Would you be happy living with a holographic girlfriend? The New Economy Summit (NEST) 2016 plays host to government ministers and tech gods, but it’s also a platform for unusual – even wacky – ideas ranging from holographic companions to sensors that can monitor your guts.
The summit kicked off with the NEST Startup Challenge with pitches by 10 startups and one of the most energetic was by Hikari Azuma of Vinclu Inc. Leaping onto the stage, Azuma passionately told judges about his creation Gatebox. It’s a tabletop display showing an anime-esque, talking girl dressed in a French maid costume – think the ghostly holograms of Star Wars with interactive abilities. Billed as a “hologram communication robot that allows you to live with your favorite character,” Gatebox is a cloud-connected device with face tracking and voice recognition functions. Its super-kawaii fairy can greet you when you come home, wake you up in the morning, check the weather forecast and engage in playful chitchat. It’s an otaku dream come true.
“Gatebox is Amazon Echo with a face,” said judge Andy Rubin, the ex-Google vice president known for leading development of the Android operating system. Fellow judges cheered Azuma’s presentation and awarded him third prize; Gatebox is slated to be released sometime in 2016 for around the price of a standard PC.
Second prize in the Startup Challenge went to another unusual but potentially revolutionary concept – the Cross Helmet. Presented by Borderless Inc. CEO and veteran motorcyclist Arata Oono, Cross Helmet is a smart motorcycle helmet that has a rear-facing camera and a heads-up display system allowing the user to get a 360-degree view of his or her surroundings. Knowing the locations of nearby vehicles and other potential hazards could reduce accident rates among motorcyclists, Oono said.
Innovative concepts were not limited to the NEST Startup Challenge. In the exhibition area, real estate search provider Next Co. was showing off Grid Vrick, a novel way of planning the design of your new home. It’s a 3D home simulator that involves placing Lego bricks on a flat surface that is imaged by an overhead camera system. Depending on its color, size and number, the bricks can represent features such as a kitchen, plant, or bookshelf — assembling them into a rough layout of the home is literally child’s play. The simulation is displayed on a screen as a 3D rendering of what the house would look like, with customizable floor, wall and furniture patterns. Since it’s done in real time, if you remove, say, a wall brick from the Lego model, the 3D simulation immediately deletes the wall too. Users can navigate through the space and get 360-degree views of the rooms by manipulating a standard game controller.
“Everyone has played with plastic bricks as a child, so it’s very intuitive,” said Takashi Tokuyama of Next Group Strategy Division. “Not only walls and structural features, but furniture can be represented with the bricks.”
Another off-the-wall concept on display is DFree, a wearable electronic medical device designed to help those suffering from incontinence. DFree is an ultrasound sensor, about half the size of a credit card, that sticks to the skin over the intestines. It checks for content in the bowel and if it detects something, it sends an alert to a smartphone app telling users it’s time for a bathroom break. Given a 10-minute warning, users don’t need to rush to the toilet when nature calls. The app also logs bathroom trips and produces more accurate notifications over time.
“The target users are elderly and those with bowel disorders as well as young children who are potty training,” said Kusanishi Sakae of developer Triple W. “We would also like to offer this to nursing homes.”
Triple W worked with consulting partner Itochu Techno-Solutions, which is developing a nursing station cloud app using DFree that can alert caregivers when patients need bathroom breaks or a diaper change. Triple W plans to begin offering DFree in Japan in September 2016 for the equivalent of around $200.