TOKYO (majirox news) Some of the world’s cutest teddy bears showed their stuff this week at an event near Tokyo showcasing recent developments of Fujitsu Laboratories Ltd.
“We could easily sell 10,000 of these bears,” said Dr. Toshihiko Morita, vice president of the Human Centric Computing Lab. “But for those who want such a bear, and everyone wants one, there is disappointment every time we show these off at international events. These bears are only one part of a larger system.”
These high-tech teddies have a more serious purpose than melting hearts. They could make life easier for Japan’s aging population and their caregivers, stimulate children, and sufferers from depression and other related conditions.
These bears, currently still prototypes, which contain sensors and microphones and a camera discreetly mounted in the nose, are linked to the Internet and a database hosted in the cloud. From there, caregivers and family can remotely monitor the state of the bear’s companion.
“A caregiver at an elderly person’s facility can use a tablet or PC to access the database and easily check on the present and past status of many residents at a facility,” Morita says. “This can help to rescue staffing costs in institutions.”
Not only do the bears monitor their owners, they interact with them. They can mimic the actions they see, react to stimuli, and chat to their owners.
Morita says there is a possibility of a future text-to-speech function which could read email out loud (birthday messages to Grandma or reminders to take medication). The bears have remarkably expressive faces, with eyes that blink and mouths that open and close. Patting or stroking one of these bears and observing its reactions, it’s hard to believe that these are not creatures of flesh and blood. There are even several different bear “personalities:” shy, chatty, active, and so on.
The bears contain software that not only recognizes faces, but also recognizes expressions on the owner’s face, sending this back to the database for future analysis. However, Japanese faces tend to be less expressive than Western faces, and that if the teddies are to be exported, some localization will be required, according to Morita. Other prototypes already feature English.
He does not see Japan as the first market for the bears and their infrastructure of the cloud database and analytical software. Japanese men of the older Japan’s increasing aging population will find it hard to come to terms with a fluffy toy companion, and so the first of these bear-based systems may find their way to Europe or the United States, rather than their country of origin.