The winners of the 36th annual Nikkei Superior Products and Services Awards are united by a common theme: the use of cutting-edge technologies to tackle problems in everything from daily life and caregiving to the hospitality and manufacturing industries.
A total of 255 candidates were selected from products and services reported in 2017 by 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. The winners were chosen by a panel of judges chaired by Hiroshi Komiyama, chairman of the Mitsubishi Research Institute.
The Nikkei Asian Review Award for Excellence is given to products and services released by Asian companies outside of Japan.
Wrinkle Shot Serum by Pola
While most cosmetic products can only claim to reduce the appearance of wrinkles, Japan's Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare recently approved the nation's first medicinal cosmetic product designed to reduce them. Wrinkles develop due to inflammation of the skin caused by exposure to ultraviolet light and other stimuli. Nei-l1, an ingredient found by Pola, inhibits wrinkle formation by suppressing neutrophil elastase, an enzyme that degrades the collagen that keeps skin firm and smooth.
A 20-gram tube of Wrinkle Shot Serum costs 13,500 yen ($119), excluding tax. Addressing older women's concern about wrinkles, the product has been doing well. It racked up about 11.2 billion yen in sales from January to September 2017, beating the company's initial first-year goal of 10 billion yen. With many visitors to Japan also buying the serum, Pola said it is considering marketing the product elsewhere in Asia.
N-Box by Honda
Honda Motor's leading minicar has benefited greatly from its first full remodel in six years. Packed with new technologies, the iconic Honda line has redefined the minicar concept.
A good example is the overall weight reduction. Using more thin, strong high-tension steel sheet and replacing various metal parts with plastic helped make the latest N-Box 80kg lighter than the previous generation, despite an additional 70kg of safety systems.
As with any passenger car, safety is a high priority. The Honda Sensing drive-safety system, which includes automatic braking, comes standard on all new N-Box models. Ninety percent of the car's parts were revamped, and its platform and major components were completely overhauled.
The best-selling model, the N-Box G-L Honda Sensing, starts at 1,499,040 yen ($13,239). While this is rather pricey for a minicar, Honda received 52,000 orders in the first month alone, 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
Half of the Resyone Plus robotic bed detaches to become a wheelchair, making it easier to move bedridden patients. The latest model can be assembled so that the wheelchair section is on either the right or the left side, allowing it to fit more easily into any room. The movement of the back and leg rests as they shift from a reclining to a sitting position is now better coordinated, and the armrests were redesigned for improved support and convenience.
The Resyone Plus also reduces the load on caregivers. The bed has been sold and leased to senior care facilities, including those operated by Panasonic AGE-FREE. It sells for 972,000 yen ($8,584) 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, making it easy to move and install just about anywhere. With a grip capacity of 500 grams, it can be used at short-staffed manufacturing plants to assemble appliances or sort and ship parts 24 hours a day.
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 be flexible, meaning small, movable robots like this one have a bright future.
Interest in the MotoMini has been strong, particularly from Chinese companies. With shipments far exceeding initial expectations, Yaskawa has been shipping the robots as fast as it can make them.
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 at 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 in 2017, including one in Urayasu, Chiba Prefecture, in March, and another in Gamagori, Aichi Prefecture, in August.
The hotels employ various kinds of robots, including one that looks like a dinosaur. The Nagasaki facility was recognized by 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 rates average a little over 10,000 yen ($88) per night, and the occupancy rate is 70-80%.
In December, the company opened a new hotel in Nishi-kasai, Tokyo. Nine similar hotels are slated to open by the end of fiscal 2018 -- in Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto and Fukuoka. Plans for overseas operations are being considered.
Henn-na can also mean "constant change." The hotel's business model could point the way for the service industry as a whole as it struggles with labor shortages and low productivity.