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).

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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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JINS MEME glasses track eye movements, tell you when you’re tired + warn sleepy drivers

Written by: William on May 13, 2014 at 5:13 pm | In LIFESTYLE, PRODUCT INNOVATION | No Comments

Jins, the Japanese spectacles brand, has launched JINS MEME, the world’s first eyewear that lets you see yourself.

The glasses measure tiredness and concentration based on changes in eye moment. JINS MEME can then judge how much mental or physical strain you are under, even if you yourself don’t notice. The glasses then actually alert you before you cross the threshold after which you won’t be able to recover.

The glasses contain small metallic electrooculography (EOG) sensors in the bridge, nose pads and the ear bars. These sensors track electrical potential in eye movements and differences between cornea and retina can be checked against standards for alertness.

jins meme glasses track eyes tiredness warn

This isn’t just for when you are at your desk. The glasses can help warn you if you are about to get sleeping when, say, driving. Yes, these glasses might actually save your live and the lives of others. It can do this because it “detects every movement of the eyeballs and the strength of each blink, then lets you know you’re becoming sleepy”.

jins meme glasses track eyes tiredness warn

JINS MEM works in tandem with a phone so you can log your health and physical condition in real time. “It’s like having a live broadcast of the changes happening in your body,” the makers say. “Wearing JINS MEME during running or walking can provide at-a-glance information, including calories burned, speed, and posture.”

jins meme glasses track eyes tiredness warn

Of course, these aren’t ordinary glasses and so they require power, though you can still get 8 hours of continuous use out of them. What about the OS? JINS MEME is “anticipated to be compatible with Mac, Windows, iOS, and Android”, plus they are promised to have both Japanese and English language support.

There are three designs. Wellington is “today’s most classic eyewear form”. It puts the device functions at the ends of the temple pieces, “giving this style loved the world over a unique MEME twist”.

jins meme glasses track eyes tiredness warn

Half-Rim is an “intellectual-looking model” that is meant to fit any everyday wardrobe.

jins meme glasses track eyes tiredness warn

Lastly, the Sunglass [sic] model comes in “a sporty, fashionable teardrop shape” with “frames with a round crosssection designed to provide the ultimate simplicity.”

jins meme glasses track eyes tiredness warn

No word yet on availability except a vague spring 2015 date but Jins seems keen to roll this out globally. The spectacles will also work with an official app, set to be released when the glasses also go on sale.

jins meme glasses track eyes tiredness warn

Jins is also going to provide a software developer’s kit to increase the potential of the JINS MEME. There will be data available for blinking, blink duration, vision shifts (VV/VH threshold data for each of eight directions), and data from three-axis gyro-sensor/Three-axis acceleration sensor, as well as api for mental tiredness levels, sleepiness, number of steps taken, calories burned and posture. Just imagine what you can do with all that!

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Japanese man arrested for using home 3D printer to make plastic gun

Written by: William on May 12, 2014 at 5:31 pm | In LIFESTYLE | No Comments

Everyone’s raving about 3D printers these days.

In Japan, one of the most popular ways to use the technology has been DMM’s new service. However, with new technology and services, there are always going to be new gray areas to be navigated.

3d print gun japan zig zag revolver imura

Yoshitomo Imura was arrested by police recently for taking his interest in firearms too far. He made a 3D-printed six shooter called the Zig Zag with his own 3D printer.

The Shonan Institute of Technology employee rather shot himself in the foot (not literally) by making a video of himself firing the gun and posting it online.

Imura’s message read:

It is the first 3D printer revolver in the world which can discharge the live cartridge made in Japan.
In order to protect the law of Japan, the bullet for motion picture photography is used.
Please make in the United States. !!
If it makes, please show me a picture by e-mail.

The Japanese police are not famed for their investigative skills and for a good reason. Imura (27) actually printed the Zig Zag and fired blanks with it in a video posted 25 weeks ago! It was not until March when a video of the Zig Zag appeared on TV that the cops saw and decided to raid his home in Kawasaki, just outside Tokyo, where they found five firearms which could potentially be lethal.

While Japanese police have guns, it is very difficult for individuals to possess firearms in Japan, despite what Yakuza movies would have you believe. Manufacturing a firearm is an offense even if Imura did not fire live ammunition.

Imura has taken it as a sign of success that the police regarded his creations as real enough to take him into custody. However, in fact the plastic revolver may have been as much a danger to Imura as to others, since plastic guns can misfire, backfire and cause injuries to the user. On the other side, they can be brought onto planes and past metal detectors much more easily.

We expect this latest development will mean it is only be a short time until the authorities lock in legislation controlling 3D printers and 3D-printing services, as some lawmakers are indeed already threatening.

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Smart Zabuton checks café seat availability via cushion, links to smartphone app

Written by: William on April 28, 2014 at 1:12 pm | In LIFESTYLE, PRODUCT INNOVATION | No Comments

Don’t you just hate heading to a bar or café, only to find every seat in the place taken? What if you could get an update to your phone to let you know how many seats were currently available at your destination?

This is particular the case in Japan and Tokyo, where many drinkeries and eateries are on the small size. It is common to wait for a seat in almost any major place in Shibuya or Shinjuku, though usually the staff provide you with a chair to sit on outside where you can browse the menu.

smart zabuton cushion chair seat smartphone check availability cafe restaurant

Enter the Smart Zabuton, a new type of system developed by Key Value that works with smartphones and tablets to send out a signal if the cushion is currently being occupied — that is, someone is sitting on it. (A zabuton is a traditional Japanese floor cushion, though here the target is more like a regular thin cushion that you place on a stool or chair.) Key Value expects to retail the Smart Zabuton at between ¥1,200 and ¥2,000 and sell both to individuals and corporations.

smart zabuton cushion chair seat smartphone check availability cafe restaurant

You can then check on your phone how many seats are free and which ones (i.e. you can see if there are two or three seats available together), and even how long the seat cushion has been occupied for — which would serve as a rough indicator for how long you’d have to wait until it became free.

smart zabuton cushion chair seat smartphone check availability cafe restaurant

This is surely not the first example of technology like this but we like it nonetheless. Since it only measures if someone is on the cushion there are no concerns about personal information being usurped by café owners or other users. The Smart Zabuton is compatible with Apple’s iBeacon Bluetooth Low Energy system and iOS 7, though the makers hope to expand this to Android in the future.

smart zabuton cushion chair seat smartphone check availability cafe restaurant

The Smart Zabuton could also work as part of a digital life log for an individual. If you are concerned with how much time you spend sitting down, then the Smart Zabuton could help you record and monitor this at various places (home, office, even on the train). Just take it around with you (or have more than one) and keep an eye on your phone’s app data.

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Kyocera builds massive solar farm, tourist destination

Written by: William on November 14, 2013 at 10:16 am | In LIFESTYLE | No Comments

In post-Fukushima Japan, we need more projects like this.

While the LDP government slowly cranks up the return to full nuclear power, some Japanese corporations are being more realistic about the future. One of them is Kyocera, which has built the Kagoshima Nanatsujima Mega Solar Power Plant at a cost of $275.5 million.

The solar power plant is Japan’s largest and has a capacity of 70 megawatts. That’s enough to power some 22,000 Japanese homes (which are typically a bit smaller than American or European ones).

According to Kyocera, the plant “is being operated by a special purpose company established by Kyocera and six other companies to sell the electricity to a local utility under Japan’s feed-in-tariff (FIT) program.”

kyocera kagoshima nanatsujima mega solar power plant

The Kyushu facility covers an area of 1,270,000m2, roughly the same area as 27 baseball stadiums.

Expectations and interest in solar energy have heightened to a new level in Japan with the need to resolve power supply issues resulting from the Great East Japan Earthquake of March 2011. To further promote the use of renewable energy, the Japanese government launched a restructured FIT program in July 2012, which stipulates that local utilities are required to purchase 100% of the power generated from solar installations of more than 10 kilowatts (kW) for a period of 20 years.

Kyocera is also being savvy about the PR advantages of being a green pioneer in Japan, not to mention how it can tie in with regional tourism, a formidable money-spinner. That’s why it is promoting the site not only for its long-term eco implications but also its own intrinsic value as a visiting destination for technology buffs (of which there are more than a few in Japan) or even sightseers hoping for good views of nearby Sakurajima.

Additionally, a tour facility has been built adjacent to the 70MW plant — which is open to the public — featuring a circular viewing room where visitors can observe the 290,000 solar panels from an elevated vantage point and enjoy the view of the ocean bay and grand Sakurajima volcano in the background. Display zones for visitors such as students and tourists provide information about environmental issues and the science behind photovoltaic energy generation. By dedicating this facility, all parties involved hope to foster a deeper understanding of renewable energy and further facilitate a low-carbon society.

Let’s hope that vision isn’t too far away.

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