Let us hear your Doki Doki?

A chronicle of a year worth of constant challenges in trying out crazy ideas for the future.

Doki Doki’s foundation (Established in 2014/06)

Doki Doki is an onomatopoeia of heart beats in Japanese.

Our initial aim was to make San Francisco as a starting point, and to invent a new communication platform where people can connect in a virtual reality space — that was Doki Doki’s initial plan at its foundation.

It was exactly a year ago, but we didn’t expect then, that we’d take so much time to solidify our product idea. We still, however, decided to thoroughly clarify our product value. Luckily, our experimental environment, such as LittleBits, Arduino, and Raspberry Pi, was in a very good condition, so we were always able to quickly try out an idea whenever we had one. However, developing an idea into a functional product is a completely different story from developing a product with a concrete value proposition.

First test product (Phase one 2014/09-)

This is the initial trial product that we’ve set on SF Bart’s boarding gate. Setting it under a public eye and doing a role-play require a bit of courage, but it is actually a very entertaining experience when you actually try it.

First trial was to create a programmable push button that can connect to Internet anywhere in the world, and that correspond to any urgent communication. Its mechanism allows an easy and direct access to people through Internet. The initial prototype was therefore, a physical push button that transmits direct signals (i.e. able to operate a web service via Internet). What if people in need are able to connect with each other by just pushing a single button? It is different from a smartphone app, because not only does it provide location and usage context, but also it is free of charge.

Furthermore, a person can connect and tell his needs immediately. These are all substitute images of public signals that are already present everywhere in town. Instead of using public telephones, fire alarms, traffic lights, a nurse call system, and door bells, we came up with a very simple, Cloud storage device that people can instinctively communicate in real time. Therefore, the trial for this device didn’t just include a hardware testing, but also its shape design, usage, ways to convey messages, and the difference in efficiency according to various kinds of signals. There were also some considerations for communication methods with a push button, and a potential business that could derive from those reflections.

This initial prototype allows connection and communication by handshake with an iPhone via Bluetooth. Because a motion sensor has been incorporated in the product, it can sense motions/gestures and can be activated without pushing the button. It is a programmable device, allowing us to try various communication styles at the same time.

However, we couldn’t see from our product the same strong needs that we can all see from those of smartphones. Yes, this very generic push button may be useful in some unique situations for various purposes. But, is the necessity of the product the same after having gone through all the efforts in preserving its battery, radio waves and handiness, producing the device, and paying for the installation costs? Probably not. (Amazon was already thinking ahead and introduced a button that can be used exclusively for ordering commodity, which sounds very promising for the future use, in this case) Although we have to admit that the level of smartphones’ perfection is at its summit, we couldn’t help but to get frustrated that our product wasn’t “an outsider” enough among the norms to come up with a powerful product value.

We set it by one of the crossroads in SF. We thought it would be interesting to see if a traffic light had operated on demand. I like how many ideas are born by actually bringing the product in real life situations. At the end, requesting an Uber ride scored the highest user engagement, but that has already been used exclusively by the Apple Watch’s app.

So, we went back to the beginning, and restarted brainstorming product ideas. After some profound thinking, we’ve reached to the concept of “a communication device of any kind that can talk to people”.

A device that can chat with an object (Phase Two 2014/12-)

So we thought,

“What if we all could see an “alive” object just like in Toy Story? Wouldn’t it be amazing to live in a world, where a living object is able to have a conversation with people?” — this idea was the basis of our object v. person communication device called, “Cube”.

“A device that is able to control, grasp or understand the material and functional characteristics of a specific object through layers of communication process of touching and specifying the properties of various other objects” — we tried and tested continuously to develop such device.

This in a way is an ideal of Internet of Things; it gets rid of programming that often comes with bothersome procedural and set up process, because all your problems will easily be solved by merely having a nice, casual conversation with the device! (e.g. cooks for you while you chat away) Or it will naturally give you a guidance for assistance (e.g. teaches you how to use a camera by talking to you) We can also imagine that such communication with the device could provide a mental fulfillment. Because we were able to imagine from the Cube’s product concept a world that is filled with warm and sensuous feelings, we spent a considerable amount of time studying different kinds of conversation patterns that engage the users to have a conversation with an object. In other words, can they see themselves actually using the device in their everyday life? To find out, we did role-plays that employ different scenarios, and repeated the process of trial and error by making a test product and experimenting it. This turned out to be a very strenuous procedure, because no matter how much time we spent on those trials, we still couldn’t find a good use case that bolster a conversation between a person and an object.

As a result, we decided to drastically change our approach; first of all, we must consider the requirements that enable a scenario, where we humans talk to intellectual beings other than humans (i.e. computer), before coming up with a device that enables a conversation between a person and an object. When we proceeded our thought with this approach, we were faced with a question of whether such product will have a value of its own.

What is virtual personality that one can talk endlessly to?

Yes, the theme of having a natural conversation with intellectual being other than a person had already been the biggest challenge from the beginning. We just didn’t see it.

In the movie, “Her”, apart from the virtual assistance, there’s also a futuristic, and yet, realistic illustration of a conversation with a video game character within the virtual reality. In a way, I think the contemporary Hollywood movies are gradually becoming a showcase of future technology that looks ahead our future.

Before setting an unique assumption that an object and a person can talk to one another, we must at first question if creating a real-life situation in which a human talks to a mechanical life form is even possible. Could this eventually become a potential business? Would it function as a product of its own? From these reflections, I’ve come to realise several things. I’ve made a list of them:

1 It is difficult for a person to talk to something without some kind of personality

2 In order to maintain a continuous discussion, there needs to be a certain degree of humane motivation for doing so.

3 If we were able to solve the problems above as a mechanism, it would cause big usage needs and create an industry.

Therefore, the illustration of personification and personality that we see in Toy Story and Big Hero Six becomes crucial, in order for an object and a person to talk to each other. Even though the movie, “Interstellar” by Christopher Nolan, is very hard science fiction, the robots that appear in the story all have personality of their own.

Also in the movie, “Her”, a masterpiece managed to depict a realistic humane relationship with artificial intelligence, Scarlett Johansson’s excellent (vocal) acting has definitely captured the audience’s heart. Such expression and reciprocal effect of humanity are essential components for mechanical life form to maintain its human-ness. Or in John Lasseter’s Big Hero Six, the personality of a robot and personified expression have accurately been incorporated in the movie. I believe that such refined, humane expression is the key that enables the coexistence of technology and human.

Many discoveries can be made by analysing the nursing program of a healthcare robot, Baymax. For example, “a heating system that warms anyone lying on him” could actually be very effective — it is a methodology worth pursuing further to implement in real life.

It is very difficult to provide this mechanically at a high level. Even if we could present specific quality or function of an object, a person wouldn’t try to have a conversation with it without an specific motivation driving them. However, if we could overcome those challenges and were able to create a natural environment in which people can talk to a mechanical life form, the possibility of how much it could evolve into a business is unlimited.

If we could somehow mechanise a human communication, the industrial fields that would be applicable for such technology would be innumerable. Of course, industries where the communication itself is an integral part of business would definitely be interested, but new technology could be applied in other various fields, such as entertainment, education, shopping, media, and medics.

Especially in a case, where a communication method between a computer and a person is transformed, this could possibly become a new computing paradigm. The man machine interface that is centred around individual operation devices, such as the traditional menu button on a screen, a mouse, and a touch panel, could be replaced by a conversational (i.e. humane) interface. Apple’s Siri and Amazon’s Echo already show such technological advance tendency with some visible footprints of success.

Cloud Baby (Phase Three 2015/03 — current)

As you can see from above, we have been examining a development process of “artificial sapience with a sense of humanity (individuality) that is able to communicate on its own.” So we have come up with some points below:

1 Think of an object that people want to continuously communicate without getting bored

2 Formulate general concepts from everyday communication and reproduce/express them

3 Aim not for something that presents great technical difficulties — it is not a rocket science

etc.

We have also listed other new points below for our first trial application:

1 Make a baby-like, sweet, innocent character as a model

2 Think of an open and sharable worldview where anyone can be involved in a communication, rather than the individual’s personalised enclosed world (you can think of a cooperative model that you will all be raising together as a global community by teaching, talking, and giving a review to the model) This could encourage one’s will to join in the community, and as a result, it could raise the level of learning ability through a collection of conversation data.

3 Gain multiple answers by throwing a question to the community. Try out a communication system that could encourage further growth of the community through a collective use of the system. Therefore, by sharing your everyday conversation to all, you will also be informed on world events at the same time.

4 Be picky on expressing humane nuance, such as sweetness, breathing, intonation, and emotions.

We are making a progress by considering those points above. While imagining a conversation with a baby-like, sweet, innocent character, we are also looking for a motivation and a conversation material that could keep the communication going — this is our current challenge.

“The creation of a lovable character (Baby) who will always be your chatting buddy” — how is this achievable?

We are trying to an answer to this question at this development phase.

Anyway, these were the reflection on Doki Doki’s activities over a year. It doesn’t seem much on the blog, but it felt like a very long process for me. But we wouldn’t be here right now, had we not repeated numerous tests to make sure the product is feasible and has a product value, so I believe that we still have a long road ahead of us to perfect our “Baby”.

Whether it’s IoT, wearable, augmented reality, virtual reality, or a technical product trend, I think it is always essential to provide a background environment in which we can feel warmth, vibrancy, and vitality that are all relatable to humans. That could be a software or a Cloud service. With Baby, we hope to wrap those various technical skills in, and to illustrate a large worldly view that turns the old traditional concept upside down.

Artificial sapience that is able to have a subtle contact with people by absorbing the technology in… I believe that is what leads the Baby development to a reality.

Please be patient with us, and we won’t disappoint you!

Once we have a basic apparatus, we will blend different designs to it and head to town. The design, function, and control only start to show their significance when they are combined together, so according to a different place and usage scenario, they can go to any direction. Therefore, we must do everything we can until we are sick of it to find the perfect combination.
Our initial sheet of product ideas. Various methods were used to examine the product value, such as picture stories, drawings, and role-plays. I think it’s wonderful not only to see our concept on texts, but also to always have it within our reach. We are still able to get a lot of information out with only spending little money.