There’s a Japanese word that roughly translates to “spiritual possession” or hyoui. In the case of Japanese startup Adawarp, ‘other things’ refers to teddy bears.
“We are creating a remote control teddy bear. [The user] sees what the bear sees,” said Tatsuki Adaniya, the founder of Adawarp, at the pitching session of Asia Hardware Battle. “So what kind of problem we are trying to solve? We are closing the distance between the people who need to be closer.”
Adawarp’s product, HugmeBear, is a teddy bear that can be controlled remotely over the internet through Adawarp’s VR app and an Xbox controller. By strapping on a VR headset and opening Adawarp’s app, you can see through the bear’s eyes and turn the bear’s head. Twiddling the controller’s joysticks makes the bear wave its arms and give hugs. It’s a little unsettling, especially when you realize that the bear’s eyes are actually two camera modules that are connected to an Arduino, packed inside the bear’s body.
“Before this teddy bear, I made a lot of VR games by myself,” says Mr. Adaniya, who is currently a junior at Chiba University. “But I noticed that…virtual reality games are lonely games. I want to use virtual reality to connect people. I think the bear is more emotional for them.”
According to Mr. Adaniya, communication tools like Skype, FaceTime, and other messaging or voice-call applications are insufficient for long distance relationships, both romantic and familial. They lack presence, which Mr. Adaniya believes can be achieved through an interactive object and virtual reality. HugmeBear’s design was informed by Mr. Adaniya’s own personal experience when he was studying abroad in San Francisco. At the time, his girlfriend was in Japan and ended up breaking up with him because of the distance.
HugmeBear can also be a way for shy individuals to express themselves, says Mr. Adaniya.”If we are a couple, and we do some fighting, and I want to say sorry but [am] too shy to say [it], using this, [I] can [speak my] mind more directly,” he says.
According to Mr. Adaniya, the teddy bear is just an outer shell, one that can be replaced with any kind of animal or doll. He plans to open source Adawarp’s “bear-OS”, which is the operating system powering HugmeBear’s remote-control capabilities.
“A lot of people think this is a teddy bear. This is not a teddy bear, it’s a robot,” says Mr. Adaniya. “Our core technology is peer-to-peer connection, same as Skype. Skype’s protocol is voice and video. We made [a] sensor data layer. So voice, video, and sensor layer protocol…that is our core technology.”
Adawarp’s first version of its HugmeBear product, which it refers to as “DK1”, launched today on Indiegogo. Mr. Adaniya acknowledges the limitations of this preliminary HugmeBear, which has limited movement and needs to be plugged into a computer. In the future, he plans to give the teddy bear more mobility and streamline user experience with gesture control instead of an Xbox controller.
This article is part of Technode’s coverage of ChinaBang, where Technode was the organizer of the event.