The robot has a red body. It is 40cm in height, but seems bigger. You can lay it 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 then begins walking, one leg forward at a time, swinging its arms. It goes left and right.
A demonstration of all this was held in the middle of April, cherry blossom season, at the Investors General Meeting. We use this annual gathering to provide the latest updates on our funds to investors both from home and abroad. Most public companies would call it a general shareholders meeting. The only difference is that the minimum contribution for each investor at our meeting is the rather large sum of 500 million yen, and our participants are invited from all over the world. On this occasion there were investors from New York, Zurich, London, Singapore, and Sydney. Everything had to be explained in English.
This is the 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. The cherry blossoms, though they’d come a little later than usual, were gone by then, but the comfortable spring sunshine remained to welcome us.
We held a reception/dinner the preceding night, and then held the general meeting on morning of the 14th at GLOBIS. I presented a general overview of the fund, and then the GLOBIS Capital Partners team 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.
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 see 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 MOTHERS (Market of the High-growth and Emerging Stocks) is still fresh in my memory.
At the building in Aobadai, 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 a lot like GLOBIS back in the early days. After a while, company president Hisashi Taniguchi came out to see us. Just the previous day, he’d announced the arrival of “Nuvo,” the world’s first mass-produced bipedal robot.
Despite a busy day and a night spent in his office, he spoke to us calmly. Greetings were kept to a minimum, and the robot was brought straight out.
Nuvo was designed by Mr. Kiyoyuki Okuyama, the industrial designer behind Porsche and Ferrari. The edges are 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ーone a digital camera, and the other a light. You can use your mobile phone to connect to the camera and observe what is going on inside your house while you’re out.
Nuvo’s reactions make it extremely endearing. Ms. Mayumi Natsu, who was in charge of choreography for the girls’ group, “Morning Musume,” succeeded in giving the robot a real human touch, despite its restricted degree of movement. You can communicate with it in three ways: remote control, mobile phone, and actually talking to it. If you say, “Nuvo, walk forward!” the built-in voice-recognition device emits a blip, and Nuvo begins walking with a most delightful gait. It’s available in four colors: 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. Maybe because robots symbolize yearning and dreams of the elusively romantic future of science fiction. Now these 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 for a hefty 600,000 yen. Shipments for April have already sold out, perhaps because Nuvo is more than just a toy. You can use it to explain products as a kind of store mascot, for example. They’re even making plans for a function that can arrange schedules like a secretary. I realized that if we had one in the reception area at GLOBIS, it could provide a warm welcome to customers. I ordered one on the spot.