In recent years, there’s been a lot of talk in the western media about wacky, hilarious and downright baffling inventions coming from Japan. And it’s true, there are a lot of “innovations” from Japanese inventors that do serve the needs of very niche markets, many of which are wildly impractical and almost useless.
But the following list looks at Japanese inventions that really do have larger implications for the world at large (except one entry which may be a stretch…). Japan is indisputably a tech superpower that has long been developing new technologies and making engineering breakthroughs which, if applied correctly, could dramatically change for better or worse how the world travels, communicates, thinks, and lives. The following are ten ostensibly odd inventions hailing from Japan that might, in fact, have very real and very exciting applications in the Occidental nations.
8. Revolutionary Vending Machines
Vending machines may not seem like innovations that could change the world; after all, the modern vending machine has been around since as far back as the 1800s. However, Japan has taken the time-honoured vending machine and made it a fixture of every aspect of life – teaching us not to underestimate the power of convenience.
While most of us appreciate the utility of the vending machine for snacks or an occasional caffeine fix in a pinch, the Japanese are heralding a new age of vending machines that deliver everything from umbrellas and eggs to fresh lettuce and soiled underwear for a small fetish market (really). Will the rest of the world soon follow suit on vending machines that dish out just about any commercial product you can think of? Maybe not in exactly the same way as Japan – the market for soiled underpants is probably a little too niche – but it’s easy to see the global potential of the Japanese vending machine that produces veggies kept fresh under artificial sunlight.
7. Mind-Reading Camera
Tapping into the power of the human brain is only a pipe dream for most inventors. Japanese innovators, however, have created a prototype camera called Neurocam that records brain waves to produce animated GIFs and other images. Neurocam uses an iPhone attached to a headband that senses the wearer’s EEG signals. The Neurocam interprets those signals via a sophisticated algorithm which translates brain activity into images on an iPhone. This technology, although currently in its infancy, could be a precursor to viewing dreams, memories, or ideas as people think them, completely changing how we communicate and share information.
6. Ryden Dual Organic Carbon Battery
Sustainable and renewable energy have been hot topics in the past decade as combatting climate change becomes a global concern. That’s why Power Japan Plus has set about creating a new generation of sustainable energy products in the form of a fully rechargeable organic carbon battery. The Ryden Dual Carbon battery will hold more energy for a longer time than any other known battery technology.
It can be charged 20 times faster than regular batteries making it one of the most energy-efficient batteries in the world. As an added bonus, the battery’s material uses no unsustainable minerals or metals and can be 100% recycled. The Ryden Dual Carbon battery may have the potential to change how people around the world consume energy.
5. Powerloader Light PLL-0 Wearable Robot
The only thing better for people with mobility issues than a robot that can serve your needs is robotic technology that can actually allow you to walk, run, and work.
Japan-based Panasonic is currently developing vast improvements to exoskeletal robotics that people wear like a suit. What was once reserved for military applications will be accessible in the near future by labourers, the physically disabled, or even the average citizen looking for extra power in their day-to-day lives. The Powerloader suit costs up to $7,000, it weighs 40 kilograms and can carry a load up to 30 kilograms. With a lighter, more compact, and stronger suit in the future to come, the Powerloader could revolutionize how people work and recover from physical injury.
4. Super HD 4K Television
Imagine a television display so crisp it feels like you can reach out and actually touch the images in real life. With super HD 4K resolution becoming a commercial reality for manufacturers such as Sharp and Sony, televised images will seem almost life-like, revolutionizing the average user’s viewing experience. The new 4K television has four times the resolution of standard HD displays (1080 pixels per inch) and features a concave design to enrich the picture even more. Once they become affordable and more universally accessible, these TVs are almost sure to render traditional HD televisions obsolete. Japan became the first nation to begin 4k broadcasting in July 2014, despite only originally predicting the first broadcast for 2016.
3. Kodomoroid, Ontonaroid & Telenoid Androids
Robotics have the potential to change everything we know about social interaction and labour, and raises important philosophical questions about human consciousness. Incredibly, Hiroshi Ishiguro and his team at Osaka University have developed three “female” robots with human physical attributes such as skin colour, facial features, hair, and even clothing. The robots are Kodomoroid, Ontonaroud and Telenoid. They represent different ages but only the female gender. Their job would be to act as an RSS reader and deliver news in a museum to anyone who requests it, in multiple languages. They can also move like a human with a range of gestures including accepting objects and even the ability to make subtle movements like blinking and smiling.
2. ASIMO Robot
Japan has been on everyone’s radar in the last 15 years for their developments in robotics. Honda’s ASIMO robot is a huge leap forward in robotics (and looks a lot less creepy than Kodomoroid). ASIMO can do many things a human can including greet visitors, open bottles, and serve drinks. The robot has been updated in 2014 to jump and run up to 5 km per hour — a massive achievement for a robot. There’s no telling how the world could change culturally, socially, and economically with the widespread use of advanced robots. If commercially released, robots like ASIMO could be a godsend for people with chronic mobility issues who need regular care.
1. Space Elevator
The race to build the first ‘space elevator’ is heating up. The model for this invention dates way back to Russian scientists of the late 1800s to the mid 1900s. American engineers have made impressive inroads into developing a space elevator since, but a 2007 competition, set to award $500,000 for space elevator developments within the next 5 years, was left unclaimed. Since then, Japan seems to have taken up the mantle to develop the first functioning space elevator.
Tokyo’s Obayashi Corp plans to have a working space elevator by 2050. The elevator will send tourists to an attached space station through a carbon nanotube pulley system. Using predominantly solar power, the elevator will carry up to 30 people at a speed of 200 km per hour, almost the speed of a high speed train. That kind of technological innovation, if successful, will change the worlds of engineering, tourism, and space exploration forever.