Four Ways Japan is Way Ahead of us in Technology

When we here in the U.S. watch science fiction movies and TV shows like Star Trek, Star Wars, Firefly or Avatar, we marvel at the amazing, futuristic technology presented. In Japan, the just shrug and go, “Meh. That’s our daily life.”

Okay, so I’m exaggerating, but still, there are several areas where the Japanese are just way ahead of us in technology, living the sci-fi dream as their researchers develop technologies we used to think were fantasy.

Robot Assistants

The dream: Remember C-3PO from Star Wars? The protocol droid who was Luke Skywalker’s servant/clumsy comic relief?

Of course you do. Who doesn’t?

People have been dreaming about having some sort of robotic assistant since long before the Jetsons came out. Imagine having some non-complaining mechanical servant fetching stuff for you. Wouldn’t that be cool?

At least until they unionize.

The reality: Meet EMIEW 2, an office assistant robot built by Hitachi. That’s right, the computer, TV and appliance people.

This little guy may only be 2’7″ tall and weigh a mere 29 lbs., but it has a computerized “brain” that can identify and carry out voice commands as it navigates cramped office spaces. It can fetch your coffee or an important document, and can guide visitors to someone’s desk.

The robot is still in development, so it may be a while before we can buy one. Still, secretaries around the world may face some robotic job competition in the very near future.


While we are on the subject of mechanical people –

The dream: Remember Data from Star Trek?

Stop with the rhetorical “Remember This” questions and get on with it!

The human-like android was portrayed by a very human actor, Brent Spiner, since an animatronic person was pretty much out of the question when filming the show. Still, it’s a common nerd fantasy to imagine a robot so realistic, it looks and acts human. See also: Blade Runner.

AKA Ridley Scott’s other sci-fi movie.

The reality: Check out what scientists at Osaka University are working on.

Her name is Repliee Q1, and she has been creeping out audiences since she was unveiled at the 2005 World Expo.

Her realistic movements were programmed through a motion-capture system that “taught” her how to mimic the little subtle gestures and body language that live humans make subconsciously in conversations.

And she’s not alone – these researchers are also building a male counterpart, named Geminoid DK.

Better hope they don’t figure out how to breed.

3D Holograms

The dream: Remember how in Star Wars you saw those super-cool 3D holoprojections?


Now that is something that just has to be far, far beyond what we are capable of today. Right? Right?

The reality: Meet Hatsune Miku, Japanese pop sensation.

That’s right, Hatsune is not a real person, but a fictional character presented to the audience with a computer-animated 3D holoprojection. I’m not sure how they did that, but it looks in the video like she’s being projected on some sort of specialized glass (you can see the reflections of the audience’s glowsticks). So, I guess we’re not quite to the Star Wars “projections in the air” effect just yet… but darn if that isn’t an impressively close try.

Hovercar Racing

The dream:¬†Okay, okay, I won’t start with a “Remember This?” question.

When we think of futuristic hovercraft, we usually picture something more or less like the racing hovercars from the WipEout video game series:

But, unfortunately, real-life hovercraft look much more like this:

Until now, that is.

The reality: At least on a miniature level, scientists at the Japan Institute of Science and Technology have managed to build WipEout-like hovercar racers using liquid nitrogen and magnetism.

The researchers say they hope to go full-scale with their experiments very soon. Could we be seeing futuristic hovercars in the near future? I hope so!