The robot has a red body. It is 40cm in height, but seems bigger. You can lay the robot down on its back and then order it to get up. When you do, it gives off a blip and the red body immediately jolts into action. First, it uses two arms to sit up into a bridge position, like in wrestling, and then stands up by bringing its arms out in front. It is really something to see. It then begins walking, one leg forward at a time, swinging its arms. It goes left and right. The overseas guests were completely captivated by the robot in the twinkling of an eye.
This event took place in the middle of April at the Investors General Meeting. This meeting is held every year during cherry blossom season. We use this gathering to provide the latest updates on our funds to investors invited both from home and abroad. It would be called a general shareholders meeting in a public company. The difference between a general shareholders meeting and our meeting is that the minimum contribution for each investor is the rather large sum of 500 million yen, and our participants have been invited from all over the world. On this occasion there were investors from New York, Zurich, London, Singapore and Sydney. Although there not that many people, sharp questions flew one right after another. To top it off, everything had to be explained in English. This is one day out of the entire year that makes me the most nervous.
The Asian Venture Capital Journal was holding its Japan Venture Forum from April 11 to 13 so we decided to hold our general meeting a week later than usual, on Thursday, April 14. Even though the cherry blossoms were a little later this year than usual, they didn't last to the 14th. However, the comfortable spring sunshine was there to welcome the investors from abroad.
We held a reception/dinner the preceding night, and then held the general meeting on morning of the 14th in the tiered classroom at GLOBIS. I presented a general overview of the fund, and then Globis Capital Partnersteam members explained about the individual entities we invest in. According to overseas investors, the GCP fund, as a venture capital fund launched in 1999, was one of the highest performing funds in the world. Amid this climate of trust, a question-and-answer session commenced regarding the companies in which we were investing.
Halfway through, we took a coffee break and then the explanation session finished on schedule, just after 12. After lunchtime we headed over to the offices of "robot venture" company, ZMP Inc., one of the companies in which the GLOBIS fund invests. Every year, we take investors to visit one of these companies so they can understand what a Japanese venture company is like. Last year we went to the digital animation venture GDH K.K. The fact that GDH subsequently and fantastically became a listed company on the Mothers (Market of the High-growth and Emerging Stocks) is still fresh in my memory.
Three black Toyota Alphards parked in front of a building in Aobadai, Meguro Ward, and we showed the overseas investors into the offices of ZMP. There were signs of researchers having pulled all-nighters in their 300-square-meter offices. It looked exactly like GLOBIS did back in its early days. After a while, company president Hisashi Taniguchi appeared. He was dressed in jeans and a T-shirt and hadn't shaved. Having just announced the previous day the arrival of "nuvo," the world's first mass-produced bipedal robot, he had been extremely busy and had ended up crashing out in his office the night before.
However, perhaps because he had passed one milestone, his facial expression remained calm from start to finish. In line with the request of the investors, greetings were kept to a minimum and the robot was brought straight out. The robot is called "nuvo". It is really very cool. When you hear that it was designed by Mr. Kiyoyuki Okuyama, the industrial designer behind Porsche and Ferrari, it all makes sense. The edges have been rounded to prevent children from getting hurt, and the hands are spherical like those of Doraemon, the popular robot character in Japanese cartoons. It has two eyes, one is a digital camera, and the other, a light. You can use your mobile phone to observe what is going on inside your house while you're out.
Even if it falls over on its front or back, it can stand right back up. Its reactions make it extremely endearing. Ms. Mayumi Natsu, who was in charge of choreography for the girls' group, "Morning Musume," has succeeded in giving the robot a real humanness despite its restricted degree of movement. You can communicate with it three ways: remote control, mobile phone and actually talking to it. If you say, nuvo, walk forward!" the voice-recognition device built into nuvo is alerted, emits a blip and nuvo begins walking with a most delightful gait. It's available in four colors of red, yellow, blue and silver. It is even available in a design that incorporates Japanese traditional Kanazawa maki-e lacquer decoration.
Mr. Taniguchi puts it like this: "For some reason just hearing the word, ‘robot,' elicits excitement. I think this may be because robots symbolize a sense yearning and dreams of the elusively romantic future of science fiction. However, robots that once only existed in a remote future are rapidly beginning to appear in the real world."
You can purchase nuvo over the Internet, and even though it retails for a hefty 600,000 yen, shipments for April have already sold out. nuvo can be used in a number of ways: for explaining products, as a kind of store mascot, for example. I realized that if we had one in the reception areas on the first floor at GLOBIS, it could provide a warm welcome to customers, and so I ordered one model (one person?) on the spot.
As it was explained to us, nuvo will soon be able to arrange your schedule and function as a secretary. It would be interesting if it would be able to work as a receptionist and to welcome visitors as they arrived. My dreams for it keep expanding. I really want to show it to my kids. If they had a nuvo from an early age, they could go on to become scientists, and, who knows, they could end up creating a hero of justice, something like Astro Boy, another famous robot character in cartoons. My dreams are getting so extravagant that I could end up becoming another over-indulgent parent.
I am smiling as I write this column on a flight to Singapore, with my imagination running wild. I am going to quietly close my laptop so the person next to me doesn't think I'm some kind of nut.
April 25, 2005