The Japan Times


Store featuring 'Astro Boy' creator Osamu Tezuka's manga characters opens in Tokyo

The Japan Times

A store themed around the work of "Astro Boy" manga artist Osamu Tezuka opened earlier this month in Tokyo's Asakusa district, putting an array of available products on display, from traditional Japanese crafts to artificial intelligence robots. The Tezuka Osamu Shop & Cafe is currently the only store, apart from the artist's memorial museum in western Hyogo Prefecture where he grew up, that sells character goods featuring his manga and anime, according to the shop's operator. With theme songs from his animation work playing in the background, the first floor displays approximately 300 types of merchandise, including wooden kokeshi (Japanese dolls) in the shape of characters including Astro Boy and his father figure Professor Ochanomizu, as well as ties featuring another masterpiece, "Phoenix," made in traditional Nishijin textiles. "Astro Boy" tells the stories of the adventures of a boy android with human emotions. The sci-fi manga series, serialized from 1952 to 1968 and also adapted into an animation series, has many fans in Asia and beyond.


Not going anywhere: How to handle the world's growing trash problem

The Japan Times

SINGAPORE/KUALA LUMPUR - The stench of curdled milk wafted from a shipping container of waste at Malaysia's Port Klang as Environment Minister Yeo Bee Yin told a group of journalists in May she would send the maggot-infested rubbish back where it came from. Yeo was voicing a concern that has spread across Southeast Asia, fueling a media storm over the dumping of rich countries' unwanted waste. About 5.8 million tons of trash was exported between January and November last year, led by shipments from the U.S., Japan and Germany, according to Greenpeace. Now governments across Asia are saying no to the imports, which for decades fed mills that recycled waste plastic. As more and more waste came, the importing countries faced a mounting problem of how to deal with tainted garbage that couldn't be easily recycled.


Robots to install telescopes to peer into cosmos from the moon

The Japan Times

BOULDER, COLORADO - As the United States races to put humans back on the moon for the first time in nearly 50 years, a NASA-funded lab in Colorado aims to send robots there to deploy telescopes that will look far into our galaxy, remotely operated by orbiting astronauts. The radio telescopes, to be planted on the far side of the moon, are among a plethora of projects under way by the U.S. space agency, private companies and other nations that will transform the moonscape in the coming decade. "This is not your grandfather's Apollo program that we're looking at," said Jack Burns, director of the Network for Exploration and Space Science at the University of Colorado, which is working on the telescope project. "This is really a very different kind of program and very importantly it's going to involve machines and humans working together," Burns said in an interview at his lab on the Boulder campus. Sometime in the coming decade, Burns' team will send a rover aboard a lunar lander spacecraft to the far side of the moon.


Forget Fido, cuddly 'Lovot' promises to be high-tech pet replacement

The Japan Times

Experience life with an endearing, big-eyed robot with lifelike features -- including artificial body temperature and affectionate personality -- that is being marketed as an alternative to pet ownership in Japan. At an event for families that kicked off Tuesday, several Lovot robots developed by Tokyo-based venture Groove X Inc. frolicked with visitors to the EQ House facility in Tokyo's Roppongi district. Upon entering the exhibition room, one of the 43-cm robots wheeled over to reporters and flapped its arms, beckoning to be held. Just like pets, the Lovot (yes, a combination of love and robot) develops a varying degree of attachment to people depending on the amount of care provided, such as gentle stroking or a hug. Once administered, the Lovot will in turn follow people around and beg for physical contact as a sign of affection, though it will stay away from those who treat it violently, Groove X officials say.


Automation has doubled in global manufacturing over past 20 years: report

The Japan Times

WASHINGTON - The use of robots in U.S. manufacturing has more than tripled over the two decades, and has doubled in the rest of the world, replacing certain categories of worker, according to a report published Monday. As of 2017, automation in the United States had risen to 1.8 robots for every 1,000 workers from just 0.5 recorded 22 years earlier, according to research by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. The report found the highest prevalence of robots in the auto sector, with France in the lead, followed by the United States and Germany. Automation has eroded the number of intermediate "middle-skill" occupations, while the share of high-skill and low-skill positions has grown, it said. France leads the way in employing robots to build cars, using 148 robots for every 1,000 workers, compared to 136 in the United States, while Italy and Germany each use about 120, the study found.


Bank of England picks gay World War II code-breaker Alan Turing for new £50 bank note

The Japan Times

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - Mathematician Alan Turing, whose cracking of a Nazi code helped the Allies to win World War II but who committed suicide after being convicted for homosexuality, will appear on the Bank of England's new £50 banknote, the central bank said Monday. "As the father of computer science and artificial intelligence, as well as war hero, Alan Turing's contributions were far-ranging and path-breaking," BoE Gov. Mark Carney, who took the final decision on the character selection, said. "Turing is a giant on whose shoulders so many now stand." Turing's electro-mechanical machine, a forerunner of modern computers, unraveled the Enigma code used by Nazi Germany and helped give the Allies an advantage in the naval struggle for control of the Atlantic. His work at Bletchley Park, Britain's wartime code-breaking center, was credited with shortening the war and saving many thousands of lives.


1969 moon landing was a giant leap for moviemakers, too

The Japan Times

NEW YORK - In 1964, Stanley Kubrick, on the recommendation of the science-fiction author Arthur C. Clarke, bought a telescope. "He got this Questar and he attached one of his cameras to it," said Katharina Kubrick, the filmmaker's stepdaughter. "On a night where there was a lunar eclipse, he dragged us all out onto the balcony and we were able to see the moon like a big rubber ball. I don't think I've seen it as clearly since. He looked at it all the time."


New, more agile robots speed takeover of jobs once done only by humans

The Japan Times

DALLAS - At a vast greenhouse in the central Danish city of Odense, a squad of robots move thin plastic pots of herbs for shipping without even putting a dent in them. For moviegoers used to seeing humanoid machines in action, that might not seem special -- but in truth, it is a remarkable feat. Robots until recently have been limited to precise, preprogrammed and repetitive heavy-duty jobs like automotive manufacturing. Yet at the Rosborg Food greenhouse, the OnRobot devices adjust on the fly. One pot might be slightly out of position.


VW and Ford extend collaboration to electric, self-driving cars

The Japan Times

FRANKFURT - Volkswagen AG and Ford Motor Co. will cooperate on electric and self-driving car technology, sharing costs on a global scale to take a major step forward in the industry's disruptive transformation. VW will invest $2.6 billion in Ford's autonomous-car partner Argo AI in a deal that values the operation at more than $7 billion, the two manufacturers said Friday in a joint statement in New York, confirming a figure first reported by Bloomberg. This includes $1 billion in funding and VW contributing its Audi $1.6 billion Autonomous Intelligent Driving unit. "While Ford and Volkswagen remain independent and fiercely competitive in the marketplace, teaming up and working with Argo AI on this important technology allows us to deliver unmatched capability, scale and geographic reach," Ford Chief Executive Officer Jim Hackett said. Ford shares climbed as much as 2.1 percent as of 9:40 a.m.


Tesla to Apple: Help us nail thief who took robocar secrets to China start-up

The Japan Times

SAN FRANCISCO - Tesla Inc. and Apple Inc. both suspect they were betrayed by driverless technology engineers who defected to the same Chinese startup. So Tesla is now asking for Apple's help in a lawsuit in which the electric carmaker accused an engineer who worked on its Autopilot program of taking thousands of highly confidential files when he went to work for XMotors.ai, the U.S. research arm of Guangzhou-based Xpeng. Along with typical information demands in the early fact-finding phase of the lawsuit that are spelled out in a court filing last week -- Tesla wants to see the engineer's emails and have a forensic analysis conducted on his electronic devices -- the company founded by Elon Musk disclosed that it has also served the iPhone maker with a subpoena. The documents Tesla seeks from Apple aren't specified in the filing, but the thinking may be that while the Silicon Valley titans are rivals in the ultra-hot self-driving space, they share a common enemy in Xpeng. Last July, prosecutors charged a hardware engineer in Apple's autonomous vehicle-development team with downloading proprietary files as he prepared to leave the company and start work for the for Chinese company.