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New entrants flock to Tokyo’s cutting-edge technology trade show

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Staff Writer

A robot, remote controlled by motion capture, moves in perfect sync with a person in the distance. A device passes an infrared scan over some food and supplies complete nutritional information about the fare. These are among the array of cutting-edge technologies on display as Japan’s largest electronics trade show kicked off Tuesday.

This year’s annual Combined Exhibition of Advanced Technologies (CEATEC), which will run through Friday at Makuhari Messe in the city of Chiba, is seen as a touchstone for the 17-year-old trade fair.

Undergoing a major revamp last year, what had been a showcase for consumer electronics such as TVs and washing machines had reinvented itself as a business-to-business exhibition across sectors oriented toward the internet of things concept, in which everyday items are linked by network.

This year, CEATEC has attracted 667 companies and organizations, up 2.9 percent from the 648 exhibitors last year. Among the 327 newcomers are toymaker Bandai Namco Holdings Inc., housing equipment maker Lixil Corp. and Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group Inc.

“Some of you may wonder if CEATEC Japan has lost its momentum. But if you look inside, some dramatic changes are happening,” said Kiyoshi Shikano, executive vice president of Japan Electronics Show Association, CEATEC’s organizer.

“We are attracting participants from new industries outside IT and electronics makers. … I hope people will notice the dramatic change,” he said.

About 49 percent of the exhibitors this year are newcomers, according to Shikano.

Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group Inc. is showing off financial technology services, including a foreign exchange prediction system co-developed with Tokyo-based artificial intelligence startup AlpacaJapan Co.

MUFG, as the banking group is known, sees collaboration with startups as a way to accelerate its “open innovation,” which combines the company’s vision and assets with external technical expertise, said Hirofumi Aihara, general manager of Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group’s Digital Transformation Division.

“Many startups have great ideas on how to make our world better and more convenient, and we are trying to accelerate collaboration and work together to improve our customer services,” he said.

Also debuting at CEATEC is a so-called tele-existence robot which allows users to enter the mind of the robot, see through its eyes and control its actions.

Called the Telesar V, the anthropomorphic robot mimics the movements of a person through wearable control devices. As the controller moves his arms and body, the robot follows suit simultaneously. Through a headset, the person can see live images from cameras in the robot’s eyes.

The prototype is currently wire-controlled, but engineers plan to add wireless controls which would enable people to work through telepresence — for example, as receptionists or warehouse pickers, said Yuichiro Hikosaka, chief operating officer of Tokyo-based robot venture Telexistence Inc. The project is funded by KDDI, which aims to realize the consumer use of 5G ultra-speed mobile network service by 2020.

“The good-quality mobile network provided by the major telecommunications company helps us overcome delays (in the robot’s motion and transmission of images.) And for KDDI, I believe our technology will make 5G more than just a faster smartphone connection. I think our relationship complements what we need from each other,” Hikosaka said, adding that the company aims to bring the robot to market in 2019.

Meanwhile, major electronics maker Panasonic Corp. exhibited a computer that can calculate the nutritional content of food in about 10 seconds.

The box-shaped device, called the CaloRieco, scans food placed inside it with infrared light and analyzes the total calories, as well as a breakdown of the protein, fat and carbohydrates contained in the food.

The computer is connected to a network and keeps a log of what the user has eaten. Based on the data, the system will provide recommendations for maintaining a balanced diet.

Panasonic believes the system will help hospitals and rehabilitation facilities manage patients’ nutrition.

A special section showcasing foreign startups is being featured at the event for the first time, giving participants opportunities to interact with IT engineers from overseas. Firms from India, whose economy has grown about 6 to 8 percent recently thanks to the IT boom, are also being featured.

The event this year has attracted 199 foreign firms from 22 countries, including 117 new exhibitors.