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Annual awards highlight new tech that explores the future

Nikkei Superior Products and Services Awards 2017

Pola's Wrinkle Shot Serum

Nikkei Inc. has announced the 2017 winners of its 36th Nikkei Superior Products and Services Awards, chosen by a judging panel chaired by Hiroshi Komiyama, chairman of the Mitsubishi Research Institute.

This year's winners feature products and services that apply new technologies to address problems, particularly in the fields of caregiving and tourism. Many represent our current moment by preparing for the coming the internet of things, in which functional appliances are designed to operate with online networking.

Candidates for awards were selected principally from products and services reported in The Nikkei, The Nikkei Business Daily, The Nikkei MJ, a marketing journal, The Nikkei Veritas, Nikkei.com (The Nikkei's electronic edition) and the Nikkei Asian Review, from January to December 2017.

They include computer software and financial products, as well as production materials and consumer goods. The Nikkei Asian Review Award is awarded to products and services provided by Asian companies in markets around the world. In 2017, the judges considered 255 nominees.

Wrinkle Shot Serum by Pola

Japan's Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare has approved the nation's first medicinal cosmetic product, designed to "improve wrinkles." Skin wrinkles develop due to inflammation of the skin from exposure to ultraviolet light and other external stimuli. An original ingredient called Nei-l1 is meant to reduce the wrinkle-forming mechanism by suppressing "neutrophil elastase," which degrades the collagen that normally tones the skin.

Pola's Wrinkle Shot Serum

A 20-gram tube costs 13,500 yen ($119), excluding tax. Addressing the concerns of older women with wrinkle issues, the product has been doing well, making about 11.2 billion yen in sales from January to September 2017, ahead of the company's initial first-year goal of 10 billion yen. Many foreign visitors to Japan are buying it, so Pola is considering marketing it to the rest of Asia as well.

N-Box by Honda 

Honda Motor's leading minicar has gained a lot from its first full remodel in six years. Featuring many applications of new technologies, Honda has redefined the minicar concept in a line of products representing its ambition and enthusiasm.

Honda N-Box

A good example is total weight-reduction technology. More use of thin but strong high-tension steel sheet and plastic parts replacing metal reduced the weight by 80kg against the previous N-Box generation, despite an added 70kg in safety systems.

Minicars are part of everyday life, so safety is a high priority. The Honda Sensing safe-driving support system, which includes automatic braking, is a standard feature on all new N-Box models. The platform and major components have been completely renewed, and 90% of the parts were revamped.

The best-selling model, the N-Box G-L Honda Sensing, starts at 1,499,040 yen ($13,220), rather expensive for a minicar, but Honda took orders for 52,000 cars in the first month, far above its planned 15,000, making it the highest-selling car in Japan since September 2017.

Resyone Plus Bed-Wheelchair Combo by Panasonic AGE-FREE

Panasonic's Resyone Plus

Part of this robotic bed detaches to become a wheelchair, making it easier to move bedridden patients. The new model can be assembled with the wheelchair section to the left or right, making it easy to fit into any room. The timing of the shift of back and leg rests from reclining to wheelchair was positions is now better coordinated and the armrests redesigned for better support and convenience.

Along with these improvements in function and structure, the Resyone Plus further reduces the load on caregivers. The product has been sold and leased to senior-care facilities as well as facilities operated by Panasonic AGE-FREE. It sells for 972,000 yen ($8,500) plus delivery and assembly. The company received over 270 orders from January to November 2017.

MotoMini by Yaskawa Electric

Yaskawa Electric has created the industry's smallest and lightest six-axle, multijoint robotic arm -- a device that is structurally similar to a human arm. It has a reach of up to 35cm and weighs roughly 7kg, about the size of a small suitcase, so it is easy to move and install as necessary. With capacity of up to 500 grams it can be introduced as 24-hour labor to assemble appliances or sort and ship parts in short-handed manufacturing plants.

Yaskawa Electric's MotoMini

The MotoMini's arm accelerates 20% faster than comparable small robots and comes with such safety features as programmable limits on its range of motion. It can also be integrated into a machining system to perform more complex tasks. Production lines for short-cycle products like smartphones must allow for flexible rearrangement, assuring a bright future for small, movable robots.

Interest in the MotoMini has been strong, particularly from Chinese companies. With shipments far exceeding its original plans, Yaskawa continues to have no inventory on hand.

Robot-staffed Henn-na Hotels by H.I.S. Hotel Holdings

Using robots for reception, room service and cleaning, Henn-na Hotels ("Strange Hotel" in Japanese) operate with a quarter of the personnel needed in a conventional hotel. The first outlet opened near the Huis Ten Bosch amusement park in Sasebo, Nagasaki Prefecture, in July 2015. Three more were added this year, including one in Urayasu, Chiba Prefecture, in March, and the other in Gamagori, Aichi Prefecture, in August.

A robot greets a guest at H.I.S. Hotel Holdings' Henn-na Hotel.

The hotels employ various kinds of robots, including one shaped like a dinosaur. The Nagasaki facility made the Guinness World Records as the world's first robot-staffed hotel.

The hotels have 100-144 rooms and operate with fewer than 10 people. Room charges vary by season and day of the week, averaging a little over 10,000 yen ($88) per night. The occupancy rate is 70-80%.

In December, the company opened a new hotel, in Nishi-kasai, Tokyo. Nine similar ones will open by the end of fiscal 2018 -- in Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto and Fukuoka. Overseas operations are on the drawing board.

Henn-na can also mean "constant change."

This could present a business model that could benefit the service industry, which suffers from a labor shortage and low productivity.

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