What if you could bring a chair?

Highlights of the story

Innovative portable devices from Japan include Archelis, a “standing” chair designed for surgeons.

The first Wearable Expo in Tokyo debuted in 2015 and was the largest in the world.

Japan’s wearable technology market is expected to grow from 530,000 units in 2013 to 13.1 million units in 2017.


What do Discman, Tamagotchi and Game Boy have in common?

All are iconic Japanese inventions from the 1980s and 1990s, symbols of a time when the Asian nation was a world leader in technological innovation.

But with the rise of Silicon Valley and US tech giants like Google and Apple, Japan has produced less era-defining technology over the past two decades.

That, says Professor Masahiko Tsukamoto of Kobe University’s Graduate School of Engineering, is about to change thanks to a new generation of young entrepreneurs, increased international collaborations and new partnerships with university scientists.

This time, Japan’s focus is not on smartphones or games, but on chairs, smart glasses and communication devices for dogs.

In short, absurd wearable technology.

In 2013, Japan sold 530,000 units of wearable technology devices, according to the Yano Research Institute.

That number is expected to jump to 13.1 million units in 2017.

Perhaps the best indication of the boom in this industry was the introduction of the first Wearable Expo in Tokyo in 2015. – at its launch, it was the largest wearable technology fair in the world with 103 exhibitors.

It has featured electronic kimonos, communication devices for cats and electronic gloves to record the fingerwork of a pianist.

At the next fair, from 18 to 20 January 2017, the organizers expect more than 200 exhibitors and 19,000 visitors.

“With better functionality, lighter components and smaller designs, carrying devices is now no longer a fantasy,” says program director Yuhi Maezono. “Wearables are gaining attention as the next big growth market.”

Inupathy is a dog harness that will be released later this year that will allow pet owners to communicate with their dogs.

In addition to a heart monitor, the harness includes noise-cancelling technology that can isolate the animal’s heartbeat and track its reactions to stimuli such as food, play, people and toys.

Using this data, the harness assesses a dog’s mood and changes color to inform owners.

Equipped with six LED lights, the collar glows blue to show calmness, red for excitement and displays a rainbow theme for happiness.

Joji Yamaguchi, CEO of Inupathy, was inspired by his Corgi, Akane, who was a nervous puppy. To better understand the dog’s anxiety, the biologist developed Inupathy to monitor its heart rate.

“I always felt that I couldn’t understand Akane very well, and I wanted to get closer to him,” says Yamaguchi.

“Buddhism and ancient Japanese religion say that every animal, plant and even rock has a spirit inside. It’s stressful when you can’t solve the problems that bother them.”

Yamaguchi hopes wearable wellness tracking will have applications for humans as well.

“The personalization of artificial intelligence will be a game changer,” says Yamaguchi.

“For example, if you exhibit a certain behavior before you start feeling depressed, predicting your depression based on that behavior is extremely valuable to a person. An artificial intelligence that works for you personally, eventually will make it possible.”

Archelis, a portable chair launched in Japan this year, is also creating international buzz.

A collaboration between mold factory Nitto, Chiba University, Japan Polymer Technology and Hiroaki Nishimura Design in Japan, it was initially intended for surgeons, who need to rest their legs during long operations.

The chair allows its user to effectively sit and stand at the same time.

The Archelis chair.

“The Archelis concept is very simple, like the simplicity of the pigeon’s egg,” says Dr. Hiroshi Kawahira, the surgeon behind the concept. “Long surgeries can lead to back pain, neck pain and knee pain, especially for surgeons who are older.”

Made from 3D printed panels, Archelis requires no electrical components or batteries.

The innovation is in the effective design: flexible carbon panels wrap around the buttocks, legs and feet to provide support and minimize pressure on the joints.

The system stabilizes the ankles and knees, so the pressure of standing is spread evenly across the legs and thighs.

Although the wearer appears to be standing, he is actually resting his back and legs while working with his feet.

Other portable items are on the smaller side.

At about 3 inches long, BIRD is essentially a modern thimble that turns your fingertip into a magic wand.

BIRD can control up to 10 devices at once.

Using algorithms to decode a user’s intent, the device also includes precise sensors that track direction, speed and gestures.

The technology allows users to turn any surface into a smart display, as well as interact with other smart devices.

Walking around the house, users can project a laptop screen onto the wall, turn on a coffee machine, read on any surface, and shop online with the point or swipe of a finger.

The developers, Israel-based MUV Interactive and Japan-based Silicon Technology, expect BIRD to be embraced by the educational and corporate sectors, thanks to its ability to create collaborative presentations.

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