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Wednesday, June 8, 2011
Express yourself with a wiggle of Necomimi or make music with the Ningen Gakki
By RICK MARTIN
One of the fun things about writing about Japanese technology is that every once in a while you come across a device that elicits both genuine admiration and a jaw-dropping reaction. And I'm delighted to report on two such gadgets today, both of which have generated some pretty significant Internet buzz.
Produced by Japanese company Neurowave, Necomimi are one of the most intriguing inventions I've seen in a long time. A fascinating combination of fashion and function, they resemble the cute wearable cat ears that you may see on a maid at a cafe in Akihabara or which some Japanese girls may wear to a fancy-dress party or cosplay event. What makes these Necomini special is that they actually move in relation to the varying brainwaves of the user.
The name literally sounds like "cat ears" in Japanese, but "neco" (the word for cat) also stands for "neuro-communication." Depending on how the wearer is feeling, the ears will behave differently: When the person is concentrating on something — a cute guy perhaps — the ears will stand up straight. But when the wearer relaxes, the ears will flatten out and lay low.
While an invention like this is mainly childish fun, the technology behind it holds great promise for the future. Under its "neurowear" project, Neurowave intends to develop these sort of fashion accessories or gadgets that are controlled by brain waves or other biosignals.
Such devices could potentially be used for a wide range of applications. It's pretty exciting when you consider the possibilities for individuals without the use of their limbs to suddenly be able to control things with their mind.
The promotional video for Necomimi, which demonstrates how they function, went viral on YouTube soon after it was uploaded in March, and since that time the short clip has accumulated more than 1.4 million views.
Yet, while there is certainly a huge amount of public interest in necomimi — not least among certain otaku who have a thing for anime-type girls wearing cat ears — they are not actually on sale yet. For now, Necomimi is only a prototype, but it's expected that the actual product will be released at the end of this year. No word yet on what kind of price tag the ears will have, but you can can keep an eye on the project at www.neurowear.net.
Takaratomy's new toy, Ningen Gakki, is a clever invention that helps you and your friends or loved ones make beautiful music together — so to speak. The name means "human musical instrument," and the fun device lets you turn your body into a percussion tool on which your friends can play.
Ningen Gakki works by making an electric circuit through the people holding it. The device is equipped with four electrodes, located on each of the corners. When partners grab on they join the circuit, and different notes can then be played by tapping on their skin.
In "performance mode" there are 10 melodies, and once you choose a pre-programmed song you can try to press out the notes with the proper timing. Switch to "drum mode" and you get to make bass, snare, hi-hat, and cymbal sounds — but try not to hit too hard! Then, to calm things down you can touch your partner in, um, just the right way and create a vibrato effect.
Ningen Gakki is set to go on sale June 30, so expect to hear even more about the device in the weeks to come.
It will be priced at ¥3,360, and should be available at your local toy retailer here in Japan. Overseas buyers can check out www.strapya-world.com/products/41902.html.
To learn more about Ningen Gakki, visit Takaratomy's product page at www.takaratomy-arts.co.jp/specials/ningengakki.