Softbank’s Pepper robots sit in a big warehouse waiting to be hacked. At night, they are a bit scary.

3 Straight Day Hack-a-thon on Robotics, Smart Home, IoT and Mobility Experience in a Warehouse of Tokyo — Junction Asia 2016

Two weeks ago, Slush Asia’s Junction Asia Hack-a-thon for three straight days ended up gathering over 200 people in a big warehouse in Tokyo. I was not there, but quite a few friends of mine participated, so let’s figure out what was going on.

Junction Asia 2016 courtesy of FabCafe

Over 200 people joined during a week long holidays

Junction Asia 2016 took place from May 6th through May 8th. It was indeed the last three days of the Golden Week, a week long holidays in Japan. But there were over 200 engineers, makers and creators got together from not only Japan but the rest of the world, according to Mayumi Ishikawa, PR Manager of a boutique agency Loftwork.

Unlike any other hack-a-thon in Japan, Junction Asia provides an enough space for a few hundred people to hack codes, prototype things and test devices for 48 hours.

Staffers of Tokyo Motion Control Network offering consultation on sensing devices. Photo courtesy of FabCafe

Hackers Meet “Toys for Hacks”

This year, three groups of partners sponsored hack-a-thon tracks.

Photo courtesy of FabCafe
  • Services for comfortable travel experience (sponsored by Japan Airlines)
  • Communications at home and work using robots (sponsored by Softbank’s Pepper)
  • Brand-new home experience (sponsored by NEC, Lenovo and Intel RealSense)

FabCafe, a leading global brand for makers with prototyping tools and excellent coffee, had a popup store in the warehouse to help people prototype and test. Born in Tokyo in 2012, FabCafe today has stores in 6 cities among 5 countries. Their staffers from different countries helped hackers from all over the world.

Tools and machines made available by FabCafe and the sponsors were quite broad, including:

  • IBM Bluemix
  • Trotec laser cutter
  • Makerbot’s 3D printers
  • Softbank’s Pepper robots
  • Facebook’s Oculus Rift goggles
  • Intel RealSense
  • Arduino devices
  • LittleBits modules
  • Sony’s MESH devices
  • Lego blocks
  • D.I.Y. tools

Hacking Devices, Prototyping Things, …

Many teams came up with interesting prototypes and serendipitous ideas. Here are some videos and photos I stumbled upon on the web.

Photos courtesy of FabCafe

Winning Team Prototypes “Pepazap”, a Robot Exercise Trainer

Photo courtesy of FabCafe

There were more than 50 teams participating in the hack-a-thon competition. Three teams from each track, or 9 teams were qualified and proceeded for the final presentation.

The winner for the grand prize is the team who created a robot exercise trainer called “Pepazap”, which is named after Pepper and a well-known personalized exercise gym Rizap.

Here is a video of the demo of Pepazap. The motion of a human is detected by Microsoft’s Kinnect sensor, and a Pepper robot instantly gives feedback on performance of the exercise.

Hack-a-thon on Smarter Home in NYC

The grand prize is from the Pepper track, but I am personally interested in outcomes from the home experience track. I love gadgets for the smart home, like Amazon Echo, Philips Hue bulbs, Nest thermostat, etc.

But I am not very happy as the entire smart home experience is not really integrated or sophisticated, but just automated using Wi-Fi and apps. These are like my DIYed automatic shut-off faucet for the bathtub, the 21st century revision (Please count I made this 35 years ago :-)

New York City is the largest community of product designers, creative makers and entrepreneurs, so I believe this city is the best place to work on the smarter home experience — truly integrated and sophisticated experience that disrupts the home experience before the 20th century.

We, FabFoundry, started initiatives such as Monozukuri Saturday Meetup with making-things workshops, and Monozukuri Bootcamp for NYC-based hardware startups to connect to higher-quality manufacturing in Japan.

Our next challenge is to lead an initiative to host a hack-a-thon for the smarter home experience after our meetups and boot camps incubate and foster ambitious creators to change our lives at home with technologies.

Credit: All the photos are from this blog post and courtesy of FabCafe

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