Robots are now a fashion statement, at least to some innovative minds in Japan.
A skirt with two robotic arms sticking out from underneath is a bit unnerving at first, but one gets used to it — sort of. Welcome to the nexus between cutting-edge technology and edgy looks.
Moso Calibration, a Japanese girl group (moso roughly translates as “fantasy”), recently made a splash with its video single “Chichin Puipui” (again, roughly: “abracadabra”). As the young women sing and dance their way through the video, their mechanized miniskirts play chess and pingpong. One splits open a watermelon with a stick, though the reason for all the multitasking isn’t immediately apparent.
“It feels very strange, but I was impressed by the funny movements of the arms. It is so cool!” Nae Futaba, a 20-year-old member of the group, said with a smile.
The six-jointed robotic arms move smoothly up and down by remote control. The hands can rotate 180 degrees and the elbows bend 90 degrees. “With an additional arm, you can do many different things,” said Kiyoyuki Amano, who came up with the skirt in April together with a workshop in Yokohama and others. “I made a robot that can support young girls’ lives,” he said.
Something in electric green
Amano, 37, is an engineer at Kayac, a Japanese information technology company. Inspired by the rise of internet-enabled devices, Amano immersed himself in creating gadgets. He then hit upon the idea of combining his work with his hobby, cosplay — where people dress up like their favorite anime characters.
The result was the Hikaru Skirt. Equipped with light-emitting diodes that illuminate the inside of the garment, the skirt created a buzz around the world when it was introduced in 2014. Its successor, the Arm Skirt, has a way to go before it appears in stores. Amano is working on improvements, such as making it more stable.
Kyun_kun, a mechanical engineering student at a Tokyo university, is a pioneer in wearable robots. Her latest work, developed this spring, is called Metcalf Clione. It is a pair of robotic arms worn on the shoulders like an angel’s wings. The arms can be spread out or folded using a smartphone. The fashion device is made of aluminum and acrylic sheets. Weighing just 1.5kg, it is much lighter than previous incarnations.
Kyun_kun became interested in robots when she was in elementary school. Japanese robot creator Tomotaka Takahashi was her inspiration. She also took an interest in fashion and joined a clothes-making club in high school. The two interests eventually merged. “I don’t place much importance on functionality,” she said of her machines. “I want to make robots that are fun to wear.” Her new works will be unveiled at an international media art exhibition in France later this month.
Robots are already making their way into fashion in more subtle ways. Necomimi is a pair of mechanical cat ears that move according to the wearer’s mood. The ears prick up when the wearer is focused, and flatten when the person is relaxed, in response to brain waves. “It shows emotions without words,” said Kana Nakano, inventor of Necomimi, who works for Dentsu, a big Japanese advertising agency.
Nakano was looking for a new way for people to communicate. In her research, she came across electroencephalogram biosensors developed by NeuroSky, an American company. Word spread quickly after she introduced a prototype of Necomimi, and NeuroSky commercialized it in 2012. Some 100,000 units have been sold. It is available online and at electronics shops for about 6,000 yen ($54). At the request of some overseas fans, Nakano created a wearable robotic cat tail, although it has not been commercialized.
For robots to become as much a part of one’s daily ensemble as, say, a hat, a few hurdles will have to be overcome: technological limitations, cost, safety regulations. But, said Junichi Suzuki of Information Services International-Dentsu, which has welcomed Kyun_kun as a visiting researcher, “Robotic fashion is very popular overseas and once such devices start appearing in boutiques in France they could become a hit.”