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Dream on




Photos by James Walker

James Walker gets a glimpse of the future at the Tokyo Dream Technology Fair 2000.

In late July, The Tokyo Dream Technology Fair 2000 was an amalgamation of sci-fi fantasy and grandiose plans. The larger Japanese companies revealed recently developed products and showcased ambitious prototypes that may never make it to the marketplace.

Some of the Japanese techno-giants have already met with success-Sony, for example. Despite its steep price, Sony's robotic pet dog Aibo has struck a sympathetic chord with the Japanese. Now there's a whole town full of the critters (see www.aibotown.com) and a new magazine for Aibo owners.

The Kyocera Visualphone, released last year faired far worse - the Japanese prefer their phones cheaper, smaller and above all, cuter. Perhaps they also prefer to email their friends rather than look at them.

Sega unveiled the "entertainment stage" net@, a project that connects all of Tokyo's game centers (or in this pilot project, three of them) to achieve real-time digital communication between users. The mega company touts the 1Gpbs high-speed optical fiber network is 8000 times faster than a home ISDN line, and it's accessed by using a touch panel monitor at the net@ outlets, with a cuddly-looking Post-Pet style navigator called net@pet to show you around. There's a CCD camera (the net@phone) attached to the top of the monitor for face-to-face communication with other players (gulp). The plans for net@ include the video chat facility, quizzes, games and even a "nationwide dating party held as a special event" (and you thought the TV dating shows were bad enough).

The net@ project is currently being tested at the GIGO game centers in Ikebukuro and Shibuya and Joypolis at Odaiba. Using net@ requires registering at the game center reception area where you'll receive a free net@ card enabling you to play. Be warned, however, there aren't any instructions in English.

Honda wheeled out its P3 Humanoid Robot, a work-in-progress on how to perfect an automaton capable of independent walking (pity they couldn't show spectators instead of telling them). On a more spectacular scale, Japan Aerospace showcased their Stratospheric Platform, an idea that reinvents the airship as a floating eye-in-the-sky. Solar-powered and spanning 200m, this pilotless blimp carries broadband wireless communication systems and observation equipment to be used in disaster zones and environmental monitoring missions, at an altitude of 20km. As yet, there's no date on when (or if) this craft will take off.

Perhaps the most pressing question is to how technology, and research and development are addressing environmental issues. Almost all of the companies had sections explaining their eco-friendly intentions (the most impressive at this show being Kyocera's), but that's no gauge of how effective they are. Misawa Homes, the construction company, offered a life-size model home made from newly developed, ecologically sound materials that predictably would require the average Japanese family to visit the local loan shark. Not much mention was made of the dioxin problem or the safe disposal of PET bottles - but then, the title of the exhibition alluded to realizing dreams, not banishing urban nightmares.

Ideas were pitched with a positive, innovative eye toward the future; perhaps environmental questions will be answered in the next showcase of helpful technology, which should probably focus a little more on reality, not on dreams.

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Tokyo Dream Technology Fair 2000
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