[From May Issue 2010]
TSUJITA Hitomi of the Ochanomizu University Graduate School of Humanities and Sciences, is developing tools to help couples who live far apart, better communicate with one another, such as pairs of trash bins and desk lamps. When a person uses one trash bin, that information is conveyed via the Internet, automatically opening the lid of the other bin. Likewise, when a person turns on their desk lamp, the other lamp also gets turned on. As a result, even when living far apart, you can know whenever your loved ones use the trash bin or turn on the lights.
“We would like to communicate with our partners without being a nuisance. I thought it would be nice if we could do so through our daily appliances,” says Tsujita, who asked three couples to try these devices. The results showed that when the couples were quarrelling, the men frequently used the trash bin repeatedly to draw the women’s attention.
“I, myself was living far away from my partner. So, I felt I would like to have a tool that would let me communicate with him, which led me to this study,” says Tsujita. Professor SHIIO Ichiro, Tsujita’s advisor, adds that: “Computers used to be very expensive, so they were only used in research, business, military, and other fields that were male-dominated. But, since computer technology has become very cheap, it is now used in daily products. From now on, I predict that computers will be utilized more in daily life in ways that are more in tune with the female intuition, like in this study.”
Household appliance manufacturer Zojirushi Corporation is another company making a similar item – the “i-POT,” a tea pot that facilitates communication over great distances. When you push the button to pour water, an e-mail is sent to a registered address in the “Mimamori (watch over) Hot Line” system, informing the recipient that the tea pot is being used.
The i-POT system allows children living far from their elderly parents to know if their parents are okay or not. In Japan, since older people tend to drink lots of tea, this system utilizes that custom as a tracking device. When parents go out, the “going out” button can be pushed, informing the children that their parents are out of the house, and not sick or in trouble.
It was developed soon after a sad incident in 1996, where a sick son and his mother who were living together, were both discovered a month after their deaths. Learning from that, they installed the e-mail function and made the i-POT. “Now it is used by about 3,900 people. It is a tool not for ‘looking out’ but for unobtrusively ‘looking over’ old people,” says YAMASHITA Naoki, of Zojirushi Corporation’s Public Relations Department. According to him, Zojirushi received responses like, “I found out that my parent was sick with the help of this pot” and “I feel that this pot is like my child.”
Amongst Japan’s aging population, the instances of older people living far from their children are increasing. Many people also live far apart from their families because of their jobs. These products are a reflection of this reality, and enable people to better communicate with one another, without becoming a nuisance.
Text: SAZAKI Ryo