Focus4｜Supporting an elementary school student who will pioneer the future : Solving a social issue using a robot to support proper handwashing
We should start now with what we can do to help support children’s future.
Experts in toy development gave their full support to an elementary student
who had deep thoughts on the handwashing supportive robot she invented.
SEGA TOYS CO., LTD.
President and CEO
SEGA SAMMY Holdings Inc.
Vice President, Executive Officer and Managing Director of Sustainability Division
Inventor of “Shall-kun”, a handwashing supportive robot
6th-grade student in International Baccalaureate (IB) Programmes at Tamagawa Academy
* Titles are at the time of the conversation (February 2023)
The handwashing supportive robot “Shall-kun” was the robot invented by Ayami Negi “to support proper handwashing”. Miss Negi’s dream expanded after she started manufacturing Shall-kun and visited various companies to explore specific possibilities to achieve her dream. Her idea won the Grand Prix at the largest scale presentation in Japan for solving social issues, “The 3rd Startup Junior (Jr.) Award 2021,” targeted to elementary and junior high school students, held at Tosho Arrows at the Tokyo Stock Exchange*1. SEGA SAMMY Holdings and SEGA TOYS felt empathy for Miss Negi’s passion to “instill a proper handwashing in people all over the world for leading healthy lives” and started a project to manufacture “a professional prototype that actually works under a variety of environments in the world” in May 2022.
The long-cherished prototype was completed this time, and Miss Negi's handover ceremony was held in February 2023. Accordingly, a conversation came true between Miss Negi, Ms. Miyazaki, President and CEO of SEGA TOYS, and Ms. Ichiki, Executive Officer of SEGA SAMMY Holdings. They talked about their thoughts on this project and their future dreams.
Birth of “Shall-kun”, a robot to support people washing their hands properly with fun.
Why did you come up with the idea of the handwashing supportive robot “Shall-kun”?
I came up with the idea of Shall-kun when I was in the 4th grade. Under the COVID-19 infection prevention measure, we were instructed on “proper handwashing” at school, but some of my friends did not actually follow the instruction. I thought if there were a robot to help us wash our hands properly with fun, they might think it would be fantastic.
At that time, in the programming school I was participating in, an idea contest of “a robot to fight off COVID-19” was held, and I applied for it with the idea of a handwashing supportive robot. Then my mother saw it and said, “I really want this kind of robot if it exists in the real world!” Her word pushed my back on making a real robot.
Did you do design the robot by yourself?
Yes, I did the design after imagining “the robot” in my mind. I made a prototype using a robot assembly kit. Then I used a 3D printer to make the actual body and asked for help from the programming school’s teachers to program the robot’s movement.
It is incredible that you designed the robot after your idea and developed it into an actual robot using a 3D printer and programming. Did you have the concept of “making people all over the world healthy” from the beginning of the project?
Actually, I did not know how to solve such social issues with my robot at first. I was only really excited to make the robot. However, there was an SDGs Festival at my school, and I was studying about it because I wanted to make a presentation at the festival. By knowing more about SDGs, I realized that instructing proper handwashing is linked to the SDGs. My dream of “helping children worldwide with the handwashing supportive robot” came up for the first time.
The prototype manufacturing project started after I felt “Wow!” Shall-kun.
Ms. Miyazaki, how did you think of the project as a CEO of a company whose primary target customer is children?
I first heard about the project of Miss Negi from a long-time employee of SEGA TOYS. The employee said, “I want to support the robot project applied by a fascinating child somehow”. After hearing that, I wondered who made the long-time employee feel like this.
So I actually read the project plan of Shall-kun and felt “Wow!” as its concept and idea were terrific. SEGA TOYS think our mission, “Create Wow! And Smile! (Make people worldwide amazed and smile!)” is very important. We read project plans by always thinking if they produce people’s “emotional movement” from being amazed as “Wow!” followed by a smile. When I heard about the project plan Shall-kun, I smiled after I felt “Wow!”. The project was planned from the domestic perspective and globally, and I felt “Wow!” also to Miss Negi’s passion.
When I was consulted with this project, I had to think from the manager’s perspective of SEGA SAMMY Holdings Sustainability Division, “are there any reasons that Sega Sammy Group supports the project, or is there a story to feel empathy with the project?” So I met Miss Negi to talk, but I was impressed from the first meeting that “I have never met an elementary school student who has such high aspirations, an ability to take action and actually make a convincing plan asking for support to a company with passion”.
I was completely struck and thought, “how can I help her”. Then I had discussions with and consulted persons in charge of various sections and related persons before launching the project to complete a professional prototype. “Speaking of toys”, I asked SEGA TOYS to accompany the project with experts in manufacturing, and because of it, the project succeeded by utilizing our group’s core competence.
All the related persons put in their real efforts and overcame challenges to finally complete the prototype.
Miss Negi, how did you feel when SEGA SAMMY Holdings and SEGA TOYS decided to support the project?
After I started making Shall-kun, a kindergarten helped monitor it, and I participated in a contest; however, I could not find a company that supported my dream come true for a long time. As for my personality, I would feel bad if I gave up. So I didn’t give up. After one and a half years, I won the Grand Prix in “The 3rd Startup Jr. Award 2021,” which brought me to meet SEGA SAMMY Holdings and SEGA TOYS. I was really happy when they said yes to supporting my dream.
You really got into the development of the robot together with SEGA TOYS employees. Your concentration once surprised me when you discussed selecting colors and sounds for long hours. You were closely involved with Shall-kun’s development by even traveling to a toy factory in Tochigi Prefecture.
I was all excited after the project prototype started. I met employees face-to-face and online for discussions and even exchanged emails many times. I could feel relaxed and discuss many things as everyone there was warm and welcoming. I could also experience the manufacturing process and think, “oh, this is how my robot is being processed and completed”.
After she started trying to make an actual “Shall-kun” robot, we brought her plan to some companies but only felt difficulties in finding a company to realize her dream. We faced many challenges, such as we lost a word because the company turned her plan down so easily, or we cried so hard because when we tried to hand out our plan, the company did not even receive it. So we both cried for happiness when SEGA SAMMY Holdings and SEGA TOYS understood my daughter’s seriousness and extended their support to her.
However, we did not only enjoy the smooth sailing even after the project started. Sometimes we felt “it’s almost over without completing the project”. However, SEGA TOYS never gave up on the project. When we faced challenges, an engineer encouraged us by saying, “I will think about how we can proceed. Please do not give up”. Through the end of the project, they consistently supported us in completing the prototype. We really thank them for that.
The prototype Shall-kun
– A sensor is buried in the heart symbol at Shall-kun’s chest, and when it senses a hand, Shall-kun plays music for the seconds needed for proper handwashing. People can wash their hands properly with Shall-kun’s music.
– Several pieces of music are played randomly to let children use Shall-kun for a long time without getting bored. Furthermore, Shall-kun cheers the children while and after washing their hands.
– To be able to use it in countries without enough electricity, Shall-kun mounts solar panels.
– The robot was made resistant to water as it is used for handwashing.
Taking action and never giving up your dream is important! A fire was lit in employees’ hearts.
Ms. Miyazaki, how do you want the employees of the group companies to accept the project, which succeeded by collaborating beyond the barrier between departments and group companies?
With this project, a total of about 30 employees from different sections of SEGA SAMMY Holdings and SEGA TOYS collaborated. When I asked a long-time SEGA TOYS employee about the project’s impression, the employee said, “the project reminded me of my original thought of ‘giving people an impressive experience by toys because I love toys’ and was encouraged.” I truly thank Miss Negi for lighting a fire in our employees’ hearts.
What I always wanted to tell employees became clear through the project to make the prototype of Shall-kun. They are “never give up your dream” and “take action”. Many people have a dream, but just having a dream does not mean the dream will come true. I want to tell our employees how important it is to take direct action to make a dream come true.
The keyword of the Sustainability Division of SEGA SAMMY Holdings is “empathy”. This project was able to start as we, our group mission of “Constantly Creating, Forever Captivating – Making Life more colorful”, felt empathy with Miss Negi’s action to “solve social issues using a robot”. I think our employees and stakeholders will feel empathy with the project as “this is a good, SEGA SAMMY-like action!”.
I want to popularize Shall-kun for more people to live healthily.
I couldn’t wait to see the real Shall-kun today after support from SEGA SAMMY Holdings and SEGA TOYS completed it. Actually, I wrote an appreciative message on a colored paper message board and brought it here.
Thank you so much! The message is perfect.
The message board is beautiful. And you have excellent handwriting! Miss Negi, what is your next dream to achieve with Shall-kun?
I want to let many people, both in Japan and overseas, know the proper handwashing with Shall-kun. For that, I would like to continue making opportunities such as attending “TED x Ogikubo 2023”*2 as a presenter in March. Also, as many people still cannot use safe water in the world, I would like to initiate a fund-raising activity to help install water supply units.
I am amazed by Miss Negi that you have been thinking of solving social issues among elementary school students; furthermore, it is your dream. I am really excited about your following action. We really want to support what you do.
I think Miss Negi’s actions will be more expanded worldwide. We could support Miss Negi by supplying a professional prototype as an important buddy and a tool to move many people’s hearts by delivering Miss Negi’s thoughts more specifically. We would like to see her future actions and continue thinking about how we can support her next.
We will help people’s dreams and actions to pioneer the future.
Ms. Miyazaki, what do you think of future actions for the company’s stakeholders, including children?
This time, the project started after we were struck by the fact that Shall-kun’s concepts and ideas were to be linked to SEGA TOYS’ mission, “Create Wow! And Smile!” I thought, “what if we cannot make only one child’s dream come true!” as the primary target customer of SEGA TOYS is children. So we put all our efforts into supporting Miss Negi.
I reassured myself that if we looked around, we could find ideas we had never seen and feel “Wow!”. From this experience, I would like to take various actions to make SEGA TOYS’ mission real.
I think this project, which was to make a child Miss Negi’s dream come true with a robot, matched the vision of SEGA TOYS. I feel it was a fruitful result that many employees joined the project to orchestrate their technical capabilities to complete a great prototype.
In the background of the SEGA SAMMY Group, our strong will exists to make our world a better place by solving social issues through business activities by making the employees of the group companies find a social issue as “my issue”. We would like to continue making efforts to make more people happy and bring a bright future through the capabilities of entertainment. I think this project became a fantastic action that could let people know the SEGA SAMMY Group’s attitude. We not only continue this kind of action with such a thought but also would like to willingly support the dreams and actions of the young generations to pioneer their future. With people who have the same vision, we want to take action to solve social issues together with fun.
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