To promote its laptops and showcase digital signage technology capable of utilizing real-time data over the Internet, electronics giant Toshiba tested an interactive digital billboard in Tokyo last weekend that allowed YouTube users and pedestrians with mobile phones to play video games against each other. (Watch a video of the game action.)
Played on a digital billboard above the entrance to the Yodobashi Camera superstore in Akihabara, each game involved up to six players in a 90-second race to paint squares on a grid and hunt for Toshiba's cuddly Pala-Chan mascot. Mobile phone players followed the action on the billboard and used the number keys on their handsets to control the game's paint brushes, while YouTube players on computers used the arrow keys on their keyboards. (More video.)
To participate, pedestrians in Akihabara called a phone number displayed on the billboard before the start of each game, while YouTube users simply clicked a button on Toshiba's toshibanotepc channel (where the game is still available).
Winners who played via mobile phone in Akihabara received Pala-Chan parkas from Toshiba representatives stationed near the billboard site.
The company plans to use similar interactive billboard games to promote other products around town in the future.
Researchers at Toshiba have developed a talking robot that functions as a voice-operated universal remote control for multiple home appliances. The 2.3 kilogram (5 lb), 21 x 27 centimeter (8 x 11 in) prototype robot, named ApriPoko, learns how to operate various remote controls by watching and asking questions. ApriPoko sits in the living room and waits for you to use a remote control. When its sensors detect infrared rays emitted by a remote, the robot speaks up: "What did you just do?" it asks. Tell ApriPoko what you did ("I turned on the stereo" or "I changed to channel 321," for example), and it commits the details to memory. Then, next time you want to turn on the stereo or change the channel, simply tell ApriPoko and it transmits the appropriate IR signal directly to the device. The prototype robot is still in the development and testing phase, but Toshiba hopes to have a viable product soon.
On February 21, Toshiba announced the possibility of postponing the spring 2006 release date for its next-generation flat-screen SED (Surface-conduction Electron-emission Display) TV until next year. Toshiba has worked with Canon to develop SED TV technology.
At a press conference on February 21, Satoshi Niikura, vice president of Toshiba’s digital media operations, said, "Because SED is still in the trial production stage, we are unable to secure a sufficient quantity of panels (key components)." The company will soon make a final decision regarding its strategy.
SED panels are currently being manufactured on a trial basis at a joint-venture factory in the city of Hiratsuka in Kanagawa prefecture at a rate of about 1000 units per month. Full-scale production is not expected until 2007.
In a reference to Doraemon, Japan's most famous animated robotic cat, a Chinese person once remarked: "Lazy is the person who relies on robots in times of need." Though there may be some truth to the statement, it ignores Japan's long-held notion that robots (and their animated counterparts, such as Doraemon and Astro Boy) exist primarily to bring happiness to humankind. Many suggest that the development of robot manufacturing in Japan is built upon the strength of this affection.
The affection toward robots can be traced back to the karakuri mechanical dolls of the Edo period. One such doll is the mechanical "calligraphy writing doll," considered a masterpiece of karakuri craftsmanship. Recently returned to Japan after a long absence, the doll was constructed more than 150 years ago by Tanaka Hisashige, who is often referred to as the "Edison of Japan" and who served as a technical advisor for the Nabeshima feudal domain.
The "calligraphy writing doll" resembles a young man holding a brush in his right hand. With a series of movements fully controlled by precise automatic mechanisms, the young man dips his brush into ink and draws the kanji character for kotobuki ("blessing" or "longevity") on a sheet of paper in front of him. When finished, he seems to display a look of satisfaction to his onlookers.
Science historian Higashino Susumu (55), who recently succeeded in his 13-year effort to persuade a wealthy American collector to sell the prized karakuri back to Japan, is amazed by the sophistication of the restored doll. Mechanical dolls capable of writing were also made in China and Europe, but unlike this Japanese masterpiece, their pens had to be dipped in ink beforehand or they only moved from the elbow down -- thus, they remained confined to the realm of crude puppetry. Hisashige imbued his creation with a sense of reality, such as in the human-like way he follows the brush stroke with his eyes as he writes. "Hisashige's aim was not to create a doll, but to create a human," says Higashino.
This uncompromising precision in Hisashige's work embodies the manufacturing spirit that has underpinned the development of postwar Japan. Later in life at the age of 75, after the Meiji Restoration, Hisashige founded the engineering company that would later become Toshiba. And so it was, the Japanese manufacturing industry had its beginnings in Edo craftsmanship that was uniquely Japanese.
(The "calligraphy writing doll" is currently on display at Edo-Tokyo Museum through February 5, 2006. Regular demonstrations are held several times daily. A collection of 40 other karakuri is also on display.)
Toshiba has developed software that allows users to easily check online reviews of a product by reading its barcode with a camera-equipped cellphone. The software will be put to trial use in February at locations such as electronics stores and bookstores, and will become commercially available sometime in 2006.
The software is designed for products that purchasers tend to read reviews for, such as electronic goods, food, books, CDs, DVDs, makeup, etc. Users will be able to access information for approximately 400,000 products.
When a barcode is read using a cellphone camera, the data is automatically sent to a dedicated server, where data from blogs that refer to that product is searched. After about 10 seconds, the number of "positive" and "negative" blog hits is displayed on the cellphone screen. In addition, blog text related to the product is displayed, as well as information about related products.
Toshiba developed an original database that arranges approximately 500,000 Japanese keywords into categories such as "travel" or "culture," and groups them according to the review ratings. The company claims this technique enables quick analysis of blog content.
On January 5, Fujio Mitarai, President and CEO of Canon, announced that its next-generation SED (surface-conduction electron-emitter display) flat-screen TVs will not be released until early summer, several months later than originally scheduled. The 55-inch model will initially be sold in Japan, and full-scale mass production is expected to begin in 2007.
Canon will make its debut in the TV market with this product. SED technology, which Canon developed with Toshiba, provides high resolution and low power consumption. Much attention will be focused on the market share that SED is able to garner in the highly competitive flat-screen TV market, which is dominated by LCD and plasma. Toshiba will release its SED TV early this year, as planned.