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How Japanese auto parts makers made masks and beds during coronavirus outbreak

The Japan Times

In March, Japan's largest auto parts maker, Denso Corp., was facing the urgent task of how to secure enough face masks for its workers given the mass shortage that was occurring amid the spread of COVID-19 infections. While the company, located in Kariya, Aichi Prefecture, had sufficient stocks of masks back then, executives were getting worried that if the company ran short, its production might be affected, since each factory worker needs five masks a day. At an executive meeting March 2, all eyes turned to Yasuhiko Yamazaki, 56, senior executive officer in charge of production, when he said, "How about making them ourselves?" After returning home, Yamazaki cut a mask he had with a pair of scissors, looked at its three-layered structure with nonwoven material used as a middle layer, and felt certain it could be made by Denso. The following day, he gathered seven to eight employees who were well-versed in auto parts production technology and were engaged in the designing and manufacturing of machinery and equipment.


Japan looks to AI as coronavirus challenges quality control mantra

The Japan Times

At a factory south of Toyota City, Aichi Prefecture, robots have started sharing the work of quality-control inspectors, as the coronavirus pandemic accelerates a shift from Toyota's vaunted "go and see" system which helped revolutionize mass production in the 20th century. Inside the auto-parts plant of Musashi Seimitsu Industry Co. Ltd., a robotic arm picks up and spins a bevel gear, scanning its teeth against a light in search of surface flaws. The inspection takes about two seconds -- similar to that of highly trained employees who check around 1,000 units per shift. "Inspecting 1,000 of the exact same thing day-in day-out requires a lot of skill and expertise, but it's not very creative," Chief Executive Hiroshi Otsuka said. "We'd like to release workers from those tasks."


Komehyo to introduce AI-based used goods appraisal system

The Japan Times

Nagoya – Komehyo Co., a Japanese recycle store operator, said Tuesday it will introduce an artificial intelligence-based system to appraise used brand goods. The system can tell whether an item is fake and identify the model number of a genuine item using pictures taken with a microscope and other means, according to the company. The introduction of the system will reduce the time needed for appraisal when buying used items from customers, Komehyo said. The company will start using the system at its main outlet in Nagoya, Aichi Prefecture, on Aug. 25. It plans to introduce the system at other outlets in and outside the country in stages.


Sony Envisions an AI-Fueled World, From Kitchen Bots to Games

#artificialintelligence

In 1997, Hiroaki Kitano, a research scientist at Sony, helped organize the first Robocup, a robot soccer tournament that attracted teams of robotics and artificial intelligence researchers to compete in the picturesque city of Nagoya, Japan. At the start of the first day, two teams of robots took to the pitch. As the machines twitched and surveyed their surroundings, a reporter asked Kitano when the match would begin. "I told him it started five minutes ago!" he says with a laugh. Such was the state of AI and robotics at the time.


Toyota group firms test out labor-saving prototype products at Gifu shopping mall

The Japan Times

Major component-makers of the Toyota group have launched an experiment of letting consumers and shop staff try their products under development at a shopping mall in the city of Gifu. Osaka-based Jtekt Corp. and Aisin Seiki Co., based in Kariya, Aichi Prefecture, introduced products designed to help reduce burdens on shoppers and staff at the Colorful Town Gifu commercial complex. After the experiment, which will run until the end of this month, user feedback will be reflected in the development of next-generation products. At a Nitori Co. outlet, a furniture and interior shop, a store staffer wore a Power Assist Suit while removing a large cardboard box from a push cart and putting it on a shelf. The suit is a Jtekt-developed wearable device that reduces the strain on the back when lifting heavy objects.


Toyota to cut managers' summer bonus by up to 5% due to high R&D costs

The Japan Times

NAGOYA - Toyota Motor Corp. will cut summer bonuses for some 9,800 managers by 4 to 5 percent, as it looks to tighten cost control in the face of high spending on developing technology for autonomous and electrified vehicles, a source close to the matter said Thursday. The decision comes even as the company expects a 19.5 percent rise in net profit in the current fiscal year, and reflects an uncertain business outlook due to the prolonged trade war between the United States and China, the source said. Toyota President Akio Toyoda said Thursday at an annual shareholders' meeting that his company is boosting efforts in developing zero-emission vehicles including fuel cell vehicles. "We are facing a once-in-a-century transformation. I hope to build a mobility society of the future with our shareholders," Toyoda said at the meeting at its headquarters in Aichi Prefecture.


Teaching robots how to move objects

#artificialintelligence

With the push of a button, months of hard work were about to be put to the test. Sixteen teams of engineers convened in a cavernous exhibit hall in Nagoya, Japan, for the 2017 Amazon Robotics Challenge. The robotic systems they built were tasked with removing items from bins and placing them into boxes. For graduate student Maria Bauza, who served as task-planning lead for the MIT-Princeton Team, the moment was particularly nerve-wracking. "It was super stressful when the competition started," recalls Bauza.


Aichi team develops self-driving robots to tackle labor shortage in farming

The Japan Times

Amid a severe shortage of manpower, a team comprised of researchers from private companies and a university in Aichi Prefecture is working on developing a self-driving robot that uses cutting-edge technology to support flower-growing farmers. In fiscal 2019 the group hopes to start marketing automated, handcart-type robots that follow pickers of roses and chrysanthemums, carry the cut flowers, and deliver them to collection points. In a laboratory at Toyohashi University of Technology in Toyohashi, a roughly 1-meter-high handcart-type robot -- equipped with three cameras and two infrared radar devices -- moves back and forth, changing direction smoothly. The robot, which recognizes its location through camera footage, can self-drive on the farm grounds or inside greenhouses, follow flower pickers while keeping a certain distance, collect picked flowers, and carry them to designated collection points. Following flower pickers and transporting cut flowers became possible through the use of autonomous driving technology that involves the 3D mapping of farm grounds.


Teaching Robots How to Move Objects

#artificialintelligence

MIT doctoral student Maria Bauza is exploring providing tactile feedback to robots. With the push of a button, months of hard work were about to be put to the test. Sixteen teams of engineers convened in a cavernous exhibit hall in Nagoya, Japan, for the 2017 Amazon Robotics Challenge. The robotic systems they built were tasked with removing items from bins and placing them into boxes. For MIT graduate student Maria Bauza, who served as task-planning lead for the MIT-Princeton Team, the moment was particularly nerve-wracking.


Teaching robots how to move objects

Robohub

By Mary Beth O'Leary With the push of a button, months of hard work were about to be put to the test. Sixteen teams of engineers convened in a cavernous exhibit hall in Nagoya, Japan, for the 2017 Amazon Robotics Challenge. The robotic systems they built were tasked with removing items from bins and placing them into boxes. For graduate student Maria Bauza, who served as task-planning lead for the MIT-Princeton Team, the moment was particularly nerve-wracking. "It was super stressful when the competition started," recalls Bauza.