So this is what the future would look like. We could be talking directly to our cars or communicating with them on our smart phones, while our homes are been heated or cooled by information provided by remote messages and, of course, solar energy.
As always, the just-concluded CEATEC (Combined Exhibition of Advanced Technologies) Japan show – the country’s largest consumer electronics event held in Makuhari, outside Tokyo–was packed with new and cool ideas to make life simpler.
It was my second year attending, and I spent a week walking the floor, among 162,219 registrants, and 2,288 booths representing 624 companies. Here are the three innovations that most impressed:
1. Goodbye, parking
Nissan was at the show with its Smart Car 2015, an electric vehicle that can park by itself. Think of the scenario – you are stuck in traffic, and risk missing your flight. What if the car could go find a parking spot by itself after it drops you off?
First, though, it has to be legal. I asked Evan Hansen, editor-in-chief at Wired.com and one of the judges at the show, whether this could ever come to the US. His estimate: five years.
“Automated driving has been approved by some state legislators, including California,” he said. “In this particular case, the automated driving to parking lots will be limited to specific environments … parking areas designed to handle self-parking cars.”
Technically, a driver can also retrieve the car. It has other unique features, including four built-in cameras that would allow the owner to observe the car through a smart phone remotely. If something happens to the car, the system would set off an alarm on the smart phone.
Meanwhile, Toyota introduced another cool car – a single-seater, electric vehicle called Smart Insect, which has no buttons or even a regular dashboard. The car recognizes it owner’s face and voice for commands. You can tell it go to your office, or play your favorite song.
2. Mod solar homes
One year after the massive earthquake followed by the tsunami and the Fukushima nuclear crisis, Japan’s electronics show was equally focused on energy savings projects.
“This country is debating whether to get rid of nuclear power and that’s a huge thing,” said Tom Samiljan, the editor of mensjournal.com, also one of the judges at the show. “I see a big switch over from consumer electronics, which use to be the hallmark of the show.”
Toyota and Panasonic showcased model homes, powered with solar energy. Toyota has been building homes for 35 years and is the ninth largest homebuilder in Japan. The company has as separate subsidiary that focuses on homes, and building energy-efficient air conditioners and lights. The homes are factory built and can be installed within days.
The homes are developed only within Japan, but as the world grapples with affordable energy-efficient housing, I suspect—and hope—to see them soon.
3. Get a grip—on your mobile.
For those addicted to their smart phones, Japan’s phone company NTT Docomo is developing a new concept – a handheld device that operates with the grip of our hands.
The user could be in a train, holding the strap or a metal bar with one hand to balance herself. In the other hand is the Grip UI phone, operated with the intensity of squeezing and the sensors located on its sides. The user returns to the home screen or moves among applications, without touching the phone’s screen panel.
It may take another year for this phone to be available in Japan. The US release looks a little further away.