Engadget Reitaisai 2015: Robot wedding, sexual radishes, and interactive glasses

Written by: William on June 2, 2015 at 11:03 am | In NEW TECH | No Comments

The tech and design festival Engadget Reitaisai was held at 3331 Arts Chiyoda last weekend.

The event showcases prototypes and new tech products and gadgets, both the wacky and genuinely innovative variety.

Here are some highlights.

One section was provocatively called the “Refreshing Sex Museum”.

peppai pepper robot breasts touch

SoftBank robot Pepper got a Hatsune Miku-tinted feminine makeover and emerged as Peppai. This is a pun on the Japanese word for breasts (oppai), as this Pepper droid does indeed display her (?) chest in all its glory on a screen. Needless to say, male visitors had trouble keeping their hands to themselves.

The same room also featured the Sexual Harassment Interface, where offers an interactive erotic experience with sound and radishes. The more you stroke, the more they groan!

sexual harassment interface daikon radishes

Another room showcased uses for the JINS MEME glasses, which track your eye movements. This included one booth where the JINS MEME were used to play a video game. The “jumps” of the player were tracked by the glasses, which then replicated them in the game.

The event is tongue-in-cheek and geeky, with plenty of inventive but “useless” gadgets and ideas. There was also a Maywa Denki exhibition, ahead of their staging of the first robot marriage ceremony in Tokyo this month.

robot wedding marriage maywa denki frois yukirin

Although the Engadget event is not as famous as the hugely successful Niconico Chokaigi, it featured around 1,000 participants for the summer and winter events in 2014, and the buzz surrounding it was strong this year.

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

Written by: William on May 18, 2015 at 3:11 pm | In COOL PRODUCTS, NEW TECH | 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 COOL PRODUCTS | 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 COOL PRODUCTS | 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 NEW TECH | 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 COOL PRODUCTS, LIFESTYLE | 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 COOL PRODUCTS, LIFESTYLE | 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 NEW TECH | 2 Comments

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, NEW TECH | 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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