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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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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Create Me: Make 3D-printed figure of yourself in Akihabara, Tokyo

Written by: William on September 23, 2014 at 9:06 am | In PRODUCT INNOVATION | No Comments

Japan has always loved both technology and monozukuri craftsmanship.

So it comes as no surprised that Japan has fallen in love with 3D printing, even if it has meant artists have to watch what they do with it, especially female artists, and some people have been exploiting the technology to create firearms. 3D printers and related services are exploding, and now Japan is ahead of the curve in many ways. The world’s first 3D printing photo booth opened (temporarily) in Tokyo in late 2012 at Eye of Gyre.

Sometimes the craze has resulted in some more, well, grotesque variations, such as the gummy replicas of yourself that FabCafe had for a while in Shibuya.

Previously we also saw Clone Factory offer services where they put a 3D printing of your face onto a doll. Talk about entering Japan’s uncanny valley.

the bobble shop japan tokyo create me akihabara 3d printing figure yourself

Well, now you can create your own 3D figure of yourself (surely less narcissistic than it sounds!) at the aptly named Create Me. Though this time it’s not the hipsters of Shibuya and Omotesando, Create Me is located in the more low-brow district of Akihabara, also one of Tokyo’s most creative and energetic neighborhoods on a grassroots level.

It actually opened in mid-August but is now starting to get some press attention. Create Me uses The Bobble Shop, a 3D figure-making system that scans your face in five seconds. It’s the first use of The Bobble Shop’s system in Japan, which employs tech original developed by France’s Digiteyezer.

Then you can customize how you want your hair and clothes. Unfortunately you can’t (yet) pick up your own “mini me” right there and then, though you should be able to collect your 3D figure in between 10 days and two weeks.

The detail is very good but the figures are also quite delicate, though, being hollow, they are at least very light.

A mask costs just ¥1,500 (under $15) and a full figure ¥3,000 (under $30), with some customization options costing extra.

Right now the system mostly has the clothes and so on that came with the overseas system, though the company running Create Me hopes to increase its original items in the future to better suit Japanese customers’ tastes. Copyright laws allowing, we predict some anime character cosplay items being on the menu very soon!

We’re certainly looking forward to what the inventive folk of Akiba have in store for Create Me.


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Sony cancels Summer Lesson Project Morpheus HMD demo at Tokyo Game Show

Written by: William on September 12, 2014 at 8:17 pm | In LIFESTYLE, PRODUCT INNOVATION | No Comments

It was supposed to be Sony’s big advert for the Project Morpheus HMD system at the Tokyo Game Show (public days on September 20th-21st).

Instead, Sony Computer Entertainment just canceled the “Summer Lesson” demo.

sony summer lesson project morpheus demo hmd tokyo game show 2014 cancel creepy

Officially Sony says it has made the decision because it received so many inquiries about it after they announced the virtual reality demo on September 1st that it fearer it would not be able to cope with the anticipated demo from the media and the general public at TGS.

Our guess is that the backlash was so strong they wanted to have a re-think.

As soon as it was announced there was a strong intake of breath. Sony had chosen to go with a demo made by the team behind Tekken that showcased the virtual reality headset’s technology in a way that could be described at best as, well, creepy.

sony summer lesson project morpheus demo hdm tokyo game show 2014 cancel creepy

There were many at home and abroad quick to apply other adjectives. The “Summer Lesson” demo features a loosely dressed schoolgirl at home that the player can, to be blunt, ogle up close.

It certainly lives up to the stereotype of Japanese male gamers being perverts and is bound to be a big hit with a specific demographic. But the TGS is the most important event in the industry and this was Sony’s chance to fight back after being in the economic doldrums (billion dollar losses for fiscal 2013).

Rather than going mainstream, it went with a divisive and (to many people) sexist demo.

Officially Sony is saying that it is considering a new date and venue to showcase its demo, though we have our suspicions that “Summer Lesson” may not see the full light of day in its current state.


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Sega’s Eederu Sunaba is interactive sandbox with realtime projectors, height sensors

Written by: William on September 12, 2014 at 1:16 pm | In PRODUCT INNOVATION | 16 Comments

Sega have created an interactive sandpit for kids. The Eederu Sunaba (translating literally as “Wow, appears! Sandbox”) uses projectors and special non-sticky sand so that kids can have fun playing god by re-modeling the landscape in any way they fancy. As they make hills, lakes and rivers with the sand, the projection mapping changes in realtime to match the shifting topography.

Sega plans to install the system in arcade game centers in Japan from this autumn, reports Nikkei Technology, and also in playroom facilities at showrooms for cars and houses, to keep the kids occupied while the grown-ups sort out the important purchase.

sega interactive sand sandpit sandbox projector projection responsive colors make landscape eederu sunaba asobi arcade game system

The system above the sandbox has a senor that measures distance so it can detect the changing height of the sound and generate imagery according to the shapes. If, say, it detects a hole it will create a river or lake image, complete with swimming fish. When the player piles some sand into a mound the projection will make a mountain.

Judging from the videos, the system seems very fast and intuitive, and the colors are great. There are lots of cool gimmicks like the shadows of aircraft flying over the scenery and the seasons change too. It seems to have no trouble interacting with multiple players at once.

sega interactive sand sandpit sandbox projector projection responsive colors make landscape eederu sunaba asobi arcade game system

It also detects movement. It projects animal characters and when the player touches these, they respond as they move around the landscape. Current examples of the creatures are ladybugs and beetles, though surely the possibilities are nearly endless here. (Future ideas could be tie-ups with Disney, Sanrio or other character-driven franchises.)

sega interactive sand sandpit sandbox projector projection responsive colors make landscape eederu sunaba asobi arcade game system

There are two modes. “Suna Asobi” (sand play) is for playing around freely in the box while “Dekirukana” (I can do it) mode allows players to draw pictures according to various themes, which are shown on a display for the kids to imitate.

It’s not necessarily the first sand pit of its kind; there have been Kinect sandpits and augmented reality sandboxes before. However, this may well be the first fully commercial example of a system like this.


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Infinity of Flowers: teamLab and Gucci create interactive digital floral installation

Written by: William on September 10, 2014 at 1:56 pm | In CULTURE, PRODUCT INNOVATION | No Comments

teamLab has got together with Gucci to create “Infinity of Flowers”, an interactive digital installation at the Gucci Shinjuku store from September 13th.

Visitors will be able to “touch” the flowers on the screen and see them bloom, scatter, grow and wither. The installation using a computer program to “paint” the flowers in realtime on the screen. The imagery on the display is created spontaneously by the system. We look forward to the video that will surely be made.

teamlab gucci infinity of flowers digital installation shinjuku japan tokyo

There will also be a teamLab work in display in the 8-meter window that faces Shinjuku-dori.

teamLab is an award-winning group of “ultra-technologists” working with digital experiential media. Its previous projects include a remarkable high school musical, an amazing digital mural of Tokyo at the Skytree, smart clothes hangers in a department store in Shibuya, and many more. This Shadow Dance and Shadowgraph video from early 2011 was a hit, not least because it seemed to adhere to everything we love about Japan — samurai swords and technology!

teamLab already has a florally-themed installation, “Time-blossoming Flowers”, at the new KITTE department store in Marunouchi.

team lab flower installation kitte tokyo marunouchi

They have a new permanent installation, “Vortex of Water Particles”, at Narita Airport’s Terminal 1 North Wing (joining their other installation at the South Wing that started last year).

“Infinity of Flowers” will run from September 13th to September 28th at the third-floor event space at Gucci Shinjuku. Entry is free.


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Fun’iki Ambient Glasses: iPhone-integrated “smart spectacles” with light notifications coming to your eyes soon

Written by: William on August 8, 2014 at 10:18 am | In PRODUCT INNOVATION | 6 Comments

How would you like to use your phone while it remains snug in your pocket or bag? These glasses bring us one step closer to this.

Already spotted by Engadget and others at CNET Japan Live 2014, Matilde’s Fun’iki Ambient Glasses mean you can “see” your smartphone without needing to look at it.

fun'iki ambient glasses iphone smartphone integrated light led notifications handset japanese

Here’s how the makers sell it:

FUN’IKI Glasses are linked to your smartphone, and their multicolored LED lights + sound signals from their micro speaker will notify you of numerous information without you ever taking any action. No more hassle of checking your smartphone every single minute and they look cool. We believe that FUN’IKI Glasses will be a part of your daily life in the most seamless way.

The Fun’iki Ambient Glasses remind us of the JINS Meme Glasses, which we reported on back in May, though there the focus was on notifications to the wearer’s physique. This time it’s all about handset and online interaction.

fun'iki ambient glasses iphone smartphone integrated light led notifications handset japanese

The glasses have arms with built-in speakers, plus six full-color LED lights and a lithium-ion battery that charges up via USB. It features an ambient light sensor (meaning light is brighter in dark environments) and an accelerometer, not to mention Bluetooth and Wi-fi. Oh, and Morse code for some unfathomable reason.

Using a free dedicated app, you assign the various lights and sounds to different notifications, such as email, phone call, social media updates, and so on. So if you see a “red” glow, it means you’ve got a message from someone or the weather has changed, your stock has jumped in value…

If you’re desperately waiting for that mail but don’t want to appear rude at a meeting by always checking your phone, you can just let the glasses tell you instead. Likewise, you can get schedule reminders without having to, well, check your schedule.

fun'iki ambient glasses iphone smartphone integrated light led notifications handset japanese

It’s like “a Tinker Bell”, as Matilde says!

The Bluetooth Smart technology comes from Nordic Semiconductor, while help has also been provided by Paris Miki and the Institute of Advanced Media arts and Sciences.

The designers even reckon that, with its changing lights, the Fun’iki Ambient Glasses will make you stand out at social gatherings and look cool, like a sort of mini illumination show. There is even a special “party” mode with disco-friendly light patterns, plus a “relax” setting offering gentle hues to help you calm down after a long day of reminders and notifications.

fun'iki ambient glasses iphone smartphone integrated light led notifications handset japanese

A current Makuake crowdfunding project has raised well over the ¥3 million (about $30,000) target with still more than 30 days left to go! The campaign is offering funders the chance to get a pair of glasses for ¥10,000 (about $100), a more than 50% discount on the regular retail price of ¥23,000 (about $230).

fun'iki ambient glasses iphone smartphone integrated light led notifications handset japanese

Bad news for Android users, though. The Fun’iki Ambient Glasses only support the iPhone at present.


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Tamagotchi 4U: Bandai’s latest Tamagotchi digital pet with interactive NFC tech

Written by: Japan Trends on July 24, 2014 at 10:04 am | In PRODUCT INNOVATION | No Comments

Bandai’s Tamagotchi is one of those series that just continues to survive — and not only survive, but keep on innovating and coming up with new tricks.

Tamagotchi probably needs no introduction to any reader of a blog called “Japan Trends”. The digital pet was a phenomenon in the 1990′s, its egg shape as funky as its concept, and as addictive as pressing the three buttons. It first hit stores in late 1996 and has since sold over 78 million units.

Needless to say, the world of toys is a fickle one and subsequent Tamagotchi have been no match for the sales of the original, which was a global smash. The sea change led to maker Bandai over-stretching itself and posting large losses for 1998.

tamagotchi 4u nfc bandai digital pet near field communication

Bandai then went back to the drawing board and came up with enhanced Tamagotchi with more sophisticated functionality: new models to meet the changing times. Tamagotchi Plus had infrared communication functions (infrared was once a standard in many Japanese flip phones) and then Tamagotchi iD could interact with cellphones. The series underwent a further revival in 2011 with the release of a 15th anniversary model of the Tamagotchi iD L and this went on to shift around 500,000 units in 2011.

So, not quite the sensation it once was but still going strong. Not bad for a nation with a declining birthrate, and so less and less young consumers every year.

The latest Tamagotchi is the Tamagotchi 4U, which ups the tech by adding NFC but still looks as cute as ever. This allows the handheld pet to interact with “Touch Spots” that are located around Japan, plus with other Tamagotchis and devices. You can download new characters, clothes, items, and “collaborate” digitally.

tamagotchi 4u nfc bandai digital pet near field communication

For example, go past a vending machine and pick up a “drink” for your Tamagotchi, or a “dress” at a clothes store.

The city is now your Tamagotchi playground! There are also various covers and straps to accessorize and coordinate the style of your Tamagotchi device.

Get your hands on the Tamagotchi 4U in September.


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Emoji Among Us: A new short documentary about emoji

Written by: William on July 21, 2014 at 11:56 am | In LIFESTYLE | No Comments

Here is a documentary called Emoji Among Us, now available on Dissolve.

This short documentary (more like a trailer for a documentary) declares that emoji have become infused in our lives and communication, but are not always fully understood. Not surprisingly, the footage makes ample use of emoji-style characters.

emoji among us documentary spoof

As the makers say: “Emoji have become an inescapable part of our daily lives. This short film examines the far-reaching impact these very special characters have had on our society. Made entirely with footage from Dissolve… and 68 of our emoji friends.”

British viewers will immediately note how the narration apes the David Attenborough style of nature documentary that have been such hits for the BBC over the years.

“Since they first appeared on our shores earlier this decade, these charming and versatile figures have capture our hearts,” as the opening intones.

Before you get too excited, we should point it’s not actually Sir David, though, but apparently a voice actor called James Gillies. However, as the narration heavily hints, this whole documentary is kind of a spoof of TV nature shows.

As opposed to the American-made emoticon, emoji are of course a Japanese invention. The name means “picture word” or “picture character”, and so emoji are typically pictographic. First created by Shigetaka Kurita at NTT Docomo for the pioneering i-mode platform in order to lure all-important young users back to the digital fold, emoji were a hit as they allowed users to inject some cuteness and fun into their messaging. Not just a gimmick for youngsters, though, emoji in fact could be very useful in helping navigate communication when Japanese can be ambiguous. What may sound formal or cold is nonetheless often a standard response to something, and with an emoji added, the intended warmth and friendliness properly comes through. Eventually emoji conquered the world.

While emoticons and emoji can be used in the same way and as names are sometimes used interchangeably, they are technically created in different ways (most obviously, emoticon come from user-generated text) and emoji are ultimately limited since they are predefined images in code form that your computer or phone reads.


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