Sing on key with Yamaha

This December Yamaha is finally releasing to the public something that vocaloid fans have been waiting for: the Vocaloid Keyboard. Designed as a keytar, the Vocaloid Keyboard allows musicians to play singing voices, including that of the turquoise-haired character Hatsune Miku. It comes with five sets of pre-programmed song lyrics that can be read via a small display on its side and are sung out as you play the melody.

The default singing voice, VY1, is female and there are four other vocaloids available: Megapoid, IA, Gumi and Miku, whose vocals can be downloaded using Bluetooth and a smartphone or tablet app. Users can switch between voices while playing and also access more lyrics, or write their own using the app.

For the keytar to sing, only one key can be pressed per syllable, so no chords can be played. There are, however, options to add vibrato or reverb to the notes.

Yamaha has yet to release the price for the Vocaloid Keyboard, so keep an eye on its website.


Bear necessities for kids

Smart toys are not new. Most of the communication objects for kids, however, have been in the form of a doll or stuffed animal. The Hamic Bear created by Hamee is a little different. More like a cute plastic ornament, it’s designed to appeal to kids of all ages and is small enough to sit in the palm of your hand.

The little message bot, which works via Wi-Fi, allows children who don’t have smart phones to not only send voice and text messages to other members of their families, but also to their Hamic Bear-owning friends. Like a social networking system, it lets them send (or reject) friend requests, all of which, of course, is monitored by their parents.

Like many smart toys, the bear has a sensor so that it knows to speak to you when you approach, and its maker Hamee plans to develop even more AI functions. When it tells you there is a message, simply push its head once to hear it and then double push and hold to record a reply. Smart-phone users can either see the text or hear replies, while those communicating via the bears alone will hear a voice message.

You may end up with kids talking to small objects all day, but at least this may keep them away from screens and monitors.

The release date and price of the Hamic Bear haven’t been published yet, but it is expected to be ¥4,000 and will be available soon.


Your friends are the in-crowd

The Japanese crowdfunding platform Campfire knows that asking strangers for money can be a daunting prospect, especially if it’s for a small project. Polca, a new small-scale fund-raising mobile-phone app, has therefore been designed to target those who know you well enough to trust your judgement — your friends.

This “friendfunding” app allows you to choose who to share a project with via your personal social networks. Because it’s limited to your own pool of friends, it’s also great for funding small projects, such as organizing a birthday party, getting a gift for someone, or even planning a local exhibition. Rewards can be anything you choose, from joining a funded event to an item.

All you need to start a project is an idea, a title, an image, a monetary target and the rewards. These are registered using the Polca app, which creates a unique URL for the project. That URL is then sent to the members of social networks that you select. None of this is published on Campfire or to other Polca app users and the URL is only accessible to those you decide to send it to. Targets can be from ¥300 to ¥100,000, which means no major projects, but enough to get something started.

Polca is free to download and is currently also free to use, though there are plans to eventually charge a fee.


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