Akihabara News (Tokyo) — While many forms of human-assistive technologies are being developed through university research programs and nonprofits, there are an increasing number of startup businesses breaking into the barrier-free world as well.
In 2006, the government passed the Act for Promoting Easy Mobility and Accessibility for the Aged and Disabled (Barrier-Free Act). Since that time, standardized planning for accessible environments at airports, train stations, and shopping centers has incorporated many features to assist disabled guests.
It has also given scope for the establishment of a number of startups focused on barrier-free technologies.
Some notable barrier-free tech startups in Japan are Triple W, Sakura Tech, Axion Research, Xenoma, WHILL, Digital Attendant, Yukai Engineering, and Mirairo.
Triple W, founded by Atsushi Nakanishi in 2015, developed a wearable device for urinary incontinence. DFree is designed for seniors and those who suffer from loss of bladder control. Using a non-invasive ultrasound sensor, it continuously monitors the wearer’s bladder and notifies them via smartphone or tablet when it is almost full. For online purchases, DFree will come bundled with ultrasound gel and an adhesive sheet to attach the device to the wearer. Triple W continues to work on the development of connected wearable health devices.
Sakura Tech, founded in 2008 by Fuminori Sakai, develops imaging sensors and high performance microwave and millimeter wave components. One of the applications of their technology involves a radar vital sign sensor that allows people to monitor themselves or others at home. The device can detect up to four people at a time within a ten meter radius without using a camera for wellness and fitness health monitoring.
Axion Research, established in 2016, centers itself around big data for healthcare with an emphasis on disease control. Their product, AXiR Engine, is a wearable device and analytical software platform that allows the user to check their immune activation status and fatigue as well as manage their physical condition. The aim is to push individuals to have a better understanding of their health and seek help before experiencing debilitating symptoms. AXiR Engine is still under development to provide dynamic features to detect sudden changes in individuals’ health.
Xenoma was founded in November 2015 as a spin-off from the University of Tokyo by Ichiro Amimori, Masao Nakajima, and Osamu Sawanobori. The company develops smart apparel ‘e-skin’ to provide data tracking and analysis with sensors built into the clothing. The “e-skin Sleep & Lounge” is made for monitoring the wellbeing and health of elderly people specifically. They are a set of pajamas and loungewear that can analyze the wearer’s sleep condition and automatically adjust the room environment accordingly. The pajamas also enable the everyday monitoring of the wearer’s activity levels and can detect falls.
WHILL, founded in 2011 by Satoshi Sugie, Junpei Naito, and Muneaki Fukuoka, aims to transform today’s antiquated power wheelchair and scooter experiences into a new kind of empowering device: an intelligent personal electric vehicle. WHILL offers three different models depending on what the individual wants from their mobility chair. All models are designed with state-of-the-art technology, and can be controlled remotely via a smartphone app.
Digital Attendant, founded in 2014, develops Artificial Intelligence systems for those with visual disabilities. Their product DynaGlass is a wearable device that can provide users with information about the environment and people in front of them by simply wearing a special wearable device that can identify scenes, text, and people. At this stage, it has only a limited number of functions, but they plan to incorporate facial recognition, navigation, and button detection in the future.
Yukai Engineering, established in 2007, focuses on robotics as communication tools that will replace smartphones as the most popular form of user interface in the future. They have developed the Bocco emo, a communication robot with sensors that can monitor temperature, motion, and home activity. Users can set up their phones to receive notifications from the sensors the Bocco emo connects to, keeping them updated on what’s happening in their home. The company says the temperature and humidity sensor can be used to prevent heatstroke among the elderly. It is currently used with home security company Secom’s elderly monitoring service, which provides companionship through conversation and checking in on customers’ mental and physical well-being.
Mirairo, established in 2010, aims to refocus “barriers” into “strengths and values” through products and services developed based on universal design to be accessible, usable, and convenient for all people regardless of nationality, age, gender or ability. One of their ventures, Bmaps, is a mobile app that uses crowdsourcing to help people who have accessibility needs find appropriate facilities while they are outside. The criteria for each establishment is based on five levels for assessing comfort, and nineteen criteria for barrier-free info on the facilities, such as wheelchair-lending service, wheelchair-accessible toilets, and nursing rooms.
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Source: Akihabara News – Notable Japan Barrier-Free Tech Startups