This is part of a series to showcase the teams from Asia Pacific that participated in the Imagine Cup Finals in Seattle. Since 2003, Microsoft has been hosting the Imagine Cup competition to bring together young technologists from around the world.

Team Kazokugurumi, made up of four students from the Toba National College of Maritime Technology in Japan, told us about their winning innovation ‘Cuddly Connect’, a video phone system using toy robots and Kinect to enable remote interaction.



What inspired your team to embark on your respective project?
Today, we see a greater intergenerational gap between grandparents and grandchildren, and we wanted to help bridge this with a communications system that is accessible to both the young and the old.

How long did you take to fully develop your idea, and what were the challenges you faced?
Although most of the Cuddly Connect system was developed in the first six months, we had to spend 12 months improving it, especially details of how the stuffed toy would function, and other aspects of the user interface.

In addition, we realised there was a large gap between what we wanted to create and our ability levels, and had to develop our skills quickly in a short time so we could achieve the product we wanted.

What are some things that you have learned over the course of building this project?
It is important to survey the market before developing projects to ensure that products or solutions meet existing gaps, or are suitable for the audience. For instance, people thought that the system could be used for remote monitoring by the grandparents, and were concerned about privacy implications of having a video camera in the house. We addressed this by having more privacy options, and making adjustments to the user interface.

We matured a lot in terms of presentation and communication skills; we realised that using images to communicate was vital for explaining the project—even to each other!

 Cuddly Connect has two components: a device with a Kinect application and a robot. The grandparent’s actions are detected and recorded by the Kinect sensor, and then simulated by the robot. The robot also comes with a video camera to capture live footage. 

What other features would you add to your projects in the future and why?
Currently our project requires Wi-Fi to establish a connection with the other party. In future versions, we want to incorporate the use of SIM cards so that users can use Cuddly Connect with just voice connectivity. This would be more inclusive, so that those without data access are able to use the system as well.

Though the Japan team did not win at the Worldwide Imagine Cup Finals, they had a fantastic time and got some recommendations on how to improve their product, business model, true cost analysis and broad market appeal. We wish Team Kazokugurumi the best of luck improving this software and product for the market.

Click here for more information about the project.

Click here to read an article on how the team spent their time in Seattle participating in the competition.