5 weird tech ideas from IFA 2019, from therapy pillows to musical sunglasses

PHOTO: Facebook/Qooboo

Technology to make life better, but not busier - that was the goal for some of the innovators showing their products at IFA 2019 in Berlin, Germany.

For these trendsetters, smartphones and the stress they bring are now the enemies; their goal is to achieve "peaceful digital living" and harmony with nature.

Such thinking made for some unusual technological advances.

On show at the annual consumer electronics trade fair was everything from a therapy robot that was half cat to a smartphone with a slide-out QWERTY keyboard to musical sunglasses.

Qoobo the therapy cat robot

What the world needs is … a tail-wagging robotic pillow? "When you touch it, it moves like a cat," says Clement Bastide, marketing manager at Yukai Engineering in Tokyo. "Depending on how you touch it, it reacts differently - touch it fast and its tail will move faster."

When caressed, Qoobo waves gently. When rubbed, it swings playfully. When you do nothing to it for hours, it occasionally wags its tail just to say hello.

A companion robot created in Japan as a destressing toy for people who live in small flats and cannot have a pet, Qoobo recently went on sale outside its home country at US$149 (S$210).

"In Japan, it's mainly girls who buy it," says Bastide.

Music-X Series smart audio sunglasses

Remember Google Glass? Take away the built-in camera and the screen, then slash the price, and you have something like the Music-X Series sunglasses (US$129) that, like the recently launched Gentle Monster and Bose Frames Alto, can stream music over Bluetooth 5.0.

Embedded with tiny 1W speakers arranged close to the wearer's ears, they use algorithmic bass enhancement technology. The Music-X sunglasses play tunes, but also have a mic for making hands-free phone calls and for talking to Siri and Google Assistant.

PHOTO: South China Morning Post

"If you like going outside and listening to music you need sunglasses and you need headphones," says Cao Hui of Mutrics, based in southern Chinese tech hub Shenzhen. "It's just not very convenient."

With UV400 polarised lenses, IP55 certified, so totally waterproof, and with a built-in 2,200mAh battery that lasts for an impressive eight hours and is recharged via USB-C, the sunglasses come in black, white and … orange. They are available from this month.

Pro1 smartphone with QWERTY keyboard

BlackBerry fans, take note. Modern smartphones all look and work almost exactly the same, so London-based F (x) tec is committed to bringing back what people miss. Cue the Pro1 (US$699), an Android-based device that is ever so slightly less slim than usual, and with good reason; it conceals a full, slide-out, angled landscape QWERTY keyboard.

With a 6-inch Full HD+ AMOLED display, 6GB RAM and 128GB storage, it's a serious phone, but there's only one reason to buy it. That keyboard is highly impressive; it's joined to the phone by a very well designed flick-out hinge mechanism that lets the keyboard slide into play at a snap.

Although it's got obvious retro appeal, the Pro1 makes a lot of practical sense. After all, why clutter up your screen with a virtual keyboard when you do not need to? It also makes split-screening two apps worth doing.

The Pro1 is scheduled for global launch in mid-September.

DFree toilet timing wearable device

Is it time to go to the toilet? Taking on the challenge of incontinence in a rapidly ageing society in Japan and elsewhere is Triple W, whose DFree (US$445) device tries to solve the problem and so give people back their dignity.

"It's for elderly people and even 100-year-old people," explains Yuhei Urabe at Triple W Europe, based in France. "It has an ultrasound sensor that sits on the bladder and detects its size, and when it gets to a certain size you get a notification on your smartphone telling you it's time to go to the toilet."

The DFree is a device that alerts its elderly users to imminent calls of nature. PHOTO: South China Morning Post

That happens before the person needs to go, so essentially it's a predictive device. DFree is already used by over 2,000 people in Japan.

Mui Lab smart home control panel

Mui Lab, based in Kyoto, Japan, is all about creating "calm" devices, and in Berlin it presented a piece of wood that is connected to the cloud.

"It's real wood and connects with smart locks and smart heaters; it tells you the weather and the time, and it lets you play music," says Akikio Moriguchi at Mui Lab.

Fully customisable depending on what devices you have in your smart home, it's mostly aimed at replacing the smartphone at home.

"It's the opposite to the smartphone because it only displays information when you touch it," says Moriguchi. "Smartphones are always displaying information and disturbing us, forcing us to adapt to them and changing our lifestyle, even our posture."

Mui Lab’s smart home panel made of real wood. PHOTO: South China Morning Post

Drawing inspiration from the Taoist philosophy of mui shizen (doing nothing), mui-enabled systems are all about harmony between technology, humans and nature.

This article was first published in South China Morning Post.

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