Japan Is Pioneering Machine Interfaces That Are Hardwired For Kindness

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First held in 1924, the IFA electronics trade show in Berlin chose Japan as its first Global Innovation Partner for the 2019 edition of the event.

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A new kind of interface

At Germany’s IFA electronics trade show in September, Japanese startups and established companies are showcasing a unique Japanese approach to engineering next-generation products and services with a human touch. At the exhibition space for IFA Next, which focuses on the latest technology innovations from around the world, Japan will feature the products of 20 Japanese technology companies. They will include seven drawn from the J-Startup Program, a government initiative to boost fledgling businesses. Japan is the first partner country for the IFA NEXT 2019, a unique partnership in the long history of IFA dating to 1924.

“We are entering an entirely new social age, which we call Society 5.0, of cyber-physical integration,” says Keita Nishiyama, director-general of the Commerce and Information Policy Bureau in Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), which is the Global Innovation Partner of IFA NEXT 2019. “Japan has been very strong in producing physical products, and that’s an advantage because interfaces in Society 5.0 must be directly touched or held.”

“In Japan, the concept of omotenashi, or hospitality, involves respect for customers while maintaining a certain unobtrusive distance to make them feel comfortable and that they have their own choice when it comes to services,” Nishiyama added. “We think that will be a very beneficial aspect when we create such interfaces.”

Communication for Everyone and Everything

Communication for everyone and everything is at the heart of one product being exhibited at IFA, the INUPATHY dog mood sensor. Developed by Tokyo startup Langualess, INUPATHY is a specially designed microphone that can detect a pet dog’s heart rate even through thick fur. Fitted into a harness, the sensor feeds data to a linked smartphone app, and the dog’s emotional state is represented as a colorful display in the harness. The display is blue when the animal is calm, red when excited, white when concentrating and rainbow-colored when happy.

“This product can help us understand dogs’ emotions so we can involve them in our decisions,” says Langualess CEO Kana Yamairibata. “Until now, we have built the infrastructure that surrounds us for human convenience, but by seeing the world from the point of view of animals, we can build more animal-friendly environment.”

INUPATHY is the brainchild of Langualess CTO Joji Yamaguchi, who wanted to understand why his corgi was barking more frequently than usual. A programmer with a background in animal science, he developed a prototype of the device and used it to figure out that his corgi’s barking at other dogs was really an expression of a desire to play. Other users have reported realizing that barking that had caused concern was just a sign of excitement.

Aiming at the 1.5 trillion yen ($14 billion) pet market in Japan, where 20 million households have pets, Langualess launched INUPATHY in 2018 for about $300. It hopes to bring the device overseas including the U.S., where over 63 million households have a dog. Other dog monitors track activity, but INUPATHY is unique in monitoring changes in heart rate, even while the animal is moving around. The technology could also be applied to human healthcare, such as monitoring baby heart rates. 

“We think technology can amplify kindness through human-machine interfaces,” says Yamaguchi. “We aren’t trying to create a future in which robots create a dog-friendly society based on AIs reading emotions. We want to use technology to advance our understanding of animals so that pet owners can be closer to their animals.”

Yamairibata agrees that Japanese companies have a unique approach to developing interfaces, noting that the Japanese word for human, ningen, implies the concept of interface because it’s made up of the Japanese characters for person and between.  

Teaching machines to have empathy

It isn’t just a sense of philosophy that has positioned Japan favorably for the next wave of technological progress. It also has accumulated vital experience in manufacturing. Nishiyama believes that Japan’s industrial prowess, in addition to traditional values of hospitality and sensitivity to the needs of others, makes its companies ideally positioned to produce interfaces in an age where data input and processing will go far beyond the text-based systems of the past.

“Data is being sensed, processed and fed back to the world through actuators. For this, we need another kind of human-data interface,” he says.

Empath, a Tokyo-based AI startup with about 20 staff, is one of the companies exhibiting at IFA. It has developed a software platform called Emotion AI that can listen to user voices and automatically detect the emotions of joy, anger, calmness and sorrow. The platform uses algorithms to analyze audio and classifies emotional states based on acoustic features. It works in real time and with any language.

“We believe there are some basic emotions that are applicable in any language,” says Empath CSO Hazumu Yamazaki. “That’s why we focus on only four emotions to make it more universal.”

One application of the technology is to help detect and solve problems related to the emotional states of callers and agents at call centers. If workers are more aware of their own and callers’ feelings, they can be more effective and less stressed. Citing client case studies, the company says it can help reduce supervisor overtime by 20%, increase employee attendance to 99% from 83% and boost sales conversion by nearly 400%.

The company’s technology has already been used by the likes of NTT Docomo and Marubeni Information Systems. Empath has won eight pitch contests and was recently selected as a member of the Japanese government’s J-Startup Program. It sees many applications for its technology, including video games, robots and monitoring the alertness of drivers. It’s keen to forge new relationships in Europe at IFA to grow its business.

“No other products combine acoustic and emotional features like ours,” says CEO Takaaki Shimoji. “Our company name comes from ‘empathy’ and we aim to make communication smoother with technology. Machines can provide us with advice and help bridge the gap between people experiencing different emotional states, resulting in improved communication.”

It’s all happening at the Japan Pavilion

Entrepreneurs in Japan have a vision for human-centric services that draw upon traditional concepts of sensitivity and anticipating the needs of others so that everyone can enjoy the benefits of technological progress. Check out the latest Japanese innovations and the startups that created them at the IFA NEXT Japan Pavilion, September 6 to 11 in Berlin, Germany.

To learn more about Langualess, click here.

To learn more about Empath, click here.

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Imagine having a humanoid robot that can anticipate your everyday needs, even your feelings, without having to tell it what to do or what you want. Artificial intelligence systems that can help us interpret the world with little to no effort are slowly becoming reality as AI, big data and robotics continue to advance. Amid such technological change, there’s an increasing awareness among Japanese engineers and designers that the services we use have to be smart, flexible and unobtrusive.  This is especially significant considering the need to make technology accessible for aging populations in developed countries around the world.

A new kind of interface

At Germany’s IFA electronics trade show in September, Japanese startups and established companies are showcasing a unique Japanese approach to engineering next-generation products and services with a human touch. At the exhibition space for IFA Next, which focuses on the latest technology innovations from around the world, Japan will feature the products of 20 Japanese technology companies. They will include seven drawn from the J-Startup Program, a government initiative to boost fledgling businesses. Japan is the first partner country for the IFA NEXT 2019, a unique partnership in the long history of IFA dating to 1924.

“We are entering an entirely new social age, which we call Society 5.0, of cyber-physical integration,” says Keita Nishiyama, director-general of the Commerce and Information Policy Bureau in Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), which is the Global Innovation Partner of IFA NEXT 2019. “Japan has been very strong in producing physical products, and that’s an advantage because interfaces in Society 5.0 must be directly touched or held.”

“In Japan, the concept of omotenashi, or hospitality, involves respect for customers while maintaining a certain unobtrusive distance to make them feel comfortable and that they have their own choice when it comes to services,” Nishiyama added. “We think that will be a very beneficial aspect when we create such interfaces.”

Communication for Everyone and Everything

Communication for everyone and everything is at the heart of one product being exhibited at IFA, the INUPATHY dog mood sensor. Developed by Tokyo startup Langualess, INUPATHY is a specially designed microphone that can detect a pet dog’s heart rate even through thick fur. Fitted into a harness, the sensor feeds data to a linked smartphone app, and the dog’s emotional state is represented as a colorful display in the harness. The display is blue when the animal is calm, red when excited, white when concentrating and rainbow-colored when happy.

“This product can help us understand dogs’ emotions so we can involve them in our decisions,” says Langualess CEO Kana Yamairibata. “Until now, we have built the infrastructure that surrounds us for human convenience, but by seeing the world from the point of view of animals, we can build more animal-friendly environment.”

INUPATHY is the brainchild of Langualess CTO Joji Yamaguchi, who wanted to understand why his corgi was barking more frequently than usual. A programmer with a background in animal science, he developed a prototype of the device and used it to figure out that his corgi’s barking at other dogs was really an expression of a desire to play. Other users have reported realizing that barking that had caused concern was just a sign of excitement.

Aiming at the 1.5 trillion yen ($14 billion) pet market in Japan, where 20 million households have pets, Langualess launched INUPATHY in 2018 for about $300. It hopes to bring the device overseas including the U.S., where over 63 million households have a dog. Other dog monitors track activity, but INUPATHY is unique in monitoring changes in heart rate, even while the animal is moving around. The technology could also be applied to human healthcare, such as monitoring baby heart rates. 

“We think technology can amplify kindness through human-machine interfaces,” says Yamaguchi. “We aren’t trying to create a future in which robots create a dog-friendly society based on AIs reading emotions. We want to use technology to advance our understanding of animals so that pet owners can be closer to their animals.”

Yamairibata agrees that Japanese companies have a unique approach to developing interfaces, noting that the Japanese word for human, ningen, implies the concept of interface because it’s made up of the Japanese characters for person and between.  

Teaching machines to have empathy

It isn’t just a sense of philosophy that has positioned Japan favorably for the next wave of technological progress. It also has accumulated vital experience in manufacturing. Nishiyama believes that Japan’s industrial prowess, in addition to traditional values of hospitality and sensitivity to the needs of others, makes its companies ideally positioned to produce interfaces in an age where data input and processing will go far beyond the text-based systems of the past.

“Data is being sensed, processed and fed back to the world through actuators. For this, we need another kind of human-data interface,” he says.

Empath, a Tokyo-based AI startup with about 20 staff, is one of the companies exhibiting at IFA. It has developed a software platform called Emotion AI that can listen to user voices and automatically detect the emotions of joy, anger, calmness and sorrow. The platform uses algorithms to analyze audio and classifies emotional states based on acoustic features. It works in real time and with any language.

“We believe there are some basic emotions that are applicable in any language,” says Empath CSO Hazumu Yamazaki. “That’s why we focus on only four emotions to make it more universal.”

One application of the technology is to help detect and solve problems related to the emotional states of callers and agents at call centers. If workers are more aware of their own and callers’ feelings, they can be more effective and less stressed. Citing client case studies, the company says it can help reduce supervisor overtime by 20%, increase employee attendance to 99% from 83% and boost sales conversion by nearly 400%.

The company’s technology has already been used by the likes of NTT Docomo and Marubeni Information Systems. Empath has won eight pitch contests and was recently selected as a member of the Japanese government’s J-Startup Program. It sees many applications for its technology, including video games, robots and monitoring the alertness of drivers. It’s keen to forge new relationships in Europe at IFA to grow its business.

“No other products combine acoustic and emotional features like ours,” says CEO Takaaki Shimoji. “Our company name comes from ‘empathy’ and we aim to make communication smoother with technology. Machines can provide us with advice and help bridge the gap between people experiencing different emotional states, resulting in improved communication.”

It’s all happening at the Japan Pavilion

Entrepreneurs in Japan have a vision for human-centric services that draw upon traditional concepts of sensitivity and anticipating the needs of others so that everyone can enjoy the benefits of technological progress. Check out the latest Japanese innovations and the startups that created them at the IFA NEXT Japan Pavilion, September 6 to 11 in Berlin, Germany.

To learn more about Langualess, click here.

To learn more about Empath, click here.

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