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 | 10 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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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).


There’s now an official video of Pepper!


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Nintendo plans NFC Mario NFP toy figurines for saving, reading video game data

Written by: William on May 14, 2014 at 9:02 am | In PRODUCT INNOVATION | No Comments

Mario to the rescue? The mustachioed plumber is going to become a toy figure — no surprises there — except that this is going to have NFC technology.

Kyoto-based Nintendo are calling this “Nintendo Figurine Platform” or “NFC Featured Platform”, or NFP for short, and it will debut at E3 in LA in June in an attempt to build up interest in Nintendo’s consoles in the wake of the Wii U disappointment and three years in the red.

nintendo nfp mario figurine toy nfc wii u

A series of toy figurines will harness the Wii U GamePad’s near-field communication (NFC) features. Like the Skylander game series, the NFP toys can read and write game data across different titles.

It seems like a step backwards in some ways for the troubled game company. Normally you move on from the small toys you play with as a kid for the more visceral excitement of a video game. But Nintendo has tried this before with Pokémon Rumble U and toys with NFC for the Wii. Mario is also an impossibly popular character and maybe even older “kids” will like to have a toy of him around, especially if he is performing some connectivity function.

nintendo nfp mario figurine toy nfc wii u

Mario won’t be alone. Nintendo is planning a range of NFP character toys from the end of the year. You can “customize” your own NFP but storing your game data in it, watching it “grow and develop”. Could this catch on? We’re not sure.

NFP will be usable for multiple Nintendo games and the company is also going to install a NFC reader-writer on the 3DS, so you can use the NFC toys not only with your Wii U (assuming you have one).


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