On Japan

Earprints, tail therapy and calorie scanners: Japan’s latest inventions

Qoobo Therapy Robot was arguably the star of CEATEC 2017.
Tokyo, Japan CNN  — 

Located in the industrial city of Chiba, just outside of Tokyo, CEATEC is the biggest electronics show in Japan.

Each year, the nation which gave the world the bullet train, the Walkman and blue LED light showcases its latest, cutting-edge consumer technologies.

In 2017, Sharp introduced the 8K era with its dazzling 27-inch monitor of the same resolution due to release next month, Lenovo debuted a Star Wars Jedi Challenge game that allowed users to engage in virtual reality lightsaber battles and there were robots galore. This is, after all, Japan.

CNN highlights eight of the quirkiest inventions showcased at the event.

"Gundam Concierge Haro" was one of the many robots on display at CEA-TEC 2017.

Get the perfect chew

It looks like a Bluetooth hands-free device, but bitescan is actually measuring your chewing strokes as you eat.

Hung from the ear, it is smaller and lighter than existing bite counters (they’re normally attached to the chin) and can determine a user’s bite speed, number of bites per minute and type of bite using a waveform detected on the back of the ear.

Sharp has somewhat gamified the concept: the device syncs up to a smartphone app which categorizes results by animal type i.e. slow chewers are tortoises.

The product will go on sale next year. Sharp says it will then share the data it collects with Japanese universities. The aim, it says, is to allow the user to achieve the perfect chewing habits.

Quite why we need to do this will presumably become clearer in time.

Earprint to replace the fingerprint?

Thought your fingerprint was secure? Think again. Researchers at Michigan State University last year proved it can be hacked using little more than an inkjet printer.

Enter the earprint.

Developed by US-based technology firm Descartes Biometrics, it works like this: Firstly, the user downloads the ERGO software onto their smartphone.

The user lifts the device to the side of their head and presses the center of the touch screen on their ear. A sound is then sent into the ear, and due to the “unique geometry of the ear,” the sound that is echoed back is specific to each individual.

ERGO uses sensors embedded in modern Android smartphones, meaning no additional hardware is required.

Authentication takes about one second, and the company says, improves with use, storing up to ten scans of the user’s ear.

An army of factory robots

Omron's artificial intelligence (AI) Automatic Transportation Mobile Robot at  CEATEC.

Omron artificial intelligence (AI) Automatic Transportation Mobile Robot machines are designed to work together in factories.

The white robots, launched in January, gather data as they roam around, creating maps in their “brain” which they then use to independently navigate their environment.

All the controller has to do is set the robot’s destination and it will navigate its own route. Laser sensors on all sides of the “body” allow the robot to detect unexpected objects – a person, for example. Using those maps, it can reroute to the destination.

The robots can travel at 1.8 meters per second, and carry a maximum load of 130 kg – although the greater the load the slower they travel.

And their application isn’t limited to factories. At Incheon Airport in South Korea, a mobile robot has been serving customers drinks.

The calorie scanner

Dinner is ready. But don’t tuck in. First you need to put it through your calorie scanner.

That’s the idea behind CaloRieco. Its infrared scanner measures nutrients within an accuracy range of 20%, according to manufacturer Panasonic. Current calorie scanners take between two and three minutes, the tech here works in just 10 seconds.

As well as people hoping to lose weight, the product is also aimed at those with diabetes and other diet-affected health conditions. The scanner stores nutritional data, and Panasonic hopes that eventually it will be able to suggest recipes according to users’ needs.

The price and launch date are both to be decided.

Supermarkets of tomorrow

Online stores are nothing new, but what if physical shops went online, too?

That’s the idea behind Usockets, a series of electronic supermarket price tags which feed into a centralized system that uses real-time data to manage a store.

Not enough footfall in the dairy aisle? The system’s heatmap can identify that and automatically lower prices on items that need to sell.

It gets even smarter. A technology called LinkRay allows shoppers to scan price tags with their smartphones to activate videos, providing more extra product information.

The technology is still under development, but gives an insight into what the shops of the future could look like.

A digital makeover

Ever wondered what you’d look like with thicker eyebrows? Or wearing fake eyelashes?

Panasonic’s Makeup Design Tool lets users experiment with these possibilities and more. The graphics editing software in video simulation mode uses a live video as its canvas. Users can apply makeup on their image, getting a realistic projection of their virtual makeover.

Brushes of different sizes can be selected to draw hairs on the face, or apply blusher.

The technology is targeted at makeup stores, wedding photography studios and cosmetic brands. The application is finished, and Panasonic says it is looking for business partners, such as make-up brands, to take it to market.

The perfect babysitter?

“Good morning, did you have a good sleep?” asks the Cocotto.

Billed as the perfect childcare partner by Panasonic, the bowling ball-shaped android can tell sleepy children to go to bed, download songs from the cloud to sing to little ones, and help a child’s educational development.

Parents instruct the spherical social robot, making it their helper as much as the child’s friend.

Oh, and it has some seriously cute facial expressions.

Qoobo Therapy Robot

A headless robotic cat might not sound that therapeutic, but believe us it is.

The Qoobo has been developed by Japanese firm Yukai Engineering and funded by a KickStarter campaign.

When a user pets the cushion-shaped and sized toy, its tail wags. The more vigorous the patting, the harder the wagging.

The Qoobo will launch next June and retail for $100, with an eight-hour battery life.

“It’s a comforting communication that warms your heart the way animals do,” say the manufacturers. “Wrap yourself with fuzzy love.”