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Aibo, Walkman, Transformers, and Paro the baby robot seal in Japan tech hall of fame

An exhibition in Osaka displays some of Japan's most successful technology products

An exhibition in Osaka, central Japan, has assembled a hall of fame for Japanese tech products, with hits including Sony's Walkman and Aibo, an original Tranformer toy, and Paro the baby seal robot on display.

The "First in the World" exhibition, organized by a local trade group, a museum and a university, aims to capture the glory days of Japanese manufacturers. Sony's Walkman, its wildly successful portable tape player, is on prominent display, with a description of how the company was unsure anyone would want a device that couldn't record.

(Click here to see a video of some of the exhibits on YouTube.)

An original version of Sony's Aibo, the robotic dog that went for around US$2,500 when it launched in 1999 but still sold out its initial run of 3,000 units in 20 minutes, sits quietly behind a plexiglass partition. Aibo was discontinued in 2006 as part of Sony's restructuring despite its culture status. At the time 100 company employees held a mock funeral for it.

Another robot hit is Paro, the baby seal. It looks like a fluffy white stuffed animal but responds to sounds and being petted, blinking its large black eyes and squirming in digital glee. Paro was first developed in 2001 as a concept design, but immediately captured hearts and went on sale three years later, eventually becoming the first widely used therapeutic robot.

Other exhibits include Sharp's original LED calculator from 1973, an early version of the electric rice cooker, and a robot that rapidly pumps out the nuggets of rice used to make sushi. An original Transformer from toymaker Tomy is also presented in various stages of converting from a battle robot to a truck.

The exhibition has a bittersweet feeling, however, as many of the manufacturers that are featured, including Sony, Sharp and Panasonic, are now struggling to reform their businesses and stay afloat. It runs through September.


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