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Techie home comforts

by Chiho Komoriya

A polite talking ted

You may remember Paro, the therapeutic seal robot that has been successful enough to be used by therapists to help dementia patients with stress. Well now NTT DoCoMo has now collaborated with toy firm Iwaya, electronics maker Vitec and communication doll producer Mooredoll to bring to life Cocokuma, a similar stuffed animal designed to not only help relieve loneliness in the elderly, but also to help them stay in touch with family.

Cocokuma looks like an ordinary teddy bear, but it blinks, raises eyebrows and talks. Though it can be a companion of sorts — it has a sensor that detects when people are nearby before greeting them with the day’s weather and other information — its primary use is to pass on voice-recorded messages from other members of the family.

Using a smartphone app, family members or friends can send a voice message to the bear, which alerts its owner and then plays the message when its right paw is squeezed. You can even get the bear to make a sad or happy expression while it’s talking. To record a message to send back, the owner simply squeezes the bear’s left paw and speaks to it.

Cocokuma can also read out text messages in its own voice and be set on a timer, so that its owner isn’t disturbed in the middle of the night.

This isn’t a toy, so it’s not cheap — ¥37,584, with a service fee of ¥1,980 per month — but it could be a fun investment for families that live far apart.

Let there be always be light

Making a salt-water battery sounds like something from a school science project, but Hitachi Maxell has turned the simple experiment into survival tool.

Energy is often an issue during a disaster, which makes lighting a problem if you’re out of batteries. The LED lantern Mizusion, however, only needs 180 cubic centimeters of water and 7 grams of salt to stay continuously lit for 80 hours.

The salt water acts as an electrolyte for its “power bar,” a magnesium alloy electrode. This powers an LED that can reach a brightness of 2,000 lux. It’s easy to use: Simply take off the cap and put in two measuring spoonfuls of salt, followed by one and a half caps of water.

When unused power bar has a lifespan of about 10 years and can be replaced, so it can be stored as an emergency lamp. As it’s only 21.5 cm tall, it can also be used as a camping light or even for garden lighting.

The Mizusion is available at most big electronics stores for ¥3,218, with power bars costing ¥1,058 each.

Pocket facials

One of the many popular electronic home beauty devices is the microcurrent face massager, which delivers a low-level electrical current that many believe can improve skin tone and even tighten facial features.

Though these are not huge gadgets, they are still a little cumbersome (two-pronged hand-held devices) and not something you’re likely to pop into your bag for a quick pick-me-up while on the go. Microcurrent tool manufacturer Saido Beauty Laboratory, however, is about to release the NOFL Smart — a portable device that can be controlled by and attached to a smartphone.

The NOFL Smart delivers the electrical current via two prongs that are embedded in a single sculpted piece that can be clipped to the smartphone. The smartphone itself becomes the handle of the device, while an app is used to control the frequency of the current and its timer. The app also offers pre-set courses for different parts of the face.

This weighs just 46 grams and is small enough to work off one button battery (CR2032), which means it can be used in anywhere. It’s priced at ¥19,440 but can be purchased cheaper if pre-ordered from the Makuake crowdfunding platform.