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Paul Gilsenan, Dublin engineer working in Japan

Paul Gilsenan, Dublin engineer working in Japan

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SCOPE goes to gadget heaven

SCOPE hits Japan, home of the innovative gadget. Danann and Kathriona look for the coolest and most high-tech gadgets they can find.

Tokyo’s Akihabara area is famous for its electronics shops and SCOPE takes a look around with the help of Paul Gilsenan, a manufacturing engineer from Clontarf in Dublin, who lives in Japan and says that Japan really is as high-tech as it seems.

“If you get on a train here, you’ll have people with computers, games and using their phone as an MP3 player,” says Paul. “Most of my friends buy the latest of everything when it’s launched.”

eBook

One of SCOPE’s favourite gadgets is the eBook or electronic book. Electronic books were once touted as the books of the future, but they didn’t take off at that time because the display quality wasn’t great and it felt more like reading a computer screen than reading a book. But the new eBook has changed all that, as it looks more like real paper.

The Sony Reader is an eBook that is about the size of a paperback novel, but thinner. It stores books in its memory and the battery lasts about 7,500 page turns. One of the product’s secrets is its realistic print look – the paper can be read from a variety of angles and even in bright sunlight. Also, because the screen is not back-lit, it is easier to read and reduces eye-strain. The Sony Reader will cost between $300 and $400 when it goes on the market.

High-tech toilet

Another SCOPE favourite is the high-tech toilet. Technology is everywhere in Japan and even the toilet has a few funny looking buttons on it!

In Japan, toilets are called washlets. If you don’t want to be heard going to the toilet, you can play an audio sound of flushing a toilet. On some models there are blow driers and seat heaters and you can also play music, and even download your own music onto it. Deluxe washlets have sensors so that when you step towards them the lid opens.

Security

At Japan’s Panasonic Centre, SCOPE checks out the high-tech gadgets of tomorrow and finds out how digital technology can be used for a home security system.

For a demonstration, Kathriona is watching TV, when Danann calls to the door and rings the bell. His face then pops up on her TV screen and she can let him in by pressing a button – so she doesn’t have to move off the couch. If she is being very security conscious, she can even use a voice-changer to sound like a man when she is answering the intercom.

Wireless technology can also help you to monitor your house when you’re not there, for example from your car. You can see if there are intruders in the house by having little webcams in each room and then connecting to the cameras using a screen in the car.

Robot

You might have seen ASIMO the robot at the Young Scientist exhibition in Dublin in 2005.
ASIMO was designed by Japanese company Honda and he currently lives at Japan’s National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation.

In the 1950s and 60s, robots were only in science fiction films, but for the last few decades, they’ve become a reality. In fact, robot design has actually helped us humans to understand ourselves a bit better. For example, it was only when engineers tried to teach robots to walk, without much success at first, that they realised how complex walking actually is.

ASIMO is a prototype used for robotics research, but you can also buy robots on the streets in Japan. There’s even a whole shop dedicated to them.

Some of the most popular robots in Japan are called companion robots. People don’t have enough space in Japan for pets like dogs and cats, so you can have a little Hello Kitty robot instead. It can talk to you and will recognise your voice. There are two little cameras in its eyes, so you can programme it to recognise you and family members. Or it can recognise a baby and it will speak baby talk to it.

At the moment, you can find robots that can do everything from the very useful to the completely daft. It looks like they are here to stay, so it might be good to start thinking what you’d like your robot to be able to do.

Learn more:

Find out more about Sony’s eBook
and look up e-ink

Visit ASIMO on the web or check out the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation

Learn more about high-tech toilets

Check what you can see at the Panasonic Centre

Find out about the FÁS graduate programme