We all remember Culture Japan’s Smart Doll. It was first debuted when Comic Fiesta 2013 was still held in KLCC. Ahhh, memories of the great moment when Culture Japan booth made a mark.
During that year, Danny Choo was working on something that amazed everybody during Comic Fiesta 2013 – the Smart Doll. What distinguished between Culture Japan’s Smart Doll from any other dolls was actually revolving around one simple idea – robotics. It has caught the eyes – and ears – of everyone. A Robotic Smart Doll.
Is the fictional persocom a la Chobits going to be a reality?
Culture Japan, Smart Doll & Mirai Robotics
Danny Choo back in 2013 had the vision of making the world’s first commercially available fashion doll combined with robotic technology. Hence, Mirai Robotics was born as a part of Culture Japan’s journey. The news spread within and outside of the niche circle and quickly made headlines on various media outlets such as CNET, The Daily Telegraph, 3ders.org, Rocket News 24, AnimeNewsNetwork, The Star, Stuff, and various others. Smart Doll has started to appear everywhere especially among the ACG (Anime, Comic & Games) circle.
“Danny Choo, director and producer of the Culture Japan brand, has been working with robotics experts to create a miniature robotic version (NSFW) of mascot Mirai Suenaga that will be able to move in a human-life fashion and respond to human interaction.”
– CNET – ‘Smart doll’ takes one step closer to sci-fi anime
Danny Choo together with Mirai Suenaga became the image and face of Culture Japan’s Mirai Robotics & Smart Doll. They’re making headlines, and rolling into the journey of creating the ultimate robotic Smart Doll.
2013 is the year when it all started. It’s 2016 now – three years later. How far has Danny Choo taken his dream and turning it into a reality? Let’s take a look at Danny Choo’s very own website – where he regularly updates his fans and supporters with news and developments on the Smart Doll product over the past years.
There Is A Problem With That
While looking into the history of Smart Doll and trying to revisit all the updates that Danny Choo had made during early stages of the development of the first prototype of Mirai Suenaga, many of the blog posts are now redirecting to a single article.
You might be thinking – “this must just be usual redirection for old posts that does not exist anymore”. There is more to that.
Danny Choo’s old blog posts still exist. Even the ones that came before the development update posts such as Koizumi Amane; which came before “3D Printing in Japan“. The links are still valid but intentionally redirected to a brand new page that explains what Smart Doll is all about – except, it’s in a new direction and perspective.
There is no mention of the words “robot”, “Mirai Robotics”, “automatic”, or surprisingly, even the word “manual” which was used a lot during 2014 where Smart Doll started selling as “Smart Doll Manual Version”.
There are a couple of more posts on dannychoo.com – which are (or were, since they’re removed) – the key blog posts during the development of Smart Doll.
Here are some of them.
The website’s behaviour towards an invalid link is actually to return a 404 error message. However, these are all redirected intentionally towards the new Smart Doll introduction page. Some of these blog posts are linked from media outlets such as CNET and still can be however, redirected from the original blog post.
Will We Ever See The Robotic Smart Doll?
Let’s take a step back and look at one of the blog posts that was made in 2014. Danny Choo had at that moment, accepted an investment offer of 30 million USD (200 million USD valuation) for 15% share of Mirai Robotics. We can’t confirm if this is true or just a some sort of a gag.
One of the target and fulfilment was that Mirai Robotics would have to sell 1 million units of Smart Doll by February 2018 – that’s not very far from now.
The business plan was to roll out Smart Doll Manual version in May of 2014, and release the Smart Doll Automatic version at the end of 2014.
Now, I’m pretty sure that many of those who are following or are interested in Smart Doll can recall the events that happened during Comic Fiesta 2014. Actually, no – it was the lack of events during Comic Fiesta 2014. There was no Smart Doll Automatic version being sold or exhibited.
Fast forward to 2015 – there had been some developments. However, it’s not the automatic version that everybody had hoped for. It was the new characters of Smart Doll instead; Chitose Shirasawa and Kizuna Yumeno.
The new Smart Dolls and attention diversion
Everybody was excited about it. People are going nuts about Chitose with her cute white hair! Who doesn’t, right? It seems that at this point, people had already forgotten about the automatic version of Smart Doll. People were more excited about the new apparels, new characters such as Ebony Futaba and of course, new Touch ‘n Go card designs.
A year after the article Dollmination was published, another major development update came in. This time it was the Smart Doll Plus. Crafted to be 120cm tall android robotic Smart Doll with an intention to actually replace the original 1/3 scale plan of the Smart Doll Automatic version.
Hold Up – something’s not right ?
All these while, some of you might have noticed that those two big development articles are all written exactly on 1st April. Danny Choo however, never declared anything about the article being a prank or contain misinformation. One thing we know at this point is that Smart Doll Manual version has been released and selling surprisingly well! One of the Smart Doll model was actually sold out during Comic Fiesta 2016 in PWTC, Malaysia.
One thing that bothers me is that the Smart Dolls are all never advertised or marketed as “Smart Doll Manual version” anymore.
Could this mean that Culture Japan’s Danny Choo abandoned the vision of ever developing and releasing the hyped and anticipated robotic Smart Doll Automatic version
Is a USB hub disguised as a Smart Doll going to be the furthest development and vision we get to see?
Path to Redemption?
Robotic development aside, the Smart Doll became a platform to test various designs and have technological improvements. Developments such as becoming a USB hub or a power bank holder with half of the body not present.
During Comic Fiesta 2016, it seemed that people had already forgotten the original idea of the Smart Doll that was introduced back in 2013. It is unfair to say that there had been no development towards realizing the dreams of making the world’s first robotic Smart Doll. Videos of experiments and developments are still available in Danny Choo’s own YouTube channel. Oddly enough, these videos are not taken down as one the blog posts are being redirected, the word “manual version” is no longer being used, and there is no mention of the automatic version.
What’s Going On with these redirects?
Let’s take a look at the more recent updates and developments of Smart Doll and Mirai Robotics. In August 2015, Mirai Genesis was unveiled via Danny Choo’s Facebook page & Instagram. At least a render of the product.
The Mirai Genesis T1 that was aimed to fit into the torso of an existing Smart Doll, and acts as a module. It provides Bluetooth connectivity for notifications and voice commands, but the links pointing to the development of Mirai Genesis on dannychoo.com are now also, redirected to the new Smart Doll page.
The Mirai Genesis Unit will bring smart functionality (notifications, voice recognition etc) to current smart dolls later this year. The unit will be small enough to fit inside the torso and will be sold separately.
– Official Mirai Suenaga Facebook Page (17/08/2015)
Earlier that year, Smart Doll Plus was being talked about. It is the 1/2 scale version of the original 1/3 scale version of Smart Doll lineup. Allegedly, the robotic version of Smart Doll will continue in another form of Smart Doll that is the Smart Doll Plus.
Twice The Size
In Danny Choo’s blog post on August 2015, he has confirmed about working on the Smart Doll Plus which would open up the door to revisit the robotic Smart Doll. Except, it is now twice the size of the original Smart Doll. Developments continued for the 1/3 scale version Smart Doll, but its only focus on inserting a Bluetooth module to actually make it smart.
While the Automatic version of Smart Doll ended up being twice the size, the manual version still gets “Smart” functionality – like the notifications you would get via a Pebble watch – the difference is that we need to make all communications via a voice.
DannyChoo.com Desk Diary 23/08/2015
The Smart Doll We Knew
Ever since 2013, anyone who followed and was interested in Smart Doll is fascinated by it. Not because of it being just a doll, but by what is was envisioned to be. Mirai Robotics, Culture Japan & Danny Choo has gained traction over the years due to that fact. People were excited and anticipating on the development of Smart Doll Automatic version. As each year goes by, it started to fade away very slowly. The popularity and brand name on the other hand, are doing just fine.
The futuristic Smart Doll we knew back then is no longer the image of Smart Doll today. By now, it is just another collectible item and a beautiful vinyl doll. Even after over a year, the development of Mirai Genesis has gone silent. There are no signs of further development of robotics or smart functionality being updated by Danny Choo.
Smart Doll Today
Today, Smart Doll are being sold globally. We can’t deny that it is gaining great exposure and seems to be doing fine. Culture Japan is now fully focused on improving the current Smart Doll Manual version together with new accessories & apparels to keep the business growing. Bandai Visual anime studio even licensed the use of Miho Nishizumi from Girls Und Panzer for a new variant of the Smart Doll! The company has now shifted focus away from developing new technological improvements towards the Smart Doll product line for the time being.
Demand for the manual version is so high right now – as a startup, I need to focus on the manual version to recuperate costs and generate cash flow to keep the company afloat and grow. This is the reason why it has been taking so long to develop the robotic version.
During Comic Fiesta 2016, there were no display or news about what happened to Smart Doll Plus or even the Mirai Genesis upgrade. There are no longer mentions about “Manual Verson” or “Robotic Version”. I guess we would all have to wait for this year’s Comic Fiesta to see if there will be any further developments on anything at all, while remembering what Smart Doll was envisioned promised to be.
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