Startup offering eye tracking for VR headsets just one of the standouts at NEST 2017

At this year’s New Economy Summit (NEST), held in Tokyo last month, two agriculture-oriented companies shared the 1 million yen grand prize in the event’s popular Startup Challenge. But they weren’t the only new ventures from Japan and abroad that wowed the event’s 3,000 participants. Below are four other highlights:

Can your capillaries tell you if you’re healthy?

Osaka-based At Co is a healthcare startup founded in 2009 that has developed a capillary blood flow observation device called Kekkan Bijin. The system can observe patients’ capillaries for signs of health problems such as sluggish blood flow. At Co has been selling its camera and the associated software system to medical clinics and pharmacies in Japan and overseas.

During a demo, a staffer put a drop of oil on our Rakuten Today writer’s cuticle area, then put the finger under the camera. An attached monitor showed blood slowly pulsing through narrow, curling capillaries. The reporter was praised for his capillaries’ length, but asked whether he’d recently given up exercise.

“Blood flow is essential for transport of oxygen and nutrition,” said Hiroki Okazaki of At Co. “Like taking exercise or going to a hot spring, it’s important to promote blood flow for good health. Why not visualize it?”

Handbags for hire

Another young business from western Japan at NEST was Laxus Technologies, which is bringing the sharing economy to women’s accessories. Handbags made by luxury brands such as Prada, Chanel and Louis Vuitton are highly sought after in Japan but can cost hundreds of thousands of yen. Hiroshima-based Laxus makes them available for far less by renting them out. The company gathered some $12 million in venture capital and now has a massive stock of handbags for hire.

Users can choose from among 14,000 bags via a smartphone app. By subscribing for 6,800 yen a month, they can get access to unlimited handbags for as long as they want; any wear or scuff marks are repaired by Laxus. More than half of the company’s customers are in the Kanto area centering on Tokyo.

“People still aren’t too familiar with the concept of renting fashion goods, so we’re now focused on educating the market,” said Yuji Nakagawa, vice president of Laxus, which has about 50 staff. “After that, we hope to rent out other luxury goods.”

Finding the right fit

Also geared toward women is a lingerie service called Fitty, which aims to revolutionize how users find the bra size and shape that’s right for them. Based on a data set of 3,000 bras and analysis of the bodies of 60 women, Fitty aims to be an online adviser to women shopping for bras.

The service is operated by Tokyo-based startup Fittin, which was founded in March 2016, and recently raised 855,900 yen, 142% of its goal of 600,000 yen, on crowdfunding site Makuake. The fledgling company is now in the process of changing its corporate name from Fittin to Fitty.

“E-commerce purchases in this industry are relatively low because of the need to try items on in person, but that can be difficult,” said Yumiko Honma, representative director of Fittin and a former fitting adviser at lingerie manufacturer Triumph International. “We aim to provide a service through which users can be fitted for underwear online.”

Eye tracking for better VR

Virtual reality headsets have been billed as the next generation in gaming and 3D digital experiences. Fove, based in Tokyo and Silicon Valley, is vying for a part of the action with a VR headset that not only provides an immersive visual experience, but also allows interactivity by tracking users’ eye movements.

During a first-person-shooter game demo, Fove staff showed a Rakuten Today reporter how to target hostile robots just by looking at them; destroying them required some button work on a game controller. The experience was almost frighteningly natural and persuasively immersive.

“The eye-tracking feature lets you do many things, for instance interact with characters in games so when you look at their faces, they get happy,” said Max Korpinen of Fove. “We’re here at NEST because we want people to see the potential of the technology.”

Read more reports on NEST 2017 here.

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