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


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


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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ALMA Music Box telescope captures radio waves from a dying star, turns them into music

Written by: William on November 19, 2014 at 9:00 am | In CULTURE, LIFESTYLE | No Comments

What would a melody from a dying star sound like?

ALMA (Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array) is a state-of-the-art radio telescope developed and operated by 20 countries and territories across Asia, Europa and America.

alma music box telescope radio waves dying star 21 21 design sight

Connecting 66 parabola antennas deployed in the Atacama Desert in northern Chile, ALMA works as a giant radio telescope with a diameter comparable to the size of the JR Yamanote Line. It detects faint radio waves emanated by distant celestial objects to study the origin and evolution of galaxies, stars, and planets. Obtaining a clue to the origin of life is another goal of ALMA.

In 2011, ALMA observed radio waves from a dying star R Sculptoris. Made in collaboration with the Tokyo and New York-based agency PARTY, the resulting ALMA Music Box utilized this data, translating the 70 different radio images onto 70 musical discs, one for each frequency. In other words, the music for this music box is supplied by a red giant star 1,5000 light years away, a melody from a soon-to-be supernova.

As the makers told Wired:

As the disc spins around the player, little teeth pluck the holes and emit a twinkling sound. It sounds sweet, like a lullaby coming from the mobile above a baby’s crib. But there’s a sadness to it, too, perhaps because we know the star is in the process of dying out forever. As Masashi Kawamura, co-founder of PARTY, puts it: “It’s made to sound like a requiem for the star in a way.”

alma music box telescope radio waves dying star 21 21 design sight

ALMA Music Box is a new kind of visualization project to try to find a way to make the uses of the ALMA telecope more accessible to non-astrophysicists. It is now on display at 21 21 Design Sight’s “The Fab Mind” exhibition until February 1st.

alma music box telescope radio waves dying star 21 21 design sight

alma music box telescope radio waves dying star 21 21 design sight

Impenetrable science projects in Japan often come up with very sophisticated ways to “advertise” their achievements to the public. NIMS (National Institute for Material Science), for example, has made a great series of videos called “The Power of Materials”.


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NEC GAZIRU-F image recognition tech integrates fashion magazine mobile shopping for smartphone, tablet cameras

Written by: William on November 13, 2014 at 9:09 am | In LIFESTYLE, PRODUCT INNOVATION | No Comments

NEC has got together with Fashion TV to offer a smartphone and tablet service for mobile eCommerce for apparel items you see in a magazine. If you see an item in a magazine you like, you can use GAZIRU-F to snap a shot of it and be connected to a shopping portal to purchase the product.

The service will be available through an app for the fashion magazine persona from spring 2015. GAZIRU-F will be expanded to 20 further companies by 2016 if it proves successful.

nec fashion tv gaziru-f mobile ecommerce image recognition shopping tech photograph smartphone tablet

NEC has been developing the cloud-based Gaziru technology for a while. Dig Info did a report on it back in 2012.

The name is coined from combining two Japanese words: gazo (image) and shiru (know, recognize).

Similar to Google Goggles or Bing Vision, you can just take a snap of something and get a readout of the information it can draw from a database. No text input is required.

GAZIRU is not restricted to images of 2D objects. Further uses for GAZIRU tech may include helping people operate equipment — take a photograph of something and get an operation manual on your screen in seconds. Likewise there are benefits for health, such as being able to provide nutritional data for certain foods. The educational implications are immense; a museum or exhibition can become interact with further information for visitors who want to know more about a certain item on display.

The days of the humble barcode or QR code are surely limited.


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Lotte Rhythmi-Kamu develops chewing gum bite counter earphones

Written by: William on October 31, 2014 at 9:00 am | In PRODUCT INNOVATION | No Comments

Wearable gadgetry just got more functional, thanks to Lotte, the candy maker who has come up with the Rhymi-Kamu chewing gum bite counter earphones.

The Korean company, also based in Japan, developed the earphones with medical experts as a publicity stunt for its chewing gum but they genuinely work.

Using ear sensors, the Rhythmi-Kamu (“kamu” is Japanese for “bite/chew”) detects movements in the ear canal. These are created when you chew and the more frequent the movements, the more you are chewing.

lotte rhythmi-kamu chewing track count earphones

Okay, so what? Isn’t this just another health device or life log gadget? Well, this is cool not because it measures how much you are chewing. It’s neat because you can then essentially use your “bite” to control things.

lotte rhythmi-kamu chewing track count earphones

By having your Rhythmi-Kamu earphones connected to your phone, an app could potentially monitor your bites to know when you want to change a music track, turn off the audio, and so on. E.g. two quick bites could be the signal to stop the music.

rino sashihara hkt48 lotte rhythmi-kamu chewing track count earphones

As part of the promotion, Lotte paid to have some idols from HKT48 try the Rhythmi-Kamu earphones out.

The bad news is this great idea isn’t an actual product (yet). But who knows, maybe one day in the future chewing will count for something. For now, Lotte is leaning the earphones to universities and research institutes for use in studies.


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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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