Panasonic develops enhanced LED optical ID-reading smartphone data communication tech

Written by: William on May 18, 2015 at 3:11 pm | In PRODUCT INNOVATION | 6 Comments

Dig Info has released a nice video showcasing an interesting smartphone optical data communication development by Panasonic.

The new technology uses an LED light source to allow a smartphone to read optical ID signals coming off something.

panasonic LED optical ID read smartphone data communication technology system invisible data communication

While this concept is not new per se, Panasonic has enhanced the speed to be hundreds of times faster than previous systems and no longer require fluctuation brightness visible to the human eye. Now the user does not “see” anything but their smartphone can pick up a signal from the item.

Potential applications include consumer product information in retail spaces. For example, use your smartphone to “read” a dress and view information about available stock and the materials, as well as videos and images of models.

Museums and public transport could use the technology to offer multi-lingual guidance.

A Panasonic representative explains:

“The device that sends the signals with this technology can be in, for example, a store or public place. Meanwhile, the person receiving the information can be a consumer or passerby. Unless that person can use their regular smartphone, such a system is meaningless; that was the basic idea behind our development of this technology. Going forward, we think this should involve not only Panasonic, but also alliances with manufacturers that can put the technology into many forms, as well as IT system integrators, and businesses that can provide services using the technology.”

According to Dig Info, Panasonic will release products that transmit optical ID signals by March 2016, and plans to develop this business full-scale from fiscal 2016.

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A different kind of soft power: Japanese toilets and lavatory technology heading overseas

Written by: William on May 14, 2015 at 1:22 pm | In PRODUCT INNOVATION | No Comments

The Japanese government has faith in soft power, hence all the “cool Japan” campaigns.

This might be J-Pop. It might be anime. It might be cuisine.

But there’s another unusual source of “cool” in Japan — toilets.

toto washlet hi-tech toilet technology japan

While the actual “Japanese” toilets (i.e. squat toilets) as they were originally designed are slowly disappearing except for some unfortunate train stations or far-flung corners of the land, makers like Toto have impressed the world and gone viral with their successful toilet technology innovations… like the talking toilet, the heated seat, the Otohime modesty sound blocker, and more.

The Japanese household toilet is as much an awesome part of what makes Japanese homes so different as tatami mats, sliding doors and futons. And the Japanese take them seriously. Junichiro Tanizaki waxed lyrical about the Japanese toilet in In Praise of Shadows, while a major toilet-themed exhibition at the Miraikan last year saw lines of kids with poop-shaped hats on climb into a giant toilet bowl. We are not kidding about that last one.

gallery toto narita airport toilet showroom dytham klein

Astrid Klein and Mark Dytham recently created Gallery Toto, a toilet “digital gallery” showroom at Narita Airport to demonstrate the wonders of the Japanese privy.

It’s perhaps no surprise that Toto is one of the exhibitors at Tokyo Designers Week.

According to news reports, the government wants to help Japan’s eco-friendly, forward-thinking toilet makers:

The government will support firms and organizations in the industries to obtain an international standard for household and similar electrical appliances certified by the International Electrotechnical Commission to boost the export of toilet products, including those equipped with warm-water spray options, according to the sources. It also plans to establish a system by the end of this fiscal year that would reward efforts to keep restrooms neat and clean.

Apparently wealthy Chinese tourists have taken an interest in Japanese toilets, with their multiple spray options and functions.

Toto, which is nearly 100 years old, makes one fifth of its sales overseas. A surge in Chinese wealth has finally seen it make profit in the market.

Could Toto et al be the answer to thawing the icy relations between China and Japan? Yes, toilet diplomacy could be a “thing”.

The Toto Washlet has been a multi-million-seller since it was introduced in 1982 and some 70% of Japanese households possess a toilet or toilet seat with enhanced functionality — on par with market penetration of computers and digital cameras.

Perhaps some day soon in the future, just as so many people now drive a Japanese automobile, most people may be sitting down on a Japanese toilet whenever nature calls.

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Japan’s super “cute” robot vacuum cleaners

Written by: Japan Trends on May 6, 2015 at 1:58 pm | In PRODUCT INNOVATION | No Comments

Dyson, the UK vacuum cleaner brand, has chosen Japan to be the first market for its upcoming new robot vacuum cleaner, the Dyson 360 Eye. To get local consumers in the mood, it has opened a mini showroom in Omotesando. Japan is Dyson’s second-largest market, accounting for around 20% of overall sales, says Nikkei.

Japan’s vacuum sales rose 6% to 9.31 million units in 2014, with cordlesss, robot and stick designs very popular. All this means that robot vacuum cleaners are really big now in Japan, with most local electronics manufacturers producing a line, including Sharp’s Cocorobo and Toshiba’s Torneo.

While Dyson has gone for chic and other makers are pulling out all the technological stops (anti-allergen, anti-bacteria, talking, smartphone-controlled), some are content to opt for another tactic entirely. Making robot vacuum cleaners cute.

mopet vacuum robotic cleaner microfiber mop

The Mopet Microfiber Mop Robot Vacuum Cleaner is a new robotic cleaning gadget by CCP.

mopet vacuum robotic cleaner microfiber mop

Not only does this follow-up to the Mofa cleaning bot retain much the same functions, it also still has the flat, mop-like design. So what’s different? The Mopet has upped the cute ratio. It encourages you to customize and decorate your cleaner with the colorful stickers provided.

mopet vacuum robotic cleaner microfiber mop

In Japan, it used to be very popular to decorate your mobile phone with phone straps, stickers and more (until the iPhone arrived and everyone started being boring). Likewise, decorated nail art and customizable photo booths continue to evolve, sometimes even converging.

It’s far from the first time that we have seen this trend for “cute” (kawaii) robotic cleaners.

mocoro vacuum cleaner fur ball roll mop

The same makers previously gave us the Mocoro Robotic Fur Ball Vacuum Cleaner and the follow-up, the Mocoro Mop Ball CZ-564, a kind of fuzzball-style rolling cleaning gadget.

mocoro vacuum cleaner fur ball roll mop

The Auto Mee S reduced the scale but not the cuteness, cleaning the screen of your tablet or smartphone.

auto mee s robot cleaner smartphone tablet

Panasonic, meanwhile, developed the Fukitorimushi (“wiping cleaner”), a kimo-kawaii (creepy-cute) inchworm-style vacuum cleaner.

And then things enter the world of toys: the RC Sugoi Mop ostensibly helps you clean the house, but we suspect it’s more for fun.

rc sugoi mop remote control brush

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Mitsukoshi department store in Tokyo hires Aiko Chihira, an android guide

Written by: William on April 16, 2015 at 5:08 pm | In PRODUCT INNOVATION | 1 Comment

Meet Aiko Chihira. She speaks Japanese and wears a kimono. She greets customers and conveys information.

But Aiko’s not Japanese. She’s not even human.

She’s an android made by Toshiba and now she works at Mitsukoshi, the high-end department store in Nihonbashi.

toshiba mitsukoshi aiko chihira android humanoid robot department store tokyo japan reception staff

Unfortunately she can’t converse or respond to questions, unlike the more interactive Nao humanoid robot, currently serving Mitsubishi UFJ bank customers, or Pepper, the friendly droid greeting visitors to Softbank stores.

But she blinks, bows, moves her (sorry, its) mouth and lips. She is programmed with human-like facial expressions and can offer a looped vocal guidance to department store customers.

For example, if you want to hear about the layout or an event, this robot will tell you.

She can even communicate in sign language, so at least the uncanny valley is barrier free for the deaf.

toshiba mitsukoshi aiko chihira android humanoid robot department store tokyo japan reception staff

Toshiba describes her as the “quiet type” who is “happy to help people”. Something tells us there might be some male fantasies at play here…

Find Aiko on the ground floor of Mitsukoshi. Sadly, she’s not a permanent addition. She will only be “working” at the store on April 20th and April 21st. She is a promotional feature as part of a longer Toshiba event at the seventh floor Hajimarino Cafe from April 22nd to May 5th.

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Nail Puri: Customizable nail art sticker printer Purikura booth by Sega

Written by: William on March 24, 2015 at 9:59 am | In LIFESTYLE, PRODUCT INNOVATION | 3 Comments

Nail art is big in Japan.

So is Purikura, the “print club” photo booths where you can take inventive shots with your friends.

Combine the two and you should have a recipe for success. At least, that’s what Sega (who originally developed Purikura) is hoping with the Nail Puri (Nail Sticker Print), opening in Ikebukuro March 27th-29th.

sega nail art puri purikura sticker printer customize ikebukuro booth

Girls (or guys) can go to the booth to customize their nail design from over 1,500 designs. As far as we can tell, there is no charge or fee to try the prototype machine.

There’s even a free smartphone app so you can customize your choice of design using your own patterns, photos and text. Then you take the final data to the nail art printer and get your nails “printed” the way you want them.

sega nail art puri purikura sticker printer customize ikebukuro booth

sega nail art puri purikura sticker printer customize ikebukuro booth

Strictly speaking, the booth only prints stickers, which you then put on your nails, rather than genuinely painting onto them. Check out the official Twitter account for examples of nail art stickers you can make.

But perhaps printing directly onto your nails is the next step? We all remember that awesome scene from the original Total Recall movie where the woman paints her nails electronically in less than a second? Well, we’re not far off that now. After all, Japan has had “digital mirror” tryvertizing technology for years.

sega nail art puri purikura sticker printer customize ikebukuro booth

The dream futuristic nail art maker would be kind of like a 3D printer meets Purikura.

You can find the Nail Puri booth at Sega GiGO game center in Ikebukuro on the sixth and seven floors. If it’s a hit, no doubt we can expect to see more of the technology soon.

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Female college students design wearable devices as smart fashion accessories

Written by: William on March 20, 2015 at 10:57 am | In LIFESTYLE, PRODUCT INNOVATION | 4 Comments

Ten types of stylish wearable smart accessories designed by current female college students have been unveiled. The designs are the results of a project run in partnership between Recruit Technologies’ Advanced Technology Lab and Rikejo, a service for supporting “scientific girls” by the publisher Kodansha.

The designs were themed around making female-friendly lifestyle gadgets, to include such functions as morning wake-up alarms, schedule reminders, friend notifications, compasses, timers, last train alerts, and so on.

rikejo wearable device technology fashion female scientist gadget japanese trend

rikejo wearable device technology fashion female scientist gadget japanese trend

At first glance, these designs may look more fashionable than overtly technological; on the surface just bracelets, necklaces, hair bands and more. But they are all meant to integrate certain wearable devices functions.

rikejo wearable device technology fashion female scientist gadget japanese trend

rikejo wearable device technology fashion female scientist gadget japanese trend

rikejo wearable device technology fashion female scientist gadget japanese trend

rikejo wearable device technology fashion female scientist gadget japanese trend

rikejo wearable device technology fashion female scientist gadget japanese trend

The project saw the prototypes created within six months, with the designers hailing from a range of colleges such as Tokyo Woman’s Christian University, Hosei University and Aoyama Gakuin University.

The local obsession with females in science took a hit with the Haruko Obokata stem cell scandal last year but that still hasn’t stopped institutions trying to promote women in lab coats who can inject some glamor into the sterile world of academia. Earlier this year, for example, the University of Tokyo released an encyclopedia of beautiful female students. Obokata was the pinnacle of a brief flurry of interest in Rikejo — “scientist women” — though there is a precedent. A few years there was a similar trend for so-called Reki-jo, female history buffs.

[Image via FashionSnap.com]

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Talkable Vegetables: Farmers talk to consumers when they touch supermarket produce

Written by: William on March 18, 2015 at 9:41 am | In PRODUCT INNOVATION | 1 Comment

Yesterday we introduced the iDoll, currently being showcased by ad agency Hakuhodo at SXSW Interactive Festival.

Another prototype by Hakuhodo — and just as outlandish — are the Talkable Vegetables, also featured at the SXSWi Hakuhodo Prototyping the Future booth.

hakuhodo talkable vegetables talking produce farmer voice traceability supermarket suba lab hackist

This unique in-store promotional tool is a “machine that delivers farmers’ honesty” and takes the produce section of the supermarket into the future.

Jointly developed by Suda Lab and Hakuhodo i-studio’s HACKist creative lab, the Talkable Vegetables are, perhaps not surprisingly, a world first. The voice of the farmers that grew the produce actually tells the potential consumer where the veggies are from and what is special about them.

hakuhodo talkable vegetables talking produce farmer voice traceability supermarket suba lab hackist

How does it work?

By turning the voltage differential between the moisture in humans and vegetables into an audio signal, just [by] picking up a vegetable, customers initiate an interaction in which various messages can be conveyed.

This tech makes it possible for:

(1) Customers to confirm a farm product’s safety and trustworthiness by listening to the information from the farmer.
(2) Customers to get a sense of the farming environment, and the origins and values of the produce at the point of sale, no matter how removed from agricultural regions.
(3) Customers to enjoy a fun, next-generation experiences of vegetables themselves becoming part of the retail system.

Vegetables with personality? We’re not sure if this is scary or brilliant.

Clearly the infrastructure required — recording the farmers’ messages individually for each crop, special speakers set up to deliver the sound to the holder — will surely limit the application of the system, but this is one neat way to bridge the growers and the consumers. Traceability has also been a big issue in Japan of late, following a spate of food scandals in 2013. In certain supermarkets it is common to see signage and labelling directly naming the farmer and farm where the produce came from.

The system has already been tested successfully in Hug Mart, a store in Sapporo, Hokkaido.

Another exhibit at the Hakuhodo SXSWi booth is the award-winning Rice Code, an “smartphone app that turns scenes of all kinds into a sales floor”. You point the camera of your smartphone at a large piece of rice paddy art. The installed dedicated app then recognizes the art and takes the user to an e-commerce site where they can buy rice.

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KDDI au and Hakuhodo create Sync Dinner, a “virtual Christmas Eve restaurant experience” for couples separated by distance

Written by: William on December 23, 2014 at 9:08 am | In LIFESTYLE, PRODUCT INNOVATION | 1 Comment

In Japan, Christmas Eve is not a time for church — it’s a time for couples. Restaurants in cities are packed with pairs of diners enjoying expensive, luxury courses.

But not everyone has a special someone on this romantic day, while others are separated from their partner due to work or other commitments. Fortunately, au has stepped in with Hakuhodo to create a one-day-only restaurant for those couples who cannot meet face-to-face on December 24th.

Syn Dinner is a virtual way to connect “two distant hearts.”

sync dinner au kddi hakuhodo christmas eve restaurant tokyo osaka virtual experience restaurant meal couples

Two couples have been selected who live 400km apart.

The couples reside apart in Tokyo and Osaka, but thanks to au’s realtime screen displays set up in hotel rooms in the respective cities they will be able to enjoy a virtual Christmas Eve meal.

sync dinner au kddi hakuhodo christmas eve restaurant tokyo osaka virtual experience restaurant meal couples

While the technology still has limitations and there will certainly be no post-dinner “dessert” — surely part of the draw for many couples! — participants will at least be able to eat and talk as if they are in the same restaurant.

As au say, “for long-distance lovers, this interactive dinner enables ‘heart-to-heart connection’ by sharing the same time and space together”.

sync dinner au kddi hakuhodo christmas eve restaurant tokyo osaka virtual experience restaurant meal couples

sync dinner au kddi hakuhodo christmas eve restaurant tokyo osaka virtual experience restaurant meal couples

Motion sensors sync your toast. The same waiter will seem to be traveling the 400km to serve both parties the dinner (we suspect twins are employed). You can blow through the display to blow out the Christmas cake candles served during the meal, and also add digital “decoration” to your face or hands via the display. And finally you can even have a romantic photo taken of the two of you “together” at the restaurant.

Unfortunately, au is no longer taking applications. The two couples already chosen will be sitting down to their long-distance meal in two separate sessions from 5pm on December 24th. Still, it would be neat if this kind of system became a permanent feature of certain restaurants and hotels in the near future.

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Check out these awesome au Unlimited Future Laboratory prototypes

Written by: William on December 2, 2014 at 9:04 am | In PRODUCT INNOVATION | No Comments

The au Unlimited Future Laboratory is phone carrier KDDI’s experimental division for creating what could turn out to be the gadgets we all use in the future (or not, as the case may be).

kddi au unlimited future laboratory prototypes

Here are some of the fruits of their research and development.

kddi au unlimited future laboratory prototypes icrout

kddi au unlimited future laboratory prototypes icrout music instrument

iCrout

The iCrout gives the nimble fingertips of a professional musician. You choose a track online and then install the performance data. Then put on the iCrout gloves and no matter you natural ability, the gadget will let you play to a high level. (It reminds us of the “face stimulation” experiments of Daito Manabe.) Following the logic, will there be any need for such a thing as genuine talent ever again?

kddi au unlimited future laboratory prototypes happy coming

kddi au unlimited future laboratory prototypes happy coming

Happy Coming

This is a kind of eye mask but it doesn’t just shut out light. Happy Coming is supposed to detect brain waves and heart beat frequency, and match these with appropriate music, illumination effects, and even aroma. All of this is designed to induce a better sleep session

Happy Coming gives you around 20 minutes of restful non-REM sleep, before encouraging you to wake up. In other words, an ideal daytime nap.

Not a commercial product yet but boy, do we want it to be one soon! Given the nuance of the English, though, they would have to change the name or there may be guys queuing up to purchase what they hope is a wet dream generator!

kddi au unlimited future laboratory prototypes tsugi-ai

kddi au unlimited future laboratory prototypes tsugi-ai

Tsugi-ai

With Tsugi-ai (Pour for Each Other) you can have a drink with someone who’s not physically there with you using your phone. In Japan it is polite to pour beer into the glass of your drinking partner. So the Tsugi-ai detects when the other person’s beverage runs low and then pours the drink can to give them a fill-up.

kddi au unlimited future laboratory prototypes kokoro yoho mask

Kokoro Yoho Mask

Another mask here, the Kokoro Yoho Mask (Mind Forecast Mask) is an “office communication tool” that helps you read between the lines of what colleagues are saying or how they really feel. It visualizes the wearer’s feelings like weather forecast symbols on the outside of the mask.

kddi au unlimited future laboratory prototypes totsugeki zukyun

Totsugeki Zukyun

The Totsugeki Zukyun lets you show when you fall head over heels with someone passing by. We’ve all walked by the boy or girl who just makes your heart go aflutter. But not all of us are brave enough to say something to them. This device lets you communicate how you feel. The doors pop open and out bursts a “heart”, while at the same time it makes a cute noise and releases a pleasant aroma — and even sends a message from your phone.

Surely this will be a must-have for weddings or group dates.

Check other a.U.F.L. prototypes. That are lots more!

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