Japan’s innovative portable devices include Archelis, a “standing” chair designed for surgeons.
The first Tokyo Wearable Expo started in 2015 and was the largest in the world.
The Japanese wearable technology market is expected to grow from 530,000 in 2013 to 13.1 million units in 2017.
What do Discman, Tamagotchi and Game Boy have in common?
These are all landmark Japanese inventions of the 80s and 90s, symbols of a time when the Asian nation was a world leader in technological innovation.
But with the rise of Silicon Valley and American tech giants such as Google and Apple, Japan has produced fewer breakthrough technologies over the past two decades.
According to Professor Masahiko Tsukamoto, from Kobe University’s Graduate School of Engineering, this is about to change thanks to a new generation of young entrepreneurs, an increase in international collaborations and new partnerships with university scientists.
This time around, Japan isn’t focusing on smart phones or games, but on portable chairs, smart glasses, and dog communication devices.
In short, wacky wearable technology.
In 2013, Japan sold 530,000 units of wearable technology devices, according to the Yano Research Institute.
This figure is expected to increase to 13.1 million units in 2017.
Perhaps the best indication of the rise of this industry was the introduction of Tokyo’s first Wearable Expo in 2015. – when it launched, it was the largest wearable technology show in the world with 103 exhibitors.
It featured electronic kimonos, cat communication devices, and electronic gloves to record a pianist’s finger work.
At the next show, from January 18 to 20, 2017, the organizers are expecting more than 200 exhibitors and 19,000 visitors.
“With better functionality, lighter components and smaller designs, wearing devices is no longer a fantasy,” says show director Yuhi Maezono. “Wearables are attracting attention as the next big growth market.”
Inupathy is a dog harness slated to launch later this year that will allow pet owners to communicate with their dogs.
In addition to a heart rate monitor, the harness features noise-canceling technology that can isolate the pet’s heart rate and track its reactions to stimuli, such as food, games, people and toys .
With this data, the harness gauges a dog’s mood and changes color to notify owners.
Equipped with six LED lights, the collar glows blue to show calm, red for excitement, and displays a rainbow theme for happiness.
Joji Yamaguchi, CEO of Inupathy, was inspired by his Corgi, Akane, who was a nervous pup. To better understand the dog’s anxiety, the biologist developed Inupathy to monitor its heart rate.
“I always felt like I didn’t quite understand Akane and wanted to get close to him,” Yamaguchi says.
“Buddhism and the ancient Japanese religion say that all animals, plants, and even rocks have a spirit inside. It’s stressful not being able to solve the problems that upset them.
Yamaguchi expects wearable wellness tracking to have applications for humans as well.
“Artificial intelligence personalization is going to be a game-changer,” says Yamaguchi.
“For example, if you show a certain behavior before you start feeling depressed, predicting your depression from that behavior is extremely valuable to an individual. An AI that works personally for you will eventually make that possible.
Archelis – a portable chair launched in Japan this year – is also creating an international buzz.
The result of a collaboration between the Nitto mold factory, the University of Chiba, Japan Polymer Technology and Hiroaki Nishimura Design, Japan, it was initially intended for surgeons, who need to rest their legs during long operations.
The chair allows its wearer to sit down and stand up efficiently at the same time.
“The Archelis concept is very simple, like the simplicity of the egg of Columbus,” says Dr. Hiroshi Kawahira, the surgeon behind the concept. “Long surgeries can lead to back, neck and knee pain, especially for older surgeons.”
Made from 3D printed panels, Archelis does not require any electrical components or batteries.
The innovation is in the efficient design: flexible carbon panels wrap around the buttocks, legs and feet to provide support and minimize joint pressure.
The system stabilizes the ankles and knees, so the pressure from standing upright is distributed evenly across the shins and thighs.
Although the wearer appears to be standing, in fact they are resting their back and legs while working on their feet.
Other portable devices are smaller.
Measuring approximately 3 inches long, BIRD is essentially a modern thimble that turns your fingertip into a magic wand.
Using algorithms to decode a user’s intent, the device also has precise sensors that track direction, speed, and gestures.
The technology allows users to turn any surface into a smart display, as well as interact with other smart devices.
Walking around the house, users can project a laptop screen onto a wall, turn on a coffee machine, read on any surface, and shop online with the swipe of a finger.
The developers – Israel-based MUV Interactive and Japan-based Silicon Technology – expect BIRD to be adopted by the education and business sectors, thanks to its ability to create collaborative presentations.