Space is not so much the final frontier as the last aggravation that drives you to the bottle in a Tokyo apartment. Short of a rich relative passing on their fortune, or robbing a bank, you won’t be getting any more of it. So, you just have to get creative with what little you do have. In keeping with Japan’s status as master of the cubicle, Thanko is turning out a nifty idea with its Chair Desk, a standard office chair on wheels with an attachable, adjustable miniature desktop to serve as a platform for your laptop. The outfit carries a price tag of ¥9,980. Check it out at www.thanko.jp/chairdesk/.
Taking it with you: Coleman Japan is equally adept at thinking way outside of the box to cope with a lack of infrastructure. Its new portable shower consists of a collapsible plastic water tank, battery-powered pump and rudimentary shower hose and nozzle. Using just four AA batteries, it can pump out 20 liters of water, although “pump” might be too strong a word to describe the water pressure that it can muster. But it beats driving home caked in sand and sweat after your day out. It costs ¥3,780, with details at www.coleman.co.jp/shop/goods/goods.aspx?goods=170-6438.
Fake felines: The only infatuation that can rival the one Japan has for pets is the obsession with their robotic ersatz rivals. Taking its place in the electronic menagerie is a new robot cat from Sega Toys, the Yume-Neko Smile (Dream Cat Smile). It looks like a pretty standard fluffy white or gray feline with slightly odd eyes, but reportedly technology allows it to act like a real cat. Five sensors in different parts of its body provide for different behaviors. Pet its head and it starts purring and flicking its tail; stroke its back to make it sleepy. Supposedly it also “enjoys” having its tummy rubbed. But don’t touch its tail. The robot is priced at ¥8,379, with more information at segatoys.co.jp/yumepet/yumeneko/index.html. Now, if it’s really true to life, it will simply wave its tail at you while it walks out the door when you call it . . .
Every bug has its day: Mechanical cats I might be able to fathom but a robot cockroach? If ever a creature was reviled in Japan, surely this is the beast. But Bandai is doing its bit to redeem the much maligned insect’s image with the Hex Bug, due out in the middle of the month. The translucent devices look just like the real thing, each with six legs and a touch sensor that tells them to change directions when they hit a wall. The bugs will also vibrate like a cell phone, and in keeping with their natural brethren they scuttle away from you when you make loud noises. Bright lights, though, don’t seem to be their nemesis. The critters cost ¥1,995 and come in five colors, with each being a slightly different design. Other models resembling ladybugs are in the pipeline, with details at robot.watch.impress.co.jp/cda/news/2007/08/28/623.html.
Get the lead out: Thanks to the travails of Chinese manufacturers, the question of toy safety has extended far beyond whether junior will be able to insert it into his digestive system. A prime concern among the new rash of fears is contamination with lead, among other noxious metals. Oxford Instruments claims to have an answer in its hand-held X-ray fluorescence analyzer, X-MET3000TXR+. Looking suspiciously like a ray gun, kids will want to ditch the toys it is meant to be checking and turn it into the plaything. But this is no toy, as it uses X-rays to measure the levels of lead, arsenic, cadmium, mercury, chrome, nickel and other indigestible metals in toys and other products. See www.oxinst.com/wps/wcm/connect/Oxford+Instruments/Internet/Home/.
Sexy sells: Samsung is addressing the needs of another common appliance: the computer printer. Its new ML1630 and SCX-4500 models are stylish glossy black beauties that might not turn the humble ink-spitter out into a fashion accessory, but it is not for lack of trying. Blue LED displays and touch-button controls make these look more like upmarket stereos. A neat touch is having paper feed trays hidden away inside the machine, removing the sight of stacks of paper sticking out of the printer like unwanted limbs. The SCX-4500 is a combination printer and scanner and the ML1630 is a monochrome laser printer.
Mind games: All those stressed out by too many gadgets to choose from, not to mention heat stress, need not fear. Hello Kitty is coming to the rescue with its “Speculative Fiction” psychological test. You read a very short story and then answer a series of questions, earning points on a sliding scale. At the end you get your evaluation. Of course, considering its title, I think one of California’s more famous industries shouldn’t be worried. For those of you who think this is the cat’s whiskers, see www.sanriotown.com/psycho/psycho3/psycho3_us.htm.