MAKUHARI: Sensors that can measure stress levels, mood, posture and performance took center stage at Asia’s top high-tech fair in Tokyo.
Ten years ago at CEATEC the big noise was created by big-screen TVs and entertainment systems. Now the buzz is about tiny sensors that measure the minutest facet of the human body — a Japanese speciality.
Electronics giant Panasonic showed a prototype of an armchair that can tell how stressed its user is by measuring sweat from hands as well as seating position and facial expressions.
“You could imagine such a chair in the office and by combining the results with air conditioning and lighting levels, you could adjust the ambiance of the office to enable people to relax if necessary,” a Panasonic demonstrator said.
Components manufacturer Murata Manufacturing has pioneered a small device held for a minute between the thumb and forefinger to measure pulse rates and nervous system activity.
“We are going to start selling this very soon to companies, so they can measure how stressed their employees are. Transport and taxi companies are especially interested,” said Takashi Hayashida, a spokesman for the firm.
Staff equipped with sensors could be under permanent surveillance to “improve their posture and productivity,” according to Japanese electronics firm TDK.
Sensors are also being put to work to improve health care — especially for the elderly, with nearly 28 percent of the Japanese population over 65.
Using a device created by hygiene firm Lion, patients can flash a smile at a smartphone and send it to a server that will report back with data on oral hygiene.
Housing equipment firm Lixil has developed a bathtub sensor that measures water temperature and vital signs such as pulse and body temperature in an attempt to cut the 5,000-plus sudden bath deaths a year in the country, 90 percent of them in over 65s.
At the other end of the age scale, sensors are being used to ease labor shortages in kindergartens and creches.
Japan’s public New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization has developed a super-fine and sensitive film that can perform a host of functions related to childcare.
When placed in a cot, for example, it can upload data to a computer showing whether a baby rolls onto its stomach or its temperature spikes.
“There is a staff shortage in creches. We need solutions to enable them to watch over more children at a time,” said a demonstrator.
The same film can be used to determine how much and at what speed a meal is eaten — in a hospital or retirement home for example — by measuring the pressure applied on a table by a bowl or plate.
Much effort is also devoted to that less life and death matters, especially body odour, to which the Japanese are especially sensitive.
Cosmetics giant Shiseido recently commissioned a study to demonstrate that the odour given off by a person under stress smells like ... onions.
And the sensors are not just for humans. Sharp has developed a cat litter tray equipped with monitors to measure the volume of the feline’s urine and record its frequency.