Too-smart toilets and work-tracking shirts: Could this tech in Tokyo come to the U.S.?

Rob Pegoraro, Special for USA TODAY

CHIBA, JAPAN—Technology has made its way into just about everything we have and everywhere we go, even the bathroom – and the bed, the work uniform, and many other unlikely places. No place is that clearer than in Japan at the CEATEC tech trade show just outside of Tokyo.

You may not see all of these things in a store, home or office near you anytime soon – CEATEC’s emphasis on research made it look a bit like a science fair compared to such larger gadget gatherings as CES in Las Vegas and IFA in Berlin. But Japan’s longstanding status as a leading indicator of technology makes it likely that some of these things will wind up in your life.  

ANA’s avatar ambitions

On this convention’s first day, All Nippon Airways president and CEO Shinya Katanozaka talked up the airline’s plans to let people skip flying by experiencing other places through robot avatars. 

“What we're aiming for in 2050 is a world in which there's no difference between your body and the avatar itself,” Katanozaka said through an interpreter.

But the “newme” telepresence robots demonstrated on stage during his keynote – essentially, tablet computers on brightly-colored cylinders that roll around on wheels – can’t do all that. Exhibits at ANA’s booth suggested what else the airline will need, and how difficult that might be. 

All Nippon Airways is planning to add robots to its friendly skies. Among them is robot hand with sensor-studded gloves that's controlled by a human operator.

In one, there were human operator-controlled robot hands with sensor-studded gloves tracking his movements that let me shake hands with the robot – after its right hand was rebooted. Another had me control a fishing rod and reel 750 miles away, an experience that both exhibited a visible lag and emphasized the fact that I haven’t gone fishing in decades. 

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The Paramount Bed’s Active Sleep monitors your pulse and breathing and reclines as needed.

A bed that reclines itself

Sleep-tracking systems are nothing new, but a bed that responds to your sleep is. Paramount Bed’s Active Sleep, a combination of motorized bed frame, air mattress, sleep-tracking pad and software smarts, monitors your pulse and breathing and reclines as needed. Typically, you’d start with the mattress somewhat elevated to help you nod off, then the bed would lower itself to a flat position. That comfort, plus the ability to adjust the pressure independently in each of the mattress’s six different cells, goes for ¥430,000, or almost $4,000.  

The Lixil smart toilet has a camera on the underside of the seat, seen here, that takes a picture of your waste and comes back flush with personal data.

A toilet that knows your… business 

Toilets in Japan have long been high-tech marvels with heated seats and water jets to cleanse you, but a prototype on display here from Lixil takes its electronics to a new level. A camera on the underside of the seat takes a picture of your output to gauge its softness on a medical scale of 1 to 7, as computed by a cloud image-analysis routine.  

The idea of this subsidiary of American Standard is to deploy this in nursing homes, where otherwise attendants would have to collect this data.

Xenoma makes an activity-tracking shirt for work, not exercise. The data insights are shown on a Microsoft HoloLens augmented-reality visor worn by the employee.

This shirt watches you work 

Hitachi’s exhibit featured a live demo from a company called Xenoma that makes an activity-tracking shirt. The activity tracked here was not exercise but work, with insights from the resulting data shown on a Microsoft HoloLens augmented-reality visor worn by the employee. 

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The demo had that headwear offering suggestions to take a break. But in a real-world deployment, you have to expect that some bosses would use this system to nag their underlings to work harder.

AI Gamer is a robot built to learn to play the 1980s-vintage arcade game Super Xevious.

Bandai Namco’s AI Gamer

At another exhibit, gadgetry took over a human’s role not in work but play. AI Gamer is a robot built to learn to play the 1980s-vintage arcade game Super Xevious – a task it couldn’t always handle – and to catch the attention of human passerby with a design that evokes friendly robots from 1980s-vintage movies. 

This animatronic anime head named Mirai Komachi can read facial expressions and respond appropriately.

Just next to this cute little contraption, an animatronic anime head named Mirai Komachi read the facial expressions of passerby and responded correspondingly--meeting one smile with another, or reacting to a frown with a look of concern. Conclusion: The future looks less creepy when it features a bright line between people and robots.

(Disclosure: CEATEC’s organizers are covering my travel costs, along with those of a handful of other U.S.-based tech journalists.)

Rob Pegoraro is a tech writer based out of Washington, D.C. To submit a tech question, e-mail Rob at rob@robpegoraro.com. Follow him on Twitter at @robpegoraro.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Tech on display in Japan: How smart do you want your toilet, clothes?