Getting products from one place to another with as little human contact as possible is becoming an imperative for businesses as retailers, warehouses and transport providers adapt to the coronavirus pandemic, seeking to minimize the risk of infections to their employees and customers. Tsubakimoto Chain Co. is seeing more demand for its sorting and conveyor systems as companies seek ways to move things around, while startup Hacobu sees an opportunity to boost use of its online platform for trucks to exchange information as they load and unload goods at warehouses, a process that's still mostly done on paper. The need for automation is especially acute in Japan, where a labor shortage was already putting pressure on companies to find ways to run their businesses with less people. Now, that transition is being spurred on by the pandemic, which has boosted online buying and raised concerns among shoppers about being infected by items delivered to their doors. All told, the market for next-generation logistics systems in Japan is set to more than double to ¥651 billion ($6 billion) through 2025 from 2018, according to Fuji Keizai Co., a Tokyo-based research firm.
Nissan Chief Executive Makoto Uchida told shareholders Monday he is giving up half his pay after the automaker sank into the red amid plunging sales and plant closures in Spain and Indonesia. Uchida apologized for the poor results and promised a recovery by 2023, driven by cost cuts and new models showcasing electric cars and automated-driving technology. "We will tackle these challenges without compromise," he said at a live-streamed meeting. "I promise to bring Nissan back on a growth track." All the world's automakers have been hurt by nose-diving sales caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Health researchers have put artificial intelligence to work in crunching big data, allowing them to develop technology that can predict the future onset of around 20 diseases so people can make preventative lifestyle changes. The model developed at Hirosaki University and Kyoto University calculates one's probability of developing a disease within three years based on data obtained from voluntary health checkups on about 20,000 people in Japan. If a patient agrees to disclose data on some 20 categories collected during checkups, the model can project the potential development of arteriosclerosis, hypertension, chronic kidney disease, osteoporosis, coronary heart disease and obesity, among other conditions. The team set up two groups of people for each disease -- those whose data suggested they could develop the ailment in the future and a control group -- and crunched their health data to predict whether would will actually develop the disease. "We made correct predictions on whether individuals will develop the diseases within three years with high accuracy," said Yasushi Okuno, professor at Kyoto University's Graduate School of Medicine.
As face coverings become the norm amid the coronavirus pandemic, Japanese startup Donut Robotics has developed an internet-connected "smart mask" that can transmit messages and translate from Japanese into eight other languages. The white plastic c-mask fits over standard face masks and connects via Bluetooth to a smartphone and tablet application that can transcribe speech into text messages, make calls, or amplify the mask wearer's voice. "We worked hard for years to develop a robot and we have used that technology to create a product that responds to how the coronavirus has reshaped society," said Taisuke Ono, the chief executive of Donut Robotics. Donut Robotics' engineers came up with the idea for the mask as they searched for a product to help the company survive the pandemic. When the coronavirus struck, it had just secured a contract to supply robot guides and translators to Tokyo's Haneda Airport, a product that faces an uncertain future after the collapse of air travel.
Geneva – More than 50 countries, including Japan, South Korea and the European Union member states, have agreed common regulations for vehicles that can take over some driving functions, including having a mandatory black box, the U.N. announced Thursday. The binding rules on Automated Lane Keeping Systems (ALKS) will come into force in January 2021. The measures were adopted by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) World Forum for Harmonization of Vehicle Regulations, which brings together 53 countries, not just in Europe but also in Africa and Asia. "This is the first binding international regulation on so-called'Level 3' vehicle automation," UNECE said in a statement. "The new regulation therefore marks an important step towards the wider deployment of automated vehicles to help realize a vision of safer, more sustainable mobility for all."
Beijing – The United States is willing to help other countries finance purchases of next-generation telecommunications devices from Western providers so they can avoid buying from Chinese technology giant Huawei, a U.S. official said Thursday. Washington is lobbying European and other allies to exclude Huawei Technologies Ltd., which the U.S. sees as a security threat, as they upgrade to 5G networks. Australia, Japan and some others have imposed restrictions on Chinese technology, but Huawei's lower-cost equipment is popular with developing countries and is making inroads into Europe. Giving Huawei even a small 5G role would allow Beijing to expand its "surveillance state" by eavesdropping on phone and other network-based systems, said Keith Krach, a U.S. undersecretary of state for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment. "There's lots of financing tools and those kinds of things that I think many countries like us are willing to help provide, because we recognize this danger," Krach said on a conference call with reporters.
Many Japanese companies have already shifted to online interviews and seminars for recruiting new employees due to the coronavirus pandemic, but some have gone a step further by testing artificial intelligence to efficiently hire talent. But while companies see the benefits of AI, such as standardization in the hiring process and saving recruiters' time by automating high-volume tasks, they are still far from relying completely on the technology due to concerns about it yielding inappropriate or discriminatory decisions. "Using AI in screening tens of thousands of applicant resumes has helped us cut total labor time by 75 percent. From May, we have also started implementing AI in assessing videos sent by applicants," said Tomoko Sugihara, director of recruitment at SoftBank Corp. "Extra time that has been created thanks to AI allows recruiters more time to proactively engage with potential candidates in person, build relationships and carefully determine the candidates' culture fit," Sugihara said. The major mobile carrier, which hires more than 1,000 people a year, has trained AI with data from 1,500 past resume sheets.
You can now buy one of those unnerving animal-like robots you might have seen on YouTube -- so long as you don't plan to use it to harm or intimidate anyone. Boston Dynamics on Tuesday started selling its four-legged Spot robots online for just under $75,000 each. The agile robots can walk, climb stairs and observe their surroundings with cameras and other sensors. But people who buy them online must agree not to arm them or intentionally use them as weapons, among other conditions. "The key goal for us is to make sure people trust robots," Michael Perry, the company's vice president for business development, said in an interview.
Washington – The Trump administration plans to reinterpret a Cold War-era arms agreement between 34 nations with the goal of allowing U.S. defense contractors to sell more American-made drones to a wide array of nations, three defense industry executives and a U.S. official told Reuters. The policy change, which has not been previously reported, could open up sales of armed U.S. drones to less stable governments such as Jordan and the United Arab Emirates that in the past have been forbidden from buying them under the 33-year-old Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), said the U.S. official, a former U.S. official and one of the executives. It could also undermine longstanding MTCR compliance from countries such as Russia, said the U.S. official, who has direct knowledge of the policy shift. Reinterpreting the MTCR is part of a broader Trump administration effort to sell more weapons overseas. It has overhauled a broad range of arms export regulations and removed the U.S. from international arms treaties including the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty and the Open Skies Treaty.
LONDON – Beijing dismissed as "ridiculous" a Harvard Medical School study of hospital traffic and search engine data that suggested the novel coronavirus may already have been spreading in China last August, and scientists said it offered no convincing evidence of when the outbreak began. The research, which has not been peer-reviewed by other scientists, used satellite imagery of hospital parking lots in Wuhan -- where the disease was first identified in late 2019 -- and data for symptom-related queries on search engines for terms such as "cough" and "diarrhea." The study's authors said increased hospital traffic and symptom search data in Wuhan preceded the documented start of the coronavirus pandemic, in December 2019. "While we cannot confirm if the increased volume was directly related to the new virus, our evidence supports other recent work showing that emergence happened before identification at the Huanan Seafood market (in Wuhan)," they said. Paul Digard, an expert in virology at the University of Edinburgh, said that using search engine data and satellite imagery of hospital traffic to detect disease outbreaks "is an interesting idea with some validity."