services so if Times Car Plus is not available near you, these may be good alternatives. We hope to review both of these at some time in the future, so stay tuned!

Read on Tokyo Cheapo.

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Ride around Kyoto on the KOTO LX-20 bicycle designed for kimono wearers

Written by: William on September 19, 2014 at 8:57 am | In LIFESTYLE, PRODUCT INNOVATION | 1 Comment

When in Rome, as the saying goes. And so when in Kyoto, wear a kimono. There’s nothing pretentious about getting into “costume”, so to speak, and exploring Japan’s old capital in a kimono. It’s fairly common to see both Japanese tourists (men and women) doing it.

But kimonos are not designed for walking fast and are certainly not designed for riding a bicycle — which is a shame, because Kyoto is a city ideal for cycling around, its layout being in the old grid system of Japanese capitals (see Nara).

Enter the KOTO LX-20, a kimono bike — that is, a bicycle designed for riders wearing kimonos.

kyoto kimono bicycle koto lx 20 bike wear traditional clothes japan cyclists

Its concept might have traditional clothing in mind but the design itself feels retro and pop — not dissimilar to a Brompton — with the bottom bar set very low so your straight and long kimono won’t have issues with the pedals and so on. The chain looks fully covered so getting oil on the kimono also shouldn’t be a problem.

kyoto kimono bicycle koto lx 20 bike wear traditional clothes japan cyclists

There are current three versions, each in its own wa (Japanese) color: OBOROZUKI (light blue), YUUGAO (white) and KOMURASAKI (purple). Wearing a matching kimono the best effects while cycling around Gion.

The bikes costs ¥48,000 ($440) and come with a snazzy leather saddle and three gears (there are some slopes in Kyoto). The KOTO LX-20 went on sale in April this year in Kyoto — has anyone seen them around the city? — but were recently showcased on Japaan.com and Rocket News 24.

kyoto kimono bicycle koto lx 20 bike wear traditional clothes japan cyclists

We’re not sure if they are available for rental yet but surely it’s just a matter of time before kimono rental shops and hostels offer them.

kyoto kimono bicycle koto lx 20 bike wear traditional clothes japan cyclists

Japan is a land full of cyclists, both of the hipster variety, the designer variety, and just the humble mama-chari “granny bike” variety. And so now we have the “traditional” Japanese bike, of sorts.

kyoto kimono bicycle koto lx 20 bike wear traditional clothes japan cyclists

Here you can see the KOTO LX-20 in action around the old capital.

jts_may2013

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Toyota’s Camatte Lab at Tokyo Toy Show 2014 lets you design your own sports car hood

Written by: William on June 13, 2014 at 3:28 pm | In LIFESTYLE | No Comments

Toyota has once again collaborated with Znug Design to produce another fun Camatte booth for the Tokyo Toy Show.

Following the Camatte’s first appearance in the 2012 and 2013 editions of the fair which allowed kids to play around with car panels, now comes a double treat for both design and automobile fans.

tokyo toy show 2014 toyota camatte lab customize car design hood led znug kids children

The Camatte Lab is divided into two zones. The Tech Lab gives visitors an unusual up-close look at the inner workings of the car. The hands-on Design Lab is more creative, letting visitors customize a Camatte vehicle.

The Tech Lab features a Camatte57s without its body panels so you can see how the steering gear and differential gear box work. The internal parts are shown moving when the steering wheel and accelerator are operated.

tokyo toy show 2014 toyota camatte lab customize car design hood led znug kids children

The Tokyo Toy Show booth features multiple screens so even the driver can see in detail what is going on with the mechanics from every angle.

tokyo toy show 2014 toyota camatte lab customize car design hood led znug kids children

The neighboring Design Lab has a Camatte57s Sport vehicle with special LEDs projecting onto the hood. This means visitors can customize the sports car by displaying their own digital drawings with the LEDs. Kids, get your crayons ready!

The system scans the drawing and then projects it onto the car. Here are some of Toyota’s ideas for designs.

tokyo toy show 2014 toyota camatte lab customize car design hood led znug kids children

tokyo toy show 2014 toyota camatte lab customize car design hood led znug kids children

tokyo toy show 2014 toyota camatte lab customize car design hood led znug kids children

Toyota bills Camatte as a “customizable, sporty, family-oriented concept” that will “free your imagination”. The name is inspired by the Japanese word for caring, meaning both “caring for others” and “caring for cars”.

The Tokyo Toy Show 2014 is open to the public this weekend at Tokyo Big Sight.

jts_may2013

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walking bicycle club: Shuwa Tei, Kenya Hara design new 3-wheel electric “Walking Bicycle”

Written by: William on May 2, 2014 at 10:50 am | In LIFESTYLE, PRODUCT INNOVATION | 2 Comments

walking bicycle club is a new brand of electric bicycle developed by automotive parts manufacturer Katayama Kogyo in cooperation with caliber designers like Shuwa Tei and Kenya Hara, and other advisors. The result is part mobility, part fashion vehicle.

walking bicycle japan electric bike scooter hara kenya shuwa tei designer vehicle wbc

The three-wheel motorized “Walking Bicycle” is pedaled in the same way as you would walk, making for an intuitive vehicle that is “pedestrian” in style in the best possible sense of the word. Oh, and they look mighty fine too.

walking bicycle japan electric bike scooter hara kenya shuwa tei designer vehicle wbc

Going on sale in October for 290,000 yen (around $3,000), the makers have set a target of shipping 100,000 in three years. Who do they hope will buy this vehicle? The target is younger consumers but also the middle-aged.

It can reaches speeds of up to 15mph (24km/h). Obviously that’s not just due to the rider’s walking abilities. There is a built-in “power assist” electric motor, which on a single charge should be able to go up to 12 miles (20km) on an average road surface.

The cool thing is you don’t need a license to ride this on a public road in Japan (like other electric bicycles, it is counted in the same class an ordinary bike) and you don’t get tired like you do when pedaling on a regular bike since the muscle action required is more leisurely.

walking bicycle japan electric bike scooter hara kenya shuwa tei designer vehicle wbc

walking bicycle japan electric bike scooter hara kenya shuwa tei designer vehicle wbc

The Walking Bicycle is 1.2 meters (3.9 feet) long and weighs 36.3kg (80 lbs). It comes in several color variations: Brilliant Red, Moegi Green, Champagne Gold or Sakura Pink. Look out for it from July when the makers will open a showroom in Omotesando.

walking bicycle japan electric bike scooter hara kenya shuwa tei designer vehicle wbc

walking bicycle japan electric bike scooter hara kenya shuwa tei designer vehicle wbc

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Japan to get special Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games car license plates

Written by: William on February 11, 2014 at 11:25 am | In LIFESTYLE | No Comments

Japanese drivers will be celebrating the Tokyo 2020 Olympics on their cars with special license plates.

All the boxes have been ticked here. Mt Fuji? Yes. Cherry blossom? Yes. Perhaps the only stereotypically “Japanese” image that is missing is a geisha.

tokyo 2020 olympic games license plate car special

If the 1964 Olympics are anything to go by, design should be paramount to the Games… and design also means merchandising. Get ready for mountains of toys, stationery, souvenirs, memorabilia and more… all with the Olympic logo.

The announcement of the special car license plates is merely the first step towards the national fanfare with which the Games will be prepared. Apparently it is the first time such a special car license plate will be made in Japan; they are usually very simple affairs in Japan. However, the images shown in this news report are only suggestions based on what officials have described. No formal designs have been released yet.

While we are certainly curious to see what the official mascot and logo design will be like, things don’t bode too well for the mentality of the Games organizers, though.

The executive committee behind the Games is populated almost entirely by men of pensioner age.

Former Prime Minister Yoshi Mori (76) is one of the most senior — both in rank and age. He recently made a real gaff — in a long career of gaffs — by giving World War Two as a reason why he never learnt English, despite being the head of state of the world’s second biggest economy at the time. He had been asked at a news conference if only-Japanese-speaking men all of a certain age was the right image to give out at such an international and prestigious event as the Olympics.

“I was in second grade when the war ended and until then, English was considered the enemy’s language,” Mori apparently said.

Well, I hope he leaves his weapons at home come 2020′s opening ceremony.

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Tokyo Motor Show? No, it’s the Itasha Motor Show!

Written by: William on November 26, 2013 at 11:55 am | In LIFESTYLE | No Comments

While the crowds were flocking to see the latest innovations in the Japanese automotive industry for the Tokyo Motor Show, there was another big car event in Odaiba last week.

As Nissan and Toyota et al showed off their concept cars that might just indicate the future of mobility (or the labors of an generously funded R&D department), November 24th also saw a one-day-only Itasha exhibition out in the bay.

itasha otaku car moe tokyo motor show

Itasha are heavily — well, let’s be honest, overly — decorated cars that reflect the owner’s tastes in moe. A typical Itasha will feature shojo girls and other anime characters, and of course is driven by a self-professed otaku.

On Sunday, over 80 cars were driven down to Odaiba to be shown off to the world.

itasha otaku car moe tokyo motor show

itasha otaku car moe tokyo motor show

itasha otaku car moe tokyo motor show

itasha otaku car moe tokyo motor show

itasha otaku car moe tokyo motor show

itasha otaku car moe tokyo motor show

itasha otaku car moe tokyo motor show

itasha otaku car moe tokyo motor show

itasha otaku car moe tokyo motor show

itasha otaku car moe tokyo motor show

itasha otaku car moe tokyo motor show

itasha otaku car moe tokyo motor show

This “three-dimensional” Madoka car was spotted earlier this year and caused a storm on Twitter. Nice to see it back.

itasha otaku car madoka moe tokyo motor show

[All images via MyNavi.]

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Toyota Camatte57s is a build-it-yourself concept car for kids

Written by: William on June 19, 2013 at 11:05 am | In PRODUCT INNOVATION | No Comments

Showcased at last week’s Tokyo Toy Show 2013 was the Camatte57s, a concept car by Znug Design for Toyota.

The brainchild of Kenji Tsuji and Kota Nezu, the minimal Camatte57s is not only designed for kids to drive (obviously not on the road!), but also for them to be able to have fun personalizing and playing around with the car aesthetic.

toyota camatte 57s tokyo toy show concept car kids

The car has outlandish tires that poke out, plus the whole thing has this funky retro vibe that both hipsters and kids will love. The three-seater is very cozy — deliberately so, since the idea is to make driving in the car fun for kids again.

A previous version was introduced at last year’s Toy Show but this year there was an improved model which can be customized with fifty-seven lightweight panels. You don’t need complicated tools to attach and switch the panels — it’s so simple, even a child can do it.

toyota camatte 57s tokyo toy show concept car kids

The idea is the driver’s parents sit in the back, supervising their child while being taken for a ride. Just in case, there is an extra brake in the back so if the little one has trouble, daddy or mummy can stop the vehicle. Naturally you cannot have your kid drive on the real road so it is intended for large gardens or other special sites — not ideal for Japan, but surely tenable in America, Australia, Europe and other markets.

This is one of the first generation models.

toyota camatte 57s tokyo toy show concept car kids

To demonstrate, they also showcased a “sports” version of the Camatte57s with stripes and snazzy colors. It’s based on a Tamiya toy released last year.

toyota camatte 57s tokyo toy show concept car kids sports version

Here are Toyota’s other suggestions for how to customize the colors. “Infinite possibilities”, as they say…

Why so much effort being put into inspiring the next generation to love cars? Surely they would automatically taken an interest, no? Not so in Japan, which for years has been suffering from a downward trend in new car sales among younger consumers known as kuruma-banare. Car rental services are very convenient and reasonably priced in Japan, and with most of population living in cities, people feel like they don’t need to own a vehicle. (Car-share programs are more limited, due to legal issues that tie a car officially to a specific parking space.) There is some irony in Toyota being the biggest car manufacturer in the world but its cars are bought less and less by drivers in its own country. Projects like the Camatte57s are an attempt to reverse the trend and get new drivers interested in having their own car again.

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One-man silent electric helicopter travels 100km/h

Written by: William on November 12, 2012 at 10:48 am | In PRODUCT INNOVATION | 4 Comments

Recently showcased at an expo in Nagoya, Hirobo‘s new helicopters can travel up to 100km/h (62mph) and fly for 30 minutes at a time.

Being electric it is also very quiet and there are one-seater choppers that sell for 30 million yen ($375,000) and manless ones (a drone, but a nice one that doesn’t kill people!) for 10 million yen ($125,000).

Hirobo believes the domestic market alone for this kind of technology will grow to 10 billion yen (over $120 million) in 2021.

one man seater electric silent helicopter hirobo japan
[Image source]

The one-seater chopper is not quite as funky as the James Bond rocket backpack in Thunderball, but it’s getting there.

This kind of mobile technology is obviously very useful for earthquakes and other disasters when you need to send people into dangerous and difficult terrain to look for survivors. Sure, it’s maximum travel time is very short, but this may be vital for delivering supplies of blood, organs or other emergency equipment.

manless drone electric silent helicopter hirobo japan

Hirobo also hopes to develop two-seater versions.

GEN Corporation previously developed the GEN H-4, which they claimed was the world’s smallest manned helicopter.

The GEN H-4 was much cheaper (7.5 million yen / $100,000) but runs on noisy gasoline.

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