Hardware is, well, hard. From concept to prototype to final product, hardware startups face a multitude of hurdles. Once the software is written, the components are sourced, and the soldering is finished, then the real challenge appears. Instead of simply getting approval on a digital app store, a hardware startup has to strike deals with factories and line up physical distribution channels.
While Tokyo is the epicenter of Japan’s burgeoning startup ecosystem, it’s the ancient city of Kyoto where the Makers Boot Camp hardware incubator decided to set up shop. The area is not just home to temples and geisha, it’s also a domestic manufacturing hub.
Makers Boot Camp invited a group of promising hardware startups from around Japan to spend six months bringing their rough prototypes to distribution-ready finished products. The following five are our favorites from demo day in Tokyo earlier this week, and each is on the cusp of consumer release.
There are countless apps and services available for sharing digital photos and videos with loved ones, but there’s a glaring problem. Not everyone in the family has a smartphone or computer, and when it comes to elderly relatives, some might not be able to grasp the required technology in the first place.
There is one bit of tech that most elderly folks know how to navigate, however – the living room television set. Chikaku makes a set-top-box of sorts, called Mago Channel, which allows grandma and grandpa to view family pictures and videos on a dedicated TV channel. All they need is the TV’s existing remote control. No wifi is necessary, as the box has a built-in 4G/LTE module. An LED on the front of the box lets family know when new images are received, and a companion app tells the sender when they are viewed.
Chikaku’s founder spent more than a decade at Apple and realized that something like Apple TV was just too technical for older, less technologically-inclined users.
Emoney cards are ubiquitous in Japan, especially for the country’s train commuters. Much more than a commuter pass, the country’s emoney cards can be used to buy everything from ramen noodles to a new pair of kicks. They’re used so frequently that it’s often hard to keep track of the balance – most people only know how much is left when they tap the entrance gate to the subway.
Coban makes pass cases with e-ink displays that show an emoney card’s balance once it’s inserted. The startup plans to release this in March 2016 for JPY 2,980 (US$24) and says its tech is compatible with popular emoney cards in Hong Kong, Singapore, and Taiwan.
Waiston is a wearable health tracker in belt buckle form created by students at the Nara Institute of Science and Technology. It takes daily measurements of a user’s waistline and sends the data to a companion Android app which can be used to visualize fitness goals or see warning signs for obesity.
The device also acts as an activity and posture tracker, sending alerts if a user is inactive for too long or slouching at their desk. Waiston can be purchased as an entire belt or as a buckle that can be added to belts of a compatible width and thickness.
Kyoto-based Atmoph raised more than US$160,000 on Kickstarter to put a virtual window in your home or office. The startup, founded by ex-Nintendo engineers, was inspired by living in a tiny apartment with a single window that looked out to… a wall.
The 27-inch, 1920×1080-pixel Atmoph Window is made in Japan and displays 4K video loops of gorgeous scenery around the globe. It can also connect to Android and iOS devices to show the date, time, weather forecast, and Google Calendar appointments.
You can read our in-depth profile of Atmoph here.
We’ve seen Kyoto-based Up Performa before, but the startup’s Eagle Eye athlete-tracking device is looking more polished than ever. The small wearable – which can be worn on a strap or embedded in a uniform – uses location data to measure each player’s position on the field. It allows coaches to better visualize their squad’s movements, as if looking down on the pitch from above.
Eagle Eye gauges a player’s individual speed and can generate a heatmap of the entire team. It can be used for a variety of team sports, but the startup is initially targeting soccer.
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