Tag Archives: Japan

Junk food?

Is there any other way of selling food on a massive scale than packaging it into disposable containers and labelling with barcodes? Can we avoid producing hundreds of thousands of tons of plastic boxes and bottles that become garbage just after emptying? After visiting the exhibition Good Design Award 2015 in Tokyo and observation of the Western trend called “zero waste”, I can say that a big, positive change in the food industry would not be easy, but is entirely possible.

More and more groceries, where food is not packaged in disposable plastic cups or bottles or wrapped with foil, are being opened in European and North American cities. Following the model of fruit and vegetable markets, customers bring their own containers or buy on a spot reusable packages and put into them their shoppings: fresh dairy products, vegetables, bread, soft drinks, oils, nuts, loose articles etc. The eco-friendly rule is simple: the less people buy food packaged in plastics, the less waste goes to landfill, rivers, seas and oceans.

According to the list prepared by Bepakt.com, the most of shops working in accordance with “zero waste” rule run in Germany, France and Spain. One such a store – Nagie z Nature – we can find in Warsaw.

The “zero waste” model is worth following, but can it be implemented only by small shops  that operate in a niche and target to a relatively small group of the most environmentally conscious customers? Is there a chance that also chain grocery stores, where low prices and short time spent waiting at the checkout lines seem to be main values for clients, will reduce their contribution to the avalanche of plastic waste, by selling food without disposable packaging?

While in a small shop with a narrow product range, a checkout assistant can identify all products and manually operate the cash register, it is difficult to imagine how medium and large supermarkets would work without a system based on barcodes (which would naturally disappear with disposable packages). How to reconcile the “zero waste” trend, and the consequent disappearance of barcodes, with a strong need for every-day food available in popular grocery stores at affordable prices? An answer to this question comes from Japan, and it goes as follows: image recognition technology.

BakeryScan
The BakeryScan scanner was designed for the Japanese self-service bakery that offers freshly baked, non pre-packaged pastries.

While Japanese clients have got accustomed to a wide choice of goodies, it is not easy for checkout assistants, especially for those who start their work, to remember names and codes of all pastries they sell. Usually, cashiers must recognise each item and manually record all sales on a cash register. They do mistakes quite often, which increases the time needed for the service. The solution to this problem is BakeryScan: a desk lamp–looking scanner that recognises at one go all bread and cakes brought to a checkout.

BakeryScan Good Design Award credits Trend Nomad
Photography by Trend Nomad

All groceries put on a tray (it replaces the basket) are recognised by the BakeryScan software and are automatically added to the bill. There is no need for scanning pastries one after another, which significantly reduces the time spent at the counter by every client.

The BakeryScan is not a prototype – it is a final product that consists of fully operational hardware and software. It is already in use in a growing number of Japanese bakers. Watch the video below to fully understand how the system does work. The most interesting part of the video lasts from 55 to 90 second.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RM5y6Sz7gYM

BakeryScan displays on a customer-facing screen pictures, names and prices of recognized pastries. Despite the fact that it is not possible to bake two identical buns or croissants, the software does a good job of comparing and recognizing shapes and colors. It almost faultlessly matches all goodies to models saved in the memory.

If the BakeryScan faces a problem with identifying some pastries, it circles the unrecognized item with yellow line and asks the checkout assistant to indicate the right position. All results are stored in the database, which improve accuracy.

Although BakeryScan was not created with the environmental issues in mind (it was mainly designed to facilitate cashier’s work and to solve the problem of long queues in bakers), the device can contribute to reducing the demand for plastic packaging, if only it was implemented, along with non-prepacked food, to popular grocery stores on a mass scale.

BakeryScan Hisashi Kambe credits Trend Nomad
Hisashi Kambe, CEO at Brain Co.Ltd., a creator of BakeryScan, at the exhibition Good Design Award 2015 in Tokyo. Photography by Trend Nomad

I discovered the BakeryScan in Tokyo at the Good Design Award 2015 exhibition that gathered the best contemporary design from Japan. The event took place in Tokyo Midtown from 31 October to 2 November. If you have any questions regarding the BakeryScan device, you can send them directly to Mr Hisashi Kambe, the CEO of Brain Co. Ltd. at kambe@bb-brain.co.jp.

www.bakeryscan.com

Do you like the article? Then buy me a coffee! You can donate a small sum of money using your PayPal account or credit card. All donations will finance my journeys to fairs, festivals and conferences devoted to design and new technology – this is where I find news for my blog. Just click the button below to perform a secure transaction. Thank you for your support, it will help me to take a step forward and write new posts.

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What will you thINK?

Is the era of print over? Nothing could be more wrong. The golden age of print has just begun. Though, the meaning of the ‘print’ notion will significantly expand in the next ten years. The reason is simple: printed electronics are entering the mass market right now. An example: Milbox Touch VR cardboard set with touch screen printed with conductive ink that contains silver.

The most basic virtual reality goggles such as Google Cardboard have at least two advantages. Firstly, they are available to almost everyone thanks to the low retail price that should not exceed twenty dollars. Secondly, they are produced and sold as a flat pack. VR goggles made of cardboard are so cheap to produce, yet light and easy to transport, that in November  “The New York Times” sent free Google Cardboards to over a million subscribers of the printed edition of this newspaper.

When you assemble the flat cardboard into a three-dimensional box, and then insert a smartphone into the front pocket, open a dedicated app, and experience some virtual reality animations and 360 pictures and videos for the very first time, you must be enrapt how immersive this content is. But at the same time, you feel confused, because cardboard goggles are the exact opposite of the concept of ‘intuitive interface’. To navigate through the menu of VR app, you must hold your eyes for few seconds on virtual buttons. This approach excludes a quick scroll through the virtual environment and makes it impossible to derive pleasure from any game.

Does the cardboard VR headset work only as a disposable sample that encourages users to purchase a much more sophisticated – and much more expensive – VR device from Samsung, Oculus, Sony or HTC? Not necessarily. It could be a full-value product, if only it was integrated with a touch interface. On the other hand, the upgrade can not cause a serious change in the retail price of the hardware.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9kwcv003t54

Even though it seems impossible, Tokyo-based designers from WHITE studio who specialises in IoT and VR projects, have found a way to achieve the above-mentioned goal. Japanese produce cheap touchpads using screen printing and a special conductive ink. Their first project based on this technology is called Milbox Touch.

Milbox Touch zoom credits Trend Nomad
Round panel placed on the right side of the Mailbox Touch goggles transfers touch commands to the smartphone’s display. Photography by Trend Nomad

Mailbox Touch is affordable virtual reality goggles that are integrated, in the contrast to other cardboard models offered by competitors, with a touch user interface. So-called Extension Sticker, the patent-pending technology implemented into this project, was developed at the University of Meiji.

The printed electronic circuit transfers touch commands from the side panel of the cardboard VR goggles to the smartphone. By changing the touching way, it is possible to make various input operations such as tap, scroll and swipe.

In other words: by touching the pattern on right side of the box printed with conductive ink, the user can operate the app displayed on a smartphone that is being closed inside the box, without touching the screen directly.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Fu33ykSCmk

The conductive ink used in the printing process of the touch panel contains silver particles. Designers from WHITE studio promise to launch the Touch Milbox goggles at an affordable price, but it is worth noticing that the silver-based inks cost £1000 or more per kilogram. The real revolution of printed electronics will begin on a massive scale when the conductive ink will contain graphene instead of precious metals. According to the news published by the EnergyHarvestingJournal.com, the new graphene ink formulation would be 25 times cheaper.

Milbox Touch cartridge credits Trend Nomad
The cardboard cartridge comprising the Extension Sticker. Photography by Trend Nomad

Prototypes of Mailbox Touch headsets and the VR version of the iconic “Packman” game were presented at the Tokyo Design Week festival, which took place in the capital of Japan from 24 October to 3 November this year. In 2016, Mailbox Touch goggles will be available at one of the crowdfunding platforms. If you have any questions regarding this project, you can send them directly to the WHITE studio team at milbox@255255255.com.

www.milbox.tokyo

Do you like the article? Then buy me a coffee! You can donate a small sum of money using your PayPal account or credit card. All donations will finance my journeys to fairs, festivals and conferences devoted to design and new technology – this is where I find news for my blog. Just click the button below to perform a secure transaction. Thank you for your support, it will help me to take a step forward and write new posts.

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Check-in for the future

The results of studies on changes in the labor market include forecasts for robotisation of many professions, including the receptionist and cashier. However, technological progress and predictions published in the media is one thing, and experiences and needs of customers are another. In Japan, I verified whether staying in a hotel where machines have replaced a significant proportion of the staff, is part of the pleasure, or rather a part of a grim vision of the future.

The words of the American science fiction writer William Gibson – “The future is already here – it’s just not evenly distributed” – nowhere does seem more tangible for European than in Japan. The process of robotisation of professions that do not require high-level qualifications forecasted for the next decade has already begun in Japan. In Henn-na Hotel, which was opened in the middle of this year on the south-western tip of the country on Kyushu island, guests are welcomed by robots, baggage is delivered to rooms by self-driving vehicles, and artificial intelligence answers to requests for wake-up service and questions regarding the weather forecast. What in Europe seems to be quite distant future, in Japan has already been completed. Below you can find the report from my one-day stay in an amazing Henn-na Hotel, which I will remember as a journey into the future.

 

The place

Henn na Hotel main building credits Trend Nomad
The view from room number 128 looking at the main building of Henn-na Hotel. Today the hotel offers 72 rooms. In 2016, this figure will double – new buildings are under construction.

Henn-na Hotel, which in Japanese means “strange hotel” abuts popular Huis Ten Bosch amusement park. Japanese theme park is a cluster of copies of distinctive buildings from the Netherlands. Its brand comes from the name of the palace located in Hague and owned by the Dutch royal family. I must admit that they are strikingly similar to European originals. Only the design of the new Henn-na Hotel does not have anything in common with Dutch architecture.

Huis Ten Bosch credits Trend Nomad
Henn-na Hotel was built just next to the Huis Ten Bosch theme park, which is a copy of a Dutch town.

Huis Ten Bosch theme park and a railway station of the same name are located one and a half hour by train from Nagasaki. To reach this place from Tokyo (at the turn of October and November I traveled to the Japanese capital to do research on three events: Tokyo Design Week, Tokyo Motor Show and Good Design exhibition) I went on a two-hour journey by plane to the city of Fukuoka, combined with a two-hour train ride from Hakata station to Huis Ten Bosch. I arrived at the place on October 28 around 3.00 PM.

 

Check-in

Henn na Hotel reception desk credits Trend Nomad

When you enter the Henn-na Hotel, you should not expect a warm welcome from a human. Instead of people, you meet three robots at the front desk. Unfortunately, during my visit the smallest of them (the first from the left) has been turned off. An android in the middle that looks like a woman was on, but it’s software does not allow to communicate with her in any other language than Japanese. Luckily, the dinosaur on the right spoke English.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QZFFOlKuwwc

Just after saying “Hello”, I was asked by a dinosaur to press a button number one to start the process of check-in. I felt disappointed that the robot has not a voice recognition interface. Then the robot asked me to say my name and fill in a paper with my contact details and to put the paper into the box. At the same moment, a woman emerged (I have no doubt it was a real person). She asked me to show my passport, and then she disappeared with it for a few moments. It’s a standard procedure, but did not expect that in a place such as Henn-na Hotel, it is being done in a traditional way. It was the most disappointing point of the entire stay in Henn-na Hotel. In the meantime I finished filling in the document, threw it into the box and following the instructions I pressed the button number two. Then the dinosaur asked me to use another machine placed one step on the right to check-in. I used a touch screen to type my name and confirm the payment made in advance. Finally, an ATM-looking machine gave me a white key card and instructed me how to activate the facial recognition system that opens the doors do my room – I will write more about this feature in one of the following points.

 

The porter

Henn na Hotel porter credits Trend Nomad

Next to the reception there are two parking spaces for self-driving porters. After loading my suitcase into one of them and pressing “Start” button on the rear panel, the machine asked me to select the number of my room. Unfortunately, it shortly turned out that my room was not covered by the range of the automatic porter. The room where I was going to spend the night was placed in a neighboring building, and automatic porters can not drive outdoors. Once again, I felt a considerable disappointment. However, I was determined to see how the porter robot works, so I selected the number of an apartment located in the covered wing. Once approved, the robot with my suitcase headed to the destination.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cgREEhMKwvU

The vehicle was moving on only when I was walking directly behind him. When I made a step to the right, left or back, the porter immediately stopped. The same happens when it detects another man in front on him. You can be sure that self-driving trolley will not cause anyone harm. On the other hand, the machine is moving so slowly, that the walk to the room took a couple of minutes. I would be much faster at the door if I carry my wheeled suitcase by myself. When we reached the selected room, I took the luggage from the machine. Then the vehicle automatically, at a snail’s pace, drove back to the reception desk.

 

Entering the room

Henn na Hotel doors credits Trend Nomad
With the face recognition system, you do not have to find and touch the reader with a key card when you want to enter your room. To unlock the doors just press the “Scan” button and look at the camera.

In addition to the contactless key card system, in Henn-na Hotel you can also open doors to your room using a face recognition technology. To use this feature you must activate it during the check-in at the reception, and the initial scanning of your face will be taken in front of the camera installed next to the doors to your room.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GeUPnWhFgxo

To be freed from the necessity of carrying a key card and enjoy the convenience of the door lock that can recognise your face and unlock the doors, you have to hold the card at the reader and look at the camera installed in front of the doors right before the first entering the room. Now this procedure seems to be simple, but when I was using it for the first time in front of the doors to my room it wasn’t so easy. The registration ends up with success after the fourth or fifth attempt of scanning my face. Because of the initial problem with the scanner, I carried the key card with me during the entire stay in the hotel. I wanted to be sure that in the case of the advanced system’s failure I would not have any problems with opening the doors. At the end it turned out it was unnecessary – the face recognition scanner worked seamlessly.

 

The concierge

Henn na Hotel Chu Ri Chan credits Trend Nomad

Whet I entered the room for the first time I was warmly welcomed by a little robot sitting on the nightstand between two beds (despite booking a single room I got a twin one). Chu-Ri-Chan is smiling, talkative and very curious robot. It is a pity that it speaks Japanese only.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YT3LPXP9LGU

To wake up the concierge from a stand-by mode, you do not have to press any button. All you have to do is to say its name loudly: “Chu-Ri-Chan”. In the English brochure that was lying on the table, I found a list of voice commands and tips on the pronunciation of Japanese vocabulary. Reading Japanese words written in the Latin alphabet is quite easy, and I enjoyed asking Chu-Ri-Chan to turn on and off lights, as well as setting the alarm clock in a foreign language. On the other hand, it does not make sense to ask questions such as: “What time is it?” or “What is the weather forecast for tomorrow?”, because all answers you get are spoken in Japanese.  The English version of the voice control system will be available later.

 

The room

Henn na Hotel standard room credits Trend Nomad
A standard room.

Three types of rooms are available in the Henn-na Hotel: standard, superior and deluxe. The main difference between them is the size. I chose for myself a standard one. I had 21 square meters, which I consider as a spacious apartment, comparing to other hotels in Japan. Superior and deluxe rooms are even bigger (respectively 29 and 34 square meters), but apart from an extra sofa, there is no other significant difference in their design. All rooms have a bathtub, a shower, a sink, a high-tech toilet with a heated seat, and a modern and efficient heating and cooling system.

 

Food

Henn na Hotel dining room credits Trend Nomad

Beverages, snacks and ice cream can be purchased around the clock in vending machines standing in the dining room opposite the reception. Tasty and healthy breakfast (this is an option that is paid extra when you make a reservation) is served in the Aura restaurant located in the neighboring building. Robots are not working there (at least not yet).

 

Check-out

Henn na Hotel check out credits Trend Nomad

Check-out takes just a few seconds. You do not have to talk to a robot to do so. Just insert your card into the ATM-looking machine with a touch panel and it is done.

 

The checkroom

Henn na Hotel cloakroom robot credits Trend Nomad

If necessary, you can store your personal belongings before check-in or after check-out (early check-in before 3.00 PM or late check-out after 11.00 AM are not available in Henn-na Hotel) in the fully automated checkroom.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HGxyHD97U_g

When you pay 500 yen (approx. 4 euros), Yaskawa robot that works behind glass walls takes down for you one of the available drawers and places it in a box behind folding doors. When a client put his or her belongings inside, the robot takes the drawer back to its place.  When this spectacular dance ends, don’t forget to wave back to Yaskawa.

 

The summary

One-night stay in the Henn-na Hotel was like a journey into the future. It was fantastic, but, unfortunately, I will also remember some disappointments. The major one is that the real role of three robots standing at the reception desk is only to make an impression on guests and to attract the attention of media. They are not helpful at all. During your check-in, you still have to fill in a paper document with your contact details, show your passport to a hotel staff, and get your key card from a machine that looks like ATM. Three robots from the reception are mascots of this place, but nothing more. They do not facilitate the process of check-in nor check-out. Standard looking machines with touch screens do the entire job. Without watching the welcome show made by the dinosaur or the android, check-in would take much less time. But I want to admit, that it is a very memorable experience.

I would praise the porter robot if only it could carry luggage to every room, including those located in other buildings of the hotel. Now it drives only within the main building. I also wish it was not necessary to walk behind the robot at a snail’s pace. I understand that for safety reasons the vehicle must move slowly, but it my opinion it should go to selected room independently without any assistance of the guest, just like human porters do.

The little room concierge with a voice interface was friendly and quite helpful. Voice commands: “Chu-Ri-Chan, Akari-keshite” and “Chu-Ri-Chan, mezamashidokei” spoken after going to bed was the most convenient way to turn off the lights and set the alarm clock that I have ever experienced in a hotel. I hope that the English version of the system will be available soon.

Face recognition scanner integrated with a door lock system is also very convenient. Finally, you do not have to find a card in your pocket or bag to enter your room. Press “Scan” button, look at the camera, and the doors are open. It sounds great, but the first impression was not perfect. I had to make several attempts to register my face in the system.

I rate Yaskawa robot that works in the cloakroom with 10/10 points. In my opinion, this is the most successful, practical and spectacular idea implemented in Henn-na Hotel. In addition to his storage duties, the robot also knows how to wave friendly his arm. That simple gesture arouses very positive, human emotions, which are missing when speaking about contact with other robots that you can meet in Henn-na Hotel.

Photos and videos: TrendNomad.com

www.h-n-h.jp

Do you like the article? Then buy me a coffee! You can donate a small sum of money using your PayPal account or credit card. All donations will finance my journeys to fairs, festivals and conferences devoted to design and new technology – this is where I find news for my blog. Just click the button below to perform a secure transaction. Thank you for your support, it will help me to take a step forward and write new posts.

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