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Will All of Our Apps Turn into Birds?
The creation of Cotorees birdlike computers

Will All of Our Apps Turn into Birds?

The Cotorees series: (from left) Weather-Bird, Wiki-Bird, Trans-Bird, #-Bird, Humming-Bird

Even a four-year-old child can access information with ease

While doing my hair in front of the washroom mirror in the morning, I have my four-year-old son ask Siri to tell us about today’s weather. He then hears the reply that it will be a sunny day. He is just a child who can’t write, but by using his voice, he can easily access this information. Recently, I wonder if we will no longer need to be bothered with using things like keyboards to get information in the not so distant future.

Through the application of machine learning, voice recognition technology has improved by leaps and bounds. As you probably have noticed, voice control functions are now included in televisions and car navigation systems. Recently, dedicated devices with these functions, such as Amazon Echo and Google Home, are being released in North America in particular. As applications of artificial intelligence (AI) grow more common, using one’s voice to communicate via computers and devices will eventually become the norm instead of keyboards and touch panels. That means the operating systems used to connect people and devices, namely the icons, pointers, and other visual indicators that are used in the graphical user interfaces (GUI) we have grown accustomed to since personal computers became popular in the home, will eventually be faded out.

Will All of Our Apps Turn into Birds?

Creative Technologist Kana Nakano

Exploring the voice assistant with an easy-to-use single function and a non-human shape

Kevin Kelly, the founding executive editor of the U.S. magazine Wired, refers to AI not as artificial intelligence but rather as “alien intelligence.” While people tend to think of AI as having the same thought patterns as human beings because it was created by people, the ways through which AI is generated are actually completely different. Nevertheless, voice assistants, which are emerging as a new computer interface, are now generally modelled after human beings, such as Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri, and Microsoft’s Cortana. Devices that are modelled after human beings are assumed to have amazing capabilities and to perform actions perfectly, which tends to produce excessively high expectations. It remains very unrealistic, however, to expect a device to perform everything flawlessly. Furthermore, numerous operations must be carried out for such a multifunctional device to perform the required functions. In contrast, something that has a single function, whether it is a thing or an application, will end up being used more regularly and for a longer time in our daily lives. With that in mind, members of the neurowear project team* began exploring the feasibility of developing a voice assistant in the winter of 2015, specifically one with an easy-to-use single function and a non-human shape.

Will All of Our Apps Turn into Birds?

Cute birdlike computers that respond to your voice

Eventually the team’s efforts led to the creation of Cotorees—cute birdlike computers that perform functions in response to the user’s voice. Cotorees are not incredibly smart, but anyone can use them just by speaking to them. Instead of being able to do all kinds of tasks, each model has been designed as a distinct character with its own function, so that it can perform like an app in real world settings. Now at the prototype stage, the Cotorees series includes a total of five characters. Weather-Bird gives the day’s weather forecast, which is handy information when the user is busy in the morning and only has time to listen. Wiki-Bird looks up a word the user wants to know about and provides information from Wikipedia, while Trans-Bird provides a translation of a word or phrase in another language. Meanwhile, Humming-Bird plays music you asked for, while #-Bird (pronounced “hash bird”) searches Twitter for a key word spoken by the user, and reads out the related tweets. Cotorees are portable devices that can be used anywhere, whether resting on your desktop for easy conversation, perched on your shoulder using a commercially available attachment for action cams, or even placed in a stroller so you can take it out with you.

When a preschool teacher wants to know the temperature outside…

Cotorees are still at the prototype stage, but their creators hope that in the future these devices will be used by people who have an aversion to smart phones and computers because of their difficulty. Since the operations of multifunctional devices increase along with the number of functions desired, users who are not technically inclined tend to avoid or stop using them at some point. In contrast, single function devices are very user friendly as long as each function is visible and accessible.

Since they do not require looking into a screen, voice interfaces are very useful in settings in which face-to-face interaction is important, such as customer service counters and school classrooms. For example, if a preschool teacher wishes to check the afternoon temperature outside, he or she can simply ask a Weather-Bird.
At the prototype stage, the project team has gained expertise in techniques for integrating the devices with GUI design. Therefore, we are interested in opportunities for collaborating with people who are looking to incorporate voice interfaces with campaigns and services, and alternatively, with owners of voice analysis engines and related technologies, as well as companies possessing text-based application programming interfaces (APIs). We look forward to hearing from such parties.

Anyone interested in more information about Cotorees can check the following webpage:


Neurowear is a project team that applies biomedical signal technology to design prototypes that allow users to have futuristic communicative experiences. Among its creations, necomimi, a cat-ear-shaped communication tool that utilizes brain waves, was chosen as one of the world’s 50 greatest inventions by Time magazine after its release in 2011. In 2013, the team released mico, a headphone device that recommends music based on the user’s emotional state. It proved to be a big hit at the South by Southwest conference and festival in the United States. In the same year, the team created neurocam, a wearable camera that automatically takes short video clips when triggered by the user’s emotions. The device received an Innovative Technologies 2014 award from Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry. In 2014, neurowear created mononome, an IoT device that visualizes communication between people and objects.

Will All of Our Apps Turn into Birds?

Project member

Japanese teenagers' interest in watching video ads

Kana Nakano

Creative Technologist
Future Business Tech Team
Dentsu Inc.



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