Premium Cocorobo Imouto Version: Sharp’s moe “little sister” character robotic vacuum cleaner goes on sale

Written by: Japan Trends on November 7, 2014 at 2:58 pm | In PRODUCT INNOVATION | 1 Comment

After teasing us with the prototype back in the spring, Sharp has now made its moe version of the Cocorobo vacuum cleaner an actual product.

The Premium Cocorobo Imouto Version will only be available for online orders in November and December, with orders set to be delivered in mid-January. However, if it proves popular, we expect at the least the electronic stores in Akihabara will be carrying this “little sister” model of the cleaner.

Sharp’s Cocorobo is a successful robotic vacuum cleaner series that can talk to you. Add a cute female anime character (“Cocorobo-chan”) and a suitably moe “sister” voice and you have the concept for this Akiba-flavored version.

sharp cocorobo imouto premium vacuum cleaner robot anime moe character otaku talking akihabara

The Premium Cocorobo Imouto Version is voiced by the 16-year-old actress Ibuki Kido and with illustrations and character design by mangaka Kinusa Shimotsuki. It (she?) can tell you the weather and also greets you with a “Good morning, darling”, and even talks to you about famous regional spots around Japan. Since the voice actress hails from Aomori, Cocorobo-chan even switches into local dialect sometimes.

Sharp debuted the female robot in March and wanted 11 people to test it at home. They got over 1,200 applicants for the trial in just a week, so we can assume they are confident that mass production is going to be worthwhile for their coffers.

sharp cocorobo imouto premium vacuum cleaner robot anime moe character otaku talking akihabara

It draws on a cloud for the data to create the “conversations”, meaning it can respond to the season and weather for that day.

Such cuteness comes at a price. It costs a whopping ¥148,000 ($1,200).

If your budget doesn’t stretch that far or your tastes are rather different, we recommend you try out the regular Sharp Cocorobo vacuum cleaners instead.

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CEATEC 2014: Toshiba unveils Aiko Chihira, a talking, signing android robot

Written by: William on October 8, 2014 at 10:54 am | In PRODUCT INNOVATION | 2 Comments

It seems that everyone has a robot these days, even SoftBank.

At CEATEC 2014, Japan’s biggest tech event, Toshiba has unveiled its contribution to the Japanese robot canon — an android that can talk and sign.

ceatec 2014 aiko chihira android robot sign language toshibaImage via The Verge

Aiko Chihira is an example of what Toshiba hopes will be a new line in humanoid communication robots that can “man” receptions and also help with nursing people, a chronic problem as Japan’s population ages.

Aiko Chihira has silicone skin — uncannily like Orient Industry sex dolls, then! — and was jointed developed by aLab Inc., Osaka University, Shibaura Institute of Technology and Shonan Institute of Technology.

Aiko Chihira is equipped with 43 servomotors that move her arms and hands. While it is common to see androids and robots that can interact and converse, one that has also mastered sign language is unusual.

Toshiba anticipates having enhanced Aiko Chihira’s technology so much by 2020 that it will be able to serve as an actual guide for foreign visitors to the Tokyo Olympic Games! Would that make you feel more welcome to the Olympics or rather put off?

CEATEC kicked off yesterday in Chiba’s Makuhari Messe and this year features a host of 4K televisions, fuel-cell and hydrogen technology, as well as a Sharp-developed color infrared car camera.

toshiba glasses ceatec 2014Image via The Verge

Toshiba also showed off its answer to the Google Glasses at the expo, Toshiba Glass, though we’re not sure why it has opted for the peculiarly singular noun. Is there only one lens?

Oh, and there was an obligatory ping-pong robot from Omron. If Aiko Chihira is going to take care of visitors, will this table tennis bot be a future Olympic athlete, then?

ceatec 2014 omron table tennis ping pong rally robotImage via The Verge

Probably not, since Omron has designed the tech so it doesn’t try to beat the opponent, just sustain a rally of a 100 strokes. Phew. Saying that, the sheer size of the robot still makes it pretty intimating to play against!

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Roboko: Shinjuku Kabukicho Robot Restaurant gets its own mascot character

Written by: William on September 4, 2014 at 8:08 am | In CULTURE | No Comments

It generated enough headlines when it opened and now it will surely get some more.

The Robot Restaurant in Shinjuku Kabukicho launched in late 2012 on a wave of publicity, not least for its enormous budget and advertising campaign featuring the eponymous robot vehicles been driven. Even if it wasn’t your thing, admit it — you were curious too, right?

And now the Robot Restaurant has its own mascot character, Roboko. (Strictly speaking, they have simply rebranded their robotic vehicles that star in the show as a mascot.)

Roboko is taking part in Japan’s “battle of the mascots”, last year won by Sanomaru. The robotic vixen is entry #55 in the corporate character competition in the Yuru-kyara Grand Prix, which is decided by public voting.

roboko robot restaurant kabukicho shinjuku mascot character yuru-kyara grand prix competition

We’re not sure about Roboko’s chances against the likes of Kumamon and Funassyi, but you can’t knock them for trying. Last year there were 1,245 regional mascots and 335 corporate characters in the running. The top two regional mascots (the corporate ones get a separate ranking) had over 1 million votes each! (In other words, entering the competition is great for getting more exposure.) The 2013 Grand Prix’s top corporate mascot was Kosuke, the character for the Japanese Cooperative Insurance Association.

The restaurant has made over 10 of its “robots”, with the first ones on display in the entrance as they were apparently actually too big to fit in the final space. They reckon this makes Roboko perhaps the largest yuru-kyara in Japan!

shinjuku kabukicho robot restaurant tokyo

As we wrote in a review last year, we found the Robot Restaurant a bit half-baked. There aren’t any genuine “robots” in the show, more like vehicles that that the dancers ride around on. And despite the risque outfits, it’s not really an adult show nor a regular idol event — something that sits oddly in between. And the staff at the reception were just like you’d expect from a venue located in Tokyo’s most notoriously sleazy district, i.e., pretty unwelcoming.

It also felt significant that around half the clientele were foreign (the restaurant ranked 16th on a recent list of most popular sightseeing spots in Japan for overseas visitors). Anyway, we don’t want to sound too snarky, we are sure that the show must have some appeal and we wish Roboko all the best in the competition. We would say “break a leg” but we doubt that’s physically possible for her.

Voting continues until October 20th, with the winners announced in November.

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Robotic pets making a comeback in Japan with new models and upgrades

Written by: Japan Trends on August 27, 2014 at 5:54 pm | In PRODUCT INNOVATION | No Comments

Robotic pets, also known as robo-pets (not to be confused with the actual Robopet), are making something of a return to the shelves of stores in Japan in a valiant effort to buck the trend of local toy manufacturers’ sales declining as the birth rate falls.

We all remember the days when Paro and AIBO first burst into our lives. Now such robotic and interactive animal toys are pretty standard. But let’s take a look at some of the new entries in the market and also take a trip down memory lane while we’re at it.

Back in the 1980′s Tomy (long before it merged with Takara) launched a successful range of robotic toys called Omnibot. They included such high-tech functions as an integrated cassette player (no sniggering at the back!) and could carry things for you if you were lazy enough. Omnibot’s reign in the hearts of kids and geeky teens was brief but it has made a bit of a comeback, at least in name. Takara Tomy have borrowed the brand for two recent new robo-pets.

The Omnibot Hello! MiP is a two-wheeled robot that can dance for you and even carry your drinks!

omnibot hello mip two-wheel robot

Things have certainly moved on since the original Omnibot. No cassettes in sight here. reThe Hello! MiP can move around by motion sensors responding to your movements — e.g. place your hand in front of it — as well as be controlled by your phone.

They also released the local Japan version of Zoomer, renaming it the Omnibot Hello! Zoomer, an interactive dalmatian that can understand 45 English and Japanese words.

omnibot hello zoomer dog robot

Takara Tomy’s awesome line of motion-activated samurai warrior were also christened the Omnibot Battroborg as a nod to the earlier toys.

In the late 1990′s we saw a more serious and forward-thinking application of home robo-pets with the Paro, the healing seal designed for the elderly and hospital patients who need some therapy from a cute companion.

But for many, the robotic pet will always be the AIBO, the massive hit for Sony (how it must dream of those days now) in the second half of the 1990′s.

It was rivaled by the Poo-chi in the early 2000′s, a collaboration between Hasbro and Sega.

This has also been updated with the Heart Energy Poochi, which Sega hopes will replicate some of the success of the earlier dog. Since our lives now have other devices in them, inter-device communication seems to be the trick the makers are playing now. In the Heart Energy Poochi’s case, it can interact with your Nintendo 3DS. And it goes without saying that he likes being stroked but will respond badly if you pull his tail.

sega toys poochi heart energy robot dog pet

Bandai also got in on the canine act a few years ago with the Smartpet Robot Dog, which lets you slot your iPod or iPhone into the dog’s head to make a face out of the screen. No animals were harmed in the development of this product!

bandai smartpet smart pet iphone ipod dog robot

Another classic in the genre is the Yume Neko Dream Cat by Sega Toys, which has very realistic internal sensors that respond to your touch. It started off as an interactive robotic cat, though it was followed by other animals like chicks, squirrels, puppies and rabbits.

The Yume Neko was given an update by Sega Toys recently as the Yume Neko Dream Cat Celeb, providing all the cute interaction of a feline friend without the hassle or mess. This is particularly important in Japan where many people living in apartments are not allowed by the landlord to own real pets. They turn to cat cafes and robots instead.

yume neko dream cat celeb therapy robot cat pet

Of course, this isn’t just domestic manufacturers. The plush toy Furby is also undergoing a bit of a revival here, with Takara Tomy distributing the new model from Hasbro that responds to English commands and has upgraded eyes.

It forms part of a post-2010 trend for “huggable” plush robotic toys, the most sophisticated of which are aimed at helping infants and older kids sleep. The Hug & Dream Mickey and Minnier were big hits, though they were preceded by Takara Tomy’s pioneering Issho ni Nenne “womb doll”, which helped babies get better sleep cycles.

issho ni nenne minnie mouse baby womb doll

And big surprise, this has also been re-launched fairly recently as three new Disney character and Pooh versions.

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Speecys Motion Figure System MF201 is slim, small and agile robot figure

Written by: William on July 31, 2014 at 9:51 am | In PRODUCT INNOVATION | No Comments

Motion Figure System MF201 is a 25cm-tall slender doll-like robot figure system that its makers claim is a “world-first motion figure system”.

The slim and silent mini robot has been created by Speecys, who have applied for a patent for the “motion figure system”. Speecys’ Tomoaki Kasuga previous spent time at Sony working on the AIBO and we know how successful that turned out to be.

speecys motion figure system mf201 robot japanese mini

The demo video is pretty poor quality but I think you can see the nimbleness of the “karakuri” (automata). It is able to swivel its head and feet with an impressive degree of agility. It even kind of dances…

According to the Speecys specs, it has 20 axes (three in the waist, three in each leg, four in each arm, and three in the head), plus it is able to host voice functions and BLE and wifi connections.

While the head design is rather unpleasantly reminiscent of Pyramid Hill, the main drawback would seem to be the platform or stand the MF201 apparently requires for its motor.

speecys motion figure system mf201 robot japanese mini

Speecys showcased the Motion Figure System MF201 at a recent public event in order to search for commercial partners. If they are able to find the right business deal, they hope to sell it in the ¥50-100,000 ($500-$1,000) range. Obviously it needs to be turned into some sort of “character” before it can function as a toy or entertainment piece for kids or grown-ups.

speecys motion figure system mf201 robot japanese mini

I guess the question now is: will they make a mini AKB48 android version?

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Fan makes Yukirin Android, a robot of AKB48 idol Yuki Kashiwagi

Written by: William on July 22, 2014 at 12:05 am | In LIFESTYLE | 1 Comment

Two things Japan is famous for just came crashing together big time: idols and robots.

AKB48′s fans have become notorious for spending vast amounts of time and money on merchandise and tributes to their favorite idols. But this takes the crown, we think. One particularly skilled and devoted admirer of AKB48 idol Yuki Kashiwagi showed his affection for the young idol by creating a realistic working robot of her!

yukirin robot android akb48 yuki kashiwagi niconico chokaigi

Yukirin Robot may be missing her arms but she makes up for it with her luscious hair and cute long face that mimics the real-life singer she is based on.

yukirin robot android akb48 yuki kashiwagi niconico chokaigi

Let’s compare. This is the “real” Yuki Kashiwagi.

yuki kashiwagi akb48 idol japan cute

And here the robotic tribute.

yukirin robot android akb48 yuki kashiwagi niconico chokaigi

Not bad, huh?

The Yukirin (based on Yuki Kashiwagi’s nickname) android, whose eyes and head can move but who apparently lacks the ability to speak, was on exhibit at Niconico Chokaigi 3, a spin-off conference-style event of the popular streaming site, Niconico (formerly Nico Nico Douga). The event is touring the country at the moment, giving locals at every venue a chance to shine and show off their talents in various tech fields.

yukirin robot android akb48 yuki kashiwagi niconico chokaigi

yukirin robot android akb48 yuki kashiwagi niconico chokaigi

Over the weekend it was held in Suzaka City in Nagano Prefecture. On Saturday, visitors were greeted by the AKB48 starlet in robotic form.

Although Yukirin’s appearance at the recent Nagano edition of the touring “conference” has stirred up interest online, the robot was already seen in public in June at another Niconico Chokaigi event. As reported by Nihongo.com, Yukurin was developed by Takayuki Todo, a post-grade media art student who made the android for his graduation project.

yukirin robot android akb48 yuki kashiwagi niconico chokaigi

Yukirin Robot works using an Xbox Kinect sensor in its (her?) chest to respond to people so the eyes will meet yours… just like you are meeting the real Yuki Kashiwagi at an AKB48 handshaking event. And the materials? Apparently it’s wood. We look forward to the upgrades!

yukirin robot android akb48 yuki kashiwagi niconico chokaigi

It’s not just the Yukirin Robot, though. There were many other examples of the geeky but creative and fun creations that Nagano had to offer.

So there you have it. Japan is officially living in an uncanny valley. Its mobile phone shops are staffed by robots, it expends large amounts of science budgets on making creepy children androids, and now even its idols are robots.

[Images source]

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Tokyo’s Latest Uncanny Valley: Androids take over Miraikan, with Hiroshi Ishiguro robot creations Kodomoroid, Otonaroid and Telenoid

Written by: William on June 12, 2014 at 11:35 am | In CULTURE, LIFESTYLE | No Comments

Which is the human?

kodomoroid android ishiguro hiroshi japanese robot child girl

Hot on the heels of SoftBank’s announcement that it would begin selling humanoid robots and even staffing its stores with them, now comes a new exhibition at Miraikai, Tokyo’s premier science museum, showcasing androids.

The interactive exhibition “Android: What is a human?” starts on June 25th and may scare as much as it intrigues, given how we tend to find overly humanoid robots creepy (the so-called “uncanny valley“).

The exhibition has been supervised by none other than Dr. Hiroshi Ishiguro of Osaka University, a scientist who certainly knows how to make a creepy android, as anyone who has seen pictures of him and his doppelgänger robot Geminoid can testify.

gemenoid 2011 meeting creepy uncanny valley android robot ishiguro hiroshi

Exhibits will include Kodomoroid, a female child (kodomo) android, Otonaroid, a female adult (otona) robot, and three Telenoid androids.

Kodomoroid can be controlled remotely and, though it looks like a child, will take on the role of being an announcer, telling visitors the news and information about the Earth, space and the weather.

kodomoroid otonaroid teleroid android robots japanese hiroshi ishiguro miraikan tokyo uncanny valley creepy

Otonaroid is a female-announcer robot “hired” by the museum as a science guide. It (she?) will start a conversation with you when you come close to it, allowing you to experience what interactive relationships with androids may be like in the future.

Telenoid is already well-known as a robot with a more minimal and ambiguous look. The “teleoperated” android “appears both male and female, both old and young”. What’s more, Ishiguro et al promise that “Telenoid’s soft and pleasant skin texture and small, child-like body size allows one to enjoy hugging and communicating with it easily”. Creepy!

telenoid r1 android huggable uncanny valley hiroshi ishiguro robot japanese

Entry costs ¥620 for adults and a mere ¥210 for kids. The exhibits will become part of Miraikan’s permanent collection.

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Meet Pepper: SoftBank stores to be staffed by humanoid robots

Written by: William on June 5, 2014 at 2:29 pm | In LIFESTYLE | No Comments

Stores of SoftBank, one of Japan’s three main mobile phone providers, will be staffed by robots, announced CEO and Japan’s richest man Masayoshi Son at a press conference today in Tokyo.

softbank pepper robot shop store staff humanoid customer service cute masayoshi son

The robot is the Pepper, a new model developed by French robotics company Aldebaran, who have previously produced robots like the Nao and in which Softbank took a stake in 2012. Foxconn will build the new robotic shop attendants.

Pepper is the “world’s first personal robot with emotions”. It can learn from interactions by using a cloud AI system so that other Pepper robots can benefit from each unit’s experiences with customers and humans.

softbank pepper robot shop store staff humanoid customer service cute masayoshi son

Shown off in the demonstration today, Pepper is a short humanoid robot with a tablet on its chest, no doubt for customers to use to browse information on products and for Pepper to show things to people. While it doesn’t have legs, it does have arms that is can use to wave realistically and greet people. It can even sing and dance. Forget the uncanny valley, this is cute robotics!

softbank pepper robot shop store staff humanoid customer service cute masayoshi son

News sources are placing the new bold development in the context of Japan’s aging population, since robotics has frequently been touted as a solution for a future nursing shortage. Japan’s overall robotics market was worth about 860 billion yen ($8.38 billion) in 2012 and is forecast to more than triple in value to 2.85 trillion yen by 2020, says Reuters. With the announcement of the Pepper, it’s about to get bigger.

softbank pepper robot shop store staff humanoid customer service cute masayoshi son

Pepper will be serving customers in two Tokyo SoftBank branches from tomorrow (June 6th) and will also go on general sale next year, priced at a very modest circa ¥200,000 (around $2,000).

*Update*

There’s now an official video of Pepper!

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Sharp goes moe for Premium Cocorobo with imouto anime character

Written by: Japan Trends on March 26, 2014 at 9:32 am | In PRODUCT INNOVATION | No Comments

When Sharp first released its Cocorobo, the world was pretty impressed. Here was a low-cost robotic vacuum cleaner that could respond to its owner’s commands and be controlled by Android and iPhone devices, not to mention go about cleaning your home on its own accord. While it certainly isn’t a RC mop by any means, it is perhaps the most futuristic way to clean your home that we’ve encountered on a mass level.

Following strong sales, Sharp came up with a new version, the Mini Cocorobo for people with more compact residences (very common in space-strapped Japan). So what to do next? What are target consumers are there?

Of course, otaku!

premium cocorobo cleaner vacuum robot moe anime character

Sharp has develoepd the “Premium Cocorobo”, which is decorated with a cute moe girl character and features a imouto younger sister-like voice. What more could you want? Okay, so this isn’t going to be everyone’s tastes, but we still find it pretty cool that Sharp is doing this.

The voice is by Ibuki Kido and the illustration by mangaka Kinusa Shimotsuki. And unlike a real anime girl character (or real girlfriend), this one won’t get all tsundere on you and refuse to do the housework!

premium cocorobo cleaner vacuum robot moe anime character

Before you get too excited, though, the current Premium Cocorobo is just a trial. They are testing the new features of the vacuum cleaner by recruiting people to sample it in their homes for a month. We imagine competition will be fierce for places.

Fingers crossed Sharp will make this into a full commercial product to add to the Cocorobo robotic cleaners already on the market.

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