Tech Innovation

Four Gadgets By Japanese Makers You Should Check Out

A forerunner of the Japanese maker movement, DMM.make AKIBA in Akihabara, Tokyo, is a US$4.38 million, full-scale manufacturing facility launched by internet giant DMM, which provides tech startups with access to state-of-the art equipment required for product development. Here are four cutting-edge products they’ve produced that you might like to check out.

Tracking Emotions: Virtual Reality Headset FOVE

While virtual reality (VR) terminals are generally operated using head or hand tracking, FOVE has gained attention for its built-in eye-tracking function that captures eyeball movements.

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For example, if this gaze-tracking technology was to be incorporated into a shooting game, the player would be able to move the aim by simply shifting his line of vision, fire bullets by fixing his gaze on the target or attract attention from another character by displaying facial expressions.

The possibilities of FOVE are not limited to games alone. A person who is bedridden would be able to operate a robot by directing it with his eyes or play the piano by simply running his eyes over the keys, thereby widening the range of options for communication and self-expression.

“We have generated a lot of support through crowdfunding. Judging from our advance into the US market, we expect to see a lot of success in the future,” said DMM.make AKIBA evangelist Yasunori Okajima.

Living with Digital Characters: Hologram Communication Robot Gatebox

Developed by Vinclu, Gatebox is a hologram communication robot that allows users to interact with their favourite digital characters. The characters, projected by hologram technology, analyse the user’s behaviour using voice and image recognition, and respond accordingly. They are also capable of carrying out basic functions such as voice activation of the TV, setting an alarm clock and making weather forecasts, allowing users to communicate with them, rather than simply control them.

If Gatebox is linked to various household appliances, it has the potential to become the centre of a smart home. While products that perform similar functions already exist in Europe and the US, using a 2-D character as a virtual assistant is still a niche concept. This is likely to have a massive impact on lifestyles.

“The prototype was developed in DMM.make AKIBA, and since its launch, Gatebox has seen a tremendous response globally. The team is growing, and we can expect future successes,” predicted Okajima.

Broadening Performances with Light, Movement and Sound: Orphe Smart Shoes

Orphe, a smart shoe system designed for performance, has become a hot topic of conversation. Developed by Tokyo-based no new folk studio, this stylish wearable device enjoyed a great deal of attention after being worn by world-renowned Japanese dancer Koharu Sugawara during a dynamic dance performance for a Toyota Vitz commercial.

When it comes to Orphe, seeing is believing. There are approximately 100 full-colour serial-controlled LEDs, motion sensors and a built-in Bluetooth module in each pair of shoes, enabling them to emit fantastic lights. The LEDs are individually controlled, and the 9-axis sensor captures the users’ movements in detail.

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As a result of data being processed in real time, the colour and intensity of the lights can change instantly depending on the direction and speed of the wearers’ movements, making it easier to create designs with the after-images. The sound, light and gesture combination can be customised, thus broadening the range of performance.

A Prosthetic That Feels Like a Watch: Myoelectric handiii

Until recently, intuitively controllable myoelectric prosthetic hands worn by patients were operated using electrical signals from arm muscles. However, these expensive products – often costing more than US$13,000 – are difficult for users to repair and limited in choice of designs. Consequently, the penetration of myoelectric prosthetic hands in the Japanese market has been a mere 1 percent.

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After reviewing manufacturing techniques in depth, robotics design company exiii developed handii, a stylish myoelectric wristband, at a much lower price. While simplifying the parts replacement process and increasing the number of designs, it was also able to reduce the product cost to less than US$300.

Cost reduction was achieved through the following three ways. First, the single, dedicated computer used in transmitting electric signals was substituted with a smaller computer. Second, the number of motors used was reduced. Handiii incorporates a mechanism that allows finger joints to bend flexibly, a motion that is handled by a motor located at the base of each finger. Third, the exterior was created using a 3-D printer. The design allows the product to have the feel of a watch, while also being customisable, depending on whether it will be used indoors or for sport.

“All the latest models are released as open-source design drawings, so manufacturers around the world can make various improvements and develop them into better prosthetic hands,” explained Okajima.

While these four products may be niche or a little too cutting-edge for most large enterprises, such innovations have the potential to be life changing. It may not be long before these unique products, born out of the Japanese maker movement, may be colouring your world.

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