Keepon: Helps Children with Autism Socialize

Emineo Media KeeponPro

The World at Work is powered by GE. This new series highlights the people, projects and startups that are driving innovation and making the world a better place.

Name: Keepon

Big Idea: Keepon is a little robot, developed in Japan, that is used to research childhood communication and interaction. The consumer version, MyKeepon, funds the Emineo Media KeeponProconstruction and distribution of Keepons to labs around the globe.

Why It’s Working: Keepon’s simple design and mannerisms make it an effective communication tool that doesn’t intimidate kids with autism. Also, its cuteness factor is nothing short of infectious.

It tilts. It bounces. It turns, and it looks. It happens to have a cute, simple face. And for kids, it has a magnetic attraction that just begs for interaction. It is Keepon, and it’s a tiny robot that helps scientists learn the finer points of childhood communication.

Developed in Japan by Miyagi University’s Dr. Hideki Kozima, Keepon is a robot that looks fairly simple — just two beady eyes and a black nose on a soft, yellow rubber body. Even the robot’s name is simple: “Keepon” is a portmanteau of the Japanese word for yellow (ki) and the sound that Keepon makes when he bounces up and down (pon!). And it’s this simplicity that piqued the interest of Carnegie Mellon Ph.D. candidate Marek Michalowski.

“Kozima found that children were very frequently afraid of a big mechanical robot, even when it was designed to look like a child,” Michalowski explains. “Maybe if there was a very simple robot that physically exhibits minimal social appearance, it would cut through the noise for children.”

From Sendai, Japan to Pittsburgh, Pa., Michalowski and Kozima brought the little yellow Keepon back to Carnegie Mellon to conduct research on communication for children. Michalowski’s research delved into rhythms as a tool for childhood communication, while Kozima focused on autism’s effect on interaction in kids. Michalowski says that kids who participated in the study were at ease with Keepon’s friendly face and upbeat behaviors — and those with communication troubles made remarkable progress.

“We’ve found that the interactions that result with this robot — when it’s situated in a playroom under control of a therapist — have been really exciting,” says Michalowski. “We end up seeing behaviors from these children that we or the therapist or the parents don’t normally see.”

While conducting his research, Michalowski posted a video of the Keepon “dancing” to Spoon’s “I Turn My Camera On.” The video became a viral hit, with more than 3 million views on YouTube, and a flood of comments expressed a desire to own a Keepon. While the level of hardware in the yellow robot keeps it at a costly $30,000, Michalowski and Kozima saw an opportunity to make a consumer Keepon.

“It turns out that this appealing character designed for autism was more broadly engaging for the community,” Michalowski explains. “Since the videos, we had a lot of requests from toy companies to make something with this character.”

Under the distribution company Beatbots, Michalowski and Kozima began offering the research-grade KeeponPro and the consumer toy MyKeepon. Although MyKeepon lacks the cameras and extra robotic sensors of the KeeponPro, the little robot has touch sensors and a dance mode that grooves to any song. And, the proceeds of the MyKeepon go towards subsidizing KeeponPros for other labs. Michalowski says that the biggest challenge in developing MyKeepon was keeping it low-cost while staying true to Keepon’s original capabilities.

“Our goal was to maximize the degree to which we could keep the integrity of Keepon’s character in the form of a toy,” Michalowski says. “We worked very hard to think about what the interaction values would be with the toy and how it would behave.”

The mission of Beatbots, according to Michalowski, is to create a two-pronged approach to designing characters that are universally appealing and also supportive of important and specialized work. In short, Michalowski is excited that Beatbots can channel the public’s excitement for cuteness toward an important cause.

“Selling the toy allows us to continue the development of new robots,” Michalowski explains. “But more importantly, it allows us to donate these robots to people in that field.”

Series presented by GE

Source Mashable


US Smartphone Owners Use Devices to Aid Shopping

Two-thirds of US consumers with smartphones have used the devices to aid shopping, according to a report by research firm Leo J. Shapiro and Associates. The February 2012 survey also found that 38% of respondents researched products on their smartphones while shopping at a physical store.

Customers are using web-enabled devices for a variety of purposes, but the highest percentage of respondents, 47%, said they relied on smartphones to find out more information about a product. Thirty-six percent of those polled had used their phones to read product reviews on retail websites. Price-comparison was also a popular activity, with about one-third of smartphone owners looking up prices at other stores, and slightly fewer researching prices on retailer websites.

Interestingly, the research found that 54% of US smartphone owners used their phones to shop before arriving at a store. A smaller number said they had used their phone after getting to a brick-and-mortar location. This indicates that customers are “pre-shopping” on smartphones before deciding whether a trip to a retail location is worth it.

Once near the point of sale, more than one in 10 smartphone owners used their phones to compare prices at different stores or websites, according to the report. This finding relates to growing concerns among retailers over the practice of “showrooming,” when customers research products in-store, but then purchase them elsewhere. Retailers can help address that problem by ensuring that prices are consistent across multiple channels—in stores, on mobile apps and on their websites. By doing so, they give shoppers fewer reasons to walk away from a purchase.

eMarketer estimates that there will be 115.8 million smartphone users in the US by the end of 2012, with that number growing to 176.3 million by 2015.

Source eMarketer


Secrets of the 10 Most-Trusted Brands: Starbucks

Emineo Media Starbucks-2

8. Forge connections: Starbucks

After suffering a slump a few years back, the world’s leading specialty coffee retailer has perked up its business and its brand by getting back to its original promise of bringing people together. “Starbucks has gotten much more in touch with the reason they’re here, and that’s to help create connections,” author Stengel says. Emineo Media Starbucks-2

From the free Wi-Fi to the in-store music to the large tables with room for groups and meetings, the company’s stores are designed to help customers interact. “Go into any Starbucks, and business is happening and people are sharing, and the company understands that,” Stengel says. “Everything in there is about connection, discovery, inspiration and creation.”

Startups would do well to note the company’s innovative approach, which has enabled it to set the agenda in a category that has been around for centuries. “They carved out this dynamic niche with their brand and became very successful, and there’s still nobody else like them,” Stengel says.

The key, he says, is to thoroughly understand category norms and competitors’ strategies, and determine how to direct those toward your advantage. “If you’re an entrepreneur entering a category, maybe you can’t set the agenda, but if you can redirect that agenda, that’s how you win,” he says. “If you’re going to enter a category and be a ‘me too,’ don’t bother.”

Source Entrepreneur