Japan’s innovative wearable devices include Archelis, a “standing” chair designed for surgeons.
Tokyo’s first Wearable Expo debuted in 2015 and was the most significant in the world.
Japan’s wearable tech market is predicted to grow from 530,000 in 2013 to 13.1 million units in 2017.
What do Discman, Tamagotchi, and Game Boy have in common?
They’re all landmark Japanese inventions from the 80s and 90s, symbols of an era when the Asian nation was a world leader in tech innovation.
But with the rise of Silicon Valley, American tech giants such as Google and Apple have seen Japan produce less era-defining tech 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, an uptick in international collaborations, and new partnerships with university scientists. Japan’s focus this time around is not on smartphones or gaming but wearable chairs, smart glasses, and dog communication devices.
In short, wacky wearable tech.
In 2013, Japan sold 530,000 units of wearable tech devices, according to Yano Research Institute.
That figure is predicted to leapfrog to 13.1 million units in 2017.
Perhaps the best indication of the boom in this industry was the introduction of Tokyo’s first Wearable Expo in 2015. At launch, it was the largest wearable tech fair in the world, with 103 exhibitors. It has featured electronic kimonos, cat communication devices, and electronic gloves to record a pianist’s fingerwork.
From January 18 to 20, 2017, the organizers expect more than 200 exhibitors and 19,000 visitors at the next show. “With better functionality, lighter components, and smaller designs, wearing devices is now no longer a fantasy,” says show director Yuhi Maezono. “Wearables are gathering attention as the next big growth market.”
Empathy is a dog harness slated to launch at the end of this year to allow pet owners to communicate with their dogs. As well as a heart monitor, the harness features noise-canceling technology, which can isolate the animal’s heartbeat and track its reactions to stimuli, such as food, games, people, and toys.
With this data, the harness assesses a dog’s mood and changes color to inform the owners.
Equipped with six LED lights, the collar glows blue to show calm, red for excitement, and displays a rainbow theme for happiness. Joji Yamaguchi, CEO of Inupathy, was inspired by his Corgi, Akane, a nervous puppy. To better understand the dog’s anxiety, the biologist developed Inupathy to monitor his heart rate.
“I always felt like I couldn’t understand Akane very well, and I wanted to get be closer to him,” says Yamaguchi.
“Buddhism and old Japanese religion says every animal, plant, and even rock has a spirit inside. It’s stressful when you can’t solve problems that are upsetting them.”
Yamaguchi expects wearable wellness tracking will have applications for humans, too.
““Personalization of artificial intelligence will be a game-changer,” says Yamaguchi. “For instance, if you show a certain behavior before you start feeling depressed, predicting your depression from that behavior is extremely valuable for an individual. An AI that works personally for you will eventually make this possible.”
Arches – a wearable chair launched in Japan this year – is also creating a buzz internationally.
In Japan, a collaboration between the Nitto mold factory, Chiba University, Japan Polymer Technology, and Hiroaki Nishimura Design was initially intended for surgeons who need to rest their legs during extended operations. The chair enables its wearer to effectively sit down and stand up at the same time.