As some of you may or may not know, here at PCR we’re big fans of the unconventional, unique and sometimes terrifying tech that emerges from Japan.
Here are our favourite gadgets and inventions to come out of the home of Godzilla, robots and ramen during 2014:
Honda released a Japan-only personal mobility device, which can only be described as a ‘sit-on Segway’. The Uni-Cub Beta travels at up to a super-speedy 3mph and has a battery life of around an hour and a half. Riders lean to steer, accelerate and brake, with the device’s ‘Omni Traction Drive System’ meaning the penguin-shaped seat can move quite freely by just leaning in the right direction. The Uni-Cub Beta is currently available on lease to Japanese businesses – can you see your employees riding one?
Mirror, mirror, on the wall – can you help me not be sad at all? The University of Tokyo created a mirror-like system which manipulates a ‘reflection’ of the user to inspire different emotions. Using the tech, an image of an individual is captured and then altered to display the desired emotion – for example, happiness or laughter. The researchers found that major alterations negated the viewer’s change of mood, so the camera detects the most important areas to subtly change for each emotion. The University suggested that the system could be installed in changing rooms of clothes stores, to make people feel more happy when they wear certain items, or could be used by sufferers of depression.
Japan has always had a bit of an obsession with robots, so it’s no surprise to see that a Japanese machinery manufacturer is behind the Landwalker – an 11-foot robot with a cockpit for someone to sit in a control it, Power Rangers style. The Landwalker was on show at the Wonder Festival in Japan, and 12 lucky robot geeks had a change to climb inside the mech and take it for a ride. Although named the Landwalker, the robot does more of a shuffle so both feet stay on the floor at all times. When seeing it move in reverse, maybe they should’ve called it the Moonwalker...
Security firm Japan Security System Co. has collaborated with designer Chicara Nagata to create a motorcycle equipped with both a 49cc Honda gas engine and multiple HD night-vision Sony cameras, which provide 360-degree surveillance. Commenting on the fully functional bike, Nagata said that it was “meant to be installed in museums, hotel lobbies and stores”. One thing’s for certain – nobody’s going to be stealing it.
Japanese scientist Hirotaka Osawa has created a pair of digital eyes that can ‘cut down its user’s emotional demands’ by performing eye movements for them. One proposed application for the AgencyGlass device is use by flight attendants who have to deal with irritating passengers. “Such emotional labour has caused some people to become deeply conflicted and develop emotional illnesses,” said Osawa. So the next time you’re on a flight, maybe spare a thought for your attendant’s emotionally exhausted eyes – and try to be a bit more pleasant to them.
Panasonic revealed that it will make its robotic exoskeleton suits available to consumers in 2015. Up until now, the suits were only used for medical and military activities, but Panasonic wants to make them available for anyone employed in a job involving heavy lifting. They can also be used to support the arms and legs of those going through physiotherapy. Of course, if you’re just a mecha fan who dreams of stomping to work like a boss in your very own ‘powerloader’ suit, you will be able to pick one up from around $5,000.
Almost 18 year ago Bandai launched the Tamagotchi. While the virtual pet toy may no longer be quite as popular in the West as it was back in 1996, Japan still has dedicated shops to the keychain-sized gadgets. Bandai has now released the brand new Tamagotchi 4U, which comes with NFC technology. Scattered around Japan will be a number of touch points for Tamagotchi owners to tap their toys on to receive freebies, offers and a host of interactive features. For example, characters in the new Tamagotchi 4U can eat the same food as you, when you visit a supporting restaurant.
KFC keyboard and mouse
In September, KFC Japan launched a range of PC peripherals shaped to look like pieces of chicken. These include a keyboard that has all of its keys replaced with tiny KFC pieces, a mouse shaped like a chicken drumstick and a monstrous USB stick also shaped to look like something you’d find in your bargain bucket. KFC Japan also gave away 47 pairs of 3D printed Kentucky Fried Chicken earrings too. It was part of a contest KFC held to attract more followers on social media, by asking people to tweet about ‘Colonel’s Day’. Those who tweeted then had the chance to win one of the chicken-shaped accessories.
At a technology exhibition in Japan, NTT Docomo unveiled some of its latest tech, including the Yubi Navi – a navigation device that uses ‘tactile sensations’ for a range of various functions. The haptic handle can navigate users to a destination via the small actuators that twist the Yubi Navi left or right, prompting the user to turn at intersections. The idea behind the gadget is to free people from the need to keep looking at a map on their smartphone or other device. Docomo’s Koji Okamoto said: “In Japan, walking with smartphones is a big problem and we want to solve it. “Aside from avoiding dangers involved in not paying attention to one’s surrounding, this can help people enjoy a location more by noticing new shops and other attractions.”
Tokyo startup Logbar created a ‘magic’ ring that can control devices with the wag of a finger. The wearable tech can be customised to let the wearer use a series of simple gestures to turn lights on and off, control their music player, or even pay the bill at a restaurant. Known simply as ‘Ring’, the device has up to three days’ continuous use time, 18 days’ standby time and comes in four different sizes. Ring can be paired with an iOS or Android device and Logbar has an Open URL for developers who want to experiment with the gadget.