‘Zenmai’ is a clean energy-generating mechanism.
‘Zenmai’ (a general term of coil or spiral torsion spring in Japanese language) has a long, long-history as a power source in Japan. The name, ‘Zenmai’ is derived from a fern having the same name native to Japan (Osmunda nipponica), of which frond has a coil shape that resembles the coil spring.
Because of its merit that small torsion of a spring provides a relatively large amount of energy, ‘Zenmai’ has been utilized variously in Japan. A typical and unique example is an automata (robot) in Japan from the 17th to 19th century (‘Karakuri ningyō’, a mechanized automata). The most common example in that era is a tea-serving robot utilizing ‘Zenmai’ as its power source. When a cup of tea is placed on the plate in its hands, the robot starts moving forward while bowing its head, and stops when the cup is removed. Then, the robot raises its head and turns around and returns to where it came from! This robot was used by way of entertainment at a tea ceremony held by wealthy merchants or lords (e.g., ‘Shogun’).
Nowadays, ‘Zenmai’ is used for a retractable cord reel built in household appliances, a roll-up and scroll-down type shade, a seat belt of a car, up to a large crane, etc.
Because of little or no impact on the environment, it can be said that ‘Zenmai’ is an earth-friendly power source.
Toyo Zenmai Co., Ltd. was established in 1930. At that time, the company manufactured ‘Zenmai’ mainly for a wall clock and a gramophone use. After a period, many other companies in the same line of business have gradually moved their production bases from Japan to other Asian countries to reduce the product cost. As a result, the scale of domestic production is getting smaller. Under these circumstances, a president of Toyo Zenmai Co., Ltd. (Mr. Hasegawa) has a mind to keep the domestic production. He says, “A new demand will expand the possibilities of ‘Zenmai’.”He was lost in thought as to how to maximize the properties of ‘Zenmai’ in its application, and finally he set about the development of a device which generates electricity with a power supplied by ‘Zenmai’.
Voice guidance device powered by ‘Zenmai’
Winding up a mainspring by rotating a handle, the force to cause the spring to unwind turns an arbor of a dynamo to give electricity which enables to play back voice guidance or music. No battery is required, and the environmental impact is zero in this device. This device uses a digital sound source stored in a memory card, whereby no sound degradation and less power are achieved for playback. The memory card is changeable.
“I suppose you could say that the progress of technology has become a background which enables to maximize the properties of ‘Zenmai’”.
The device has been tested about its endurance and the test has provided confirmation about its working without trouble even when the number of tests reaches 30,000.In April 2003, the company has established a division specialized in this device, and a new business has started on the spring power type voice guidance device. Simultaneously, the company has obtained some patents in Japan for this device, e.g., Japan Patent Nos. 4143765, 4145782 and 4321718
Growing recognition of the device as its appeal and originality
First appearance of the voice guidance device was July 2003 at “Water Festival” held in Kurobe-city in Toyama-prefecture in Japan, and 30 seconds guidance every time was demonstrated to visitors in that event.
“Even without explanation about a handle, kids assembled around the device and rotated a handle! One knows it by sight!” Then, kids listened to the voice. The device first became popular among kids. Unlike other device that only allows a user to press a switch, this device has an appeal to excite the curiosity, i.e., enabling anyone to participate and to experience the working of the device.
In October 2003, the device was displayed during the event “Inventions Fair in Toyama-prefecture”, and it received a “Chairman’s award” of a New Industry Organization, which organization held that event.
The spring power type voice guidance device has steadily been recognized about its value. The feature, i.e., no power source, facilitates the expansion of the possibilities of the device, especially in times of disasters where essential services and facilities relying on power plants, communication facilities etc. are damaged and not functioned. From a viewpoint that the device can help the sufferers in times of disasters as such, the company has developed “a spring power type radio set with voice guidance”, and proposed the installation of it at a place of refuge such as a park.
In November, 2005, the spring power type voice guidance (five languages) devices were installed at Toyoma Airport, and in February, 2006, the spring power type voice guidance devices with telescope were installed at the top floor for viewing of ‘Sunshine 60 Building’, Tokyo.
“Thinking and creating this business near the users”, the President told. By rich ideas and great efforts, a tiny ‘Zenmai’ tries contributing to the society on a large scale.
Toyo Zenmai Co., Ltd.
Headquarter: 453 Oka, Kurobe-shi, Toyama 938-0054, Japan
Web: http://www.zenmai.co.jp/ (Japanese)
Patents: http://www.ekouhou.net/disp-applicant-303031169.html (Japanese)
(This article was almost faithfully translated along the one published by Toyama New Industry Organization.)
by R. Enomori