Radar Screen

Back to Contents of Issue: November 2001

- www.microstone.co.jp -

Next month, Microstone is releasing a wristwatch that measures the number of steps taken during a set period and calculates the calories used -- a great gadgety gift for the dieter or exercise-lover in your life. But this is serious stuff: The device is also a boon for those needing medical monitoring, says company president Norihiko Shiratori. A former technician at a precision manufacturer, Shiratori decided to work toward promoting health and fitness after a stint in a hospital. The firm aims to further develop its wristwatch-sized sensing technology to monitor heartbeat and blood oxygen levels, and transmit the resulting data to a central facility via wireless, a natural evolution for Japan. One benefit would be that families, medical institutions, and fitness instructors could all monitor these vital signs in real-time. Not bad for a company started three years ago in a six-mat tatami room in Shiratori's Nagano home.

- www.for-side.com -

Tired of your monotone ring tone? Click on over to For-side.com, a major mobile content provider specializing in chakumero -- the ubiquitous musical tones downloaded daily by cool, keitai-toting teens. The company claims to have 100,000 subscribers to its 22 different content services, which include graphic and image downloads as well as animated characters (Tom and Jerry are big draws). The service has been ported to the i-mode, J-Sky, EZweb, and Edge-in wireless information services. Sound choices range from music (J-Pop, of course) and sports to TV animation songs. For example, subscribers to its cinema music service can access up to four downloads for a fee of JPY100 per month. The company also lets users send animated greeting cards direct to a friend's celly. Make no mistake about it: Chakumero and image downloads on wireless are major money makers in Japan.

- www.agi-web.co.jp -

Founded by computer graphic (CG) designer (and avid sculptor) Shunji Mitsuyoshi, AGI's AI-based "sensitivity technology" aims to give computer software the ability to recognize the essential human traits of spoken communication, such as tone, tempo, speed, and rhythm. Mitsuyoshi is animated by his previous CG experience, but thinks it would be better if people could communicate verbally with live-action characters, just as a movie director gives directions to actors. Building emotionally sensitive, AI-based character interfaces into eCRM, IVR, and other electronic services has a bright future in Japan (see Sam Joseph's AI feature on page 20), and AGI may help make that future a reality.

- www.zmp.co.jp -

We've told you before that Roppongi -- one of the most prosperous (and notorious) of Tokyo's nightspots -- is a fertile proving ground for Japanese artificial intelligence (see Radar Screen, page 54, August 2001). ZMP is yet another Roppongi-based venture, but dedicated to humanoid robots -- the kind that sort of look like us. PINO, ZMP's bot, is available for purchase or rental to research organizations, universities, and science museums, and the 70-cm, 4.5-kg robot (developed by the Kitano Kyose System Project) can walk and shake hands. It has shaken hands with President Mahathir of Malaysia and appeared in a promo video for superstar vocalist Hikaru Utada, and is now displayed at the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation. The fully decked-out version runs about JPY8 million, but a smaller gadget model is available for JPY5,900. ZMP president Hisashi Taniguchi says the company will release a new humanoid robot, Morph -- which is smaller but capable of more complex motions -- soon.

- www.payment-one.com -

With numerous e-biz ventures rolling up their Japan operations, it's tempting to conclude that the Net in Japan is dead. Nothing could be more wrong, and Payment-One is living proof. The company started offering credit-card settlement services to e-commerce merchants last December: Payment-One software enables secure payments at low cost, and the company also provides consulting and training services. Despite the Nikkei falling lower than a Mikimoto pearl diver, Payment-One succeeded in raising some JPY540 million through a private equity offering -- the money will be used to enhance the system's security and integrate JavaBeans technology. One key will be getting financial institutions to lower CC settlement costs (now 5-10 percent compared to 1-3 in the US). Japanese consumers don't mind using credit cards, but merchants hate those damn fees.

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