Late February was a productive time for startups, with two important events taking place in Japan: Slush Tokyo 2019, a major nonprofit conference, and Tohoku Growth Accelerator Demo Day in Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture, a smaller festival that also offers advice to fledgling startups. Here are a few projects from the events that garnered attention.

A game-changing initiative

At Slush Tokyo, Panasonic Corporation exhibited its Game Changer Catapult enterprise, the home appliance maker’s foray into open collaboration projects. Of the resulting products, which are not yet released to buy, many pointed to a more convenient and digital lifestyle, including Hitokoe, a gadget designed to make sure its users don’t forget important items before leaving the home for the day.

Hitokoe uses RFID tags, which can be attached to things that people often forget, such as lunch boxes or keys. Items are classified into three categories: what is needed every day, what is needed for specific days and what is needed depending on the weather. The main Hitokoe device is installed near the front door of the home, and if you try to leave without a tagged item, it will actually call out to tell you.

If, for example, you try to leave without your keys, the gadget will announce that you don’t have them with you. If you forget your sports bag on the day you usually go to the gym, the device will remind you that it’s gym day. If the weather forecast says it will rain, but you don’t have your umbrella, it will suggest you take one.

It’s still in the development stage, and the Game Changer Catapult team aim to also connect the device to traffic information. Additionally, other forecast integrations could help users prevent things like pollen and insects entering the home.


From the ground up

Also at Slush, Fichvita showcased its ambient interface (a device that can detect human behavior in an unobtrusive way) using technology developed by Toyochem Co. There are many ways technology can detect and log human behavior, such as cameras and wearable devices. Fichvita, however, comes in the form of a sheet sensor, which is laid upon the floor, making it far less intrusive when detecting human movement.

The sheets, which can be tiled like floor paneling, can detect the number of passersby, their stride widths, number of steps, walking speed, direction traveled and more. All this is brought together by the Fichvita software for analysis.

Designed more for commercial use, in shops for example, Fichvita presents several benefits over surveillance cameras. Since it records steps and not visuals, it provides more privacy for customers and is not affected by changes in lighting. As flooring, it is also less invasive and has no blind spots like cameras, making it potentially useful in other places that could benefit from surveillance, like care homes.

One other use for Fichvita has already had a trial run. “Little Planet,” an exhibition of interactive digital games, used it as an input device for its attractions.


Toasting start-up projects

At the Tohoku Growth Accelerator Demo Day, Yume Cloud, in collaboration with Daiko Advertising Inc., presented an unusual masu (sake cup). Masu sake cups are normally made of wood, but Yume Cloud’s cup is made of opaque glass that allows it to change color via an LED light. A Bluetooth device designed to make drinking sake more entertaining, the Masu Glass is equipped with an RGB LED, motion sensors, audio sensors and a vibration mechanism. It can be set to change color when clinked with another glass for a toast, flash and glow to the beat of background music, and has an optional vibrate mode.

Yume Cloud was established in Silicon Valley in 2014 and it opened a Japanese branch office with the Yamagata University’s overseas start-up program. Since then, the Masu Glass, which was developed to help promote sake internationally, has been adopted by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry’s start-up support program, and was exhibited at SXSW 2019.


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