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The gadget scoop on Slush Tokyo

by Chiho Komoriya

Slush Tokyo, one of Japan’s largest startup and tech conferences in Japan, is always a treasure trove of new gadgets and innovative inventions. This month On: Tech looks at a few items at the March event that improve on everyday items.

Smart toilet for smart cats

People treat their pets like members of the family, but keeping an eye on their health as closely as you would on your spouse or children isn’t that easy.

One of the most common causes of cat deaths, for example, is chronic kidney disease, a sadly incurable condition that if spotted early can be treated to reduce a cat’s discomfort and greatly extend its life.

Hachitama’s Toletta is a litter tray that can help by monitoring its user’s weight and the number of times it is urinated in. Linked to a smartphone app that records the activity in graphs, Toletta makes it easy for cat owners to keep an eye out for sudden weight loss and polyuria, both symptoms of kidney failure.

Not only does the litter tray weigh its user and track urination patterns, but it is also equipped with a camera that takes pictures to identify the cat using it. A slight invasion of the cat’s privacy, maybe, but it means that owners of several cats can track the health of each of them separately.

The Toletta will be released on International Cat Day, Aug. 8, priced at ¥25,000, with a monthly ¥300 subscription fee for the app. If you’re particularly interested, though, Hachitama is currently recruiting product testers, cutely named Nyanbassadors, until May 30. Nyanbassadors can have their cats use a Toletta free of charge, provided they report their pets’ progress on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. For more information, visit the website.

toletta.jp/en

When wires work better

These days portable speakers focus on using wireless Bluetooth connections, but in an unusual move, JDSound has decided to make a small USB-connected speaker.

Advantages include better sound quality, no delayed output, no setting up procedure and no need for battery charging. Called Ovo, this speaker doesn’t even have an “on” button. You simply plug it into whatever device you want to amp up the audio on.

Outputting high-quality sound using an USB has been notoriously difficult to achieve, but JDSound says its Full Digital Logic system can handle audio signals and output digital ones using less power than an analog system. Advertised as a speaker particularly good for listening to music or watching movies and sports programs, the Ovo separates left and right sound channels for a stereo effect and boosts sudden or loud sounds by drawing extra energy to the speaker when needed.

JDSound was established after the Great East Japan Earthquake, with the intention of helping boost the economy of Tohoku by making electronic products in the area. The Ovo can be pre-ordered via the Green Funding crowdfunding site and has already reached more than double its ¥20,000,000 target. Though the cheaper options have gone, you can still get an Ovo for ¥11,880.

greenfunding.jp/lab/projects/2095

Bringing an old game into the 21st century

Kendama, the ball-and-cup game that was particularly popular during the Edo Period (1603-1868) is still played by many in Japan. The “dama” is the ball, while the “ken” is the handle with three cups and a spike. It’s a simple toy, but it has inspired many complicated tricks that have turned the game into a competitive sport.

The Dendama was conceived by Yoshihiro Ohtani, a kendama enthusiast who wanted to find a way for players to connect and compete across the world. It combines an electric kendama with a smartphone app that offers competitive and cooperative games. The kendama itself is equipped with sensors, which can motion track the ball, detect its contact with the cups and record its rotational position. It uses Bluetooth to relay this information to the app, which recognizes the moves as skills and tricks.

In addition to being able to train and compete against others across the world, players can also use the Dendama with different games, including turning it into a weapon to fight zombies.

Originally a Makuake crowdfunding success story, you can now find Dendama on amazon.jp for ¥8,000.

dendama.co.jp