Japanese team developing AI-based system to forecast chance of tsunami and scale of damage

The Japan Times

Drawing lessons from one of the worst disasters in the nation's history, a team of Japanese researchers is developing an artificial intelligence-based tsunami-forecasting system set for release in fiscal 2020 that could help limit loss of life and property in future calamities. In March 2011, massive tsunami 30 meters high triggered by a 9.1 magnitude earthquake destroyed a large swath of the Tohoku coastline, taking not only residents but also entire communities and businesses by surprise. The researchers hope the new system will help municipalities and companies nationwide better prepare for any future calamities and prevent related disasters, such as the triple core meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 power plant that resulted from the tsunami. The team, made up of researchers from risk management consultancy Tokio Marine & Nichido Risk Consulting Co. and the National Research Institute for Earth Science and Disaster Resilience are working on the nation's first system for predicting the likelihood of tsunami based on location, as well as the scope of damage in areas expected to be hit. "The existing forecasting system only estimates the maximum height of a tsunami but not its likelihood … and sometimes there are no available measures to prepare for the worst-case scenario," a spokesman for Tokio Marine & Nichido Risk Consulting said by phone.

Japan offers U.S. its robotics tech for use in denuclearizing North Korea

The Japan Times

Japan has told the United States it is ready to provide its robot technology for use in dismantling nuclear and uranium enrichment facilities in North Korea as Washington and Pyongyang pursue further denuclearization talks, government sources said Friday. As Japan turns to the remotely controlled robots it has developed to decommission reactors crippled by the triple core meltdown in 2011 at the Fukushima No. 1 power plant, it believes the same technology can be used in North Korea, according to the sources. The offer is part of Japan's efforts to make its own contribution to the denuclearization talks amid concern that Tokyo could be left out of the loop as the United States and North Korea step up diplomacy. Tokyo has already told Washington it would shoulder part of the costs of any International Atomic Energy Agency inspections of North Korean facilities and dispatch its own nuclear experts to help. The scrapping of nuclear facilities, such as the Yongbyon complex, which has a graphite-moderated reactor, will come into focus in forthcoming working-level talks between Washington and Pyongyang.

Japanese researchers build robotic tail – video

The Guardian

A team of researchers at Japan's Keio university have built a robotic tail. Dubbed'Arque', the grey one-metre device mimics tails such as those of cheetahs and monkeys, used to keep balance while running and climbing

Kyoto temple puts faith in robot priest, drawing praise from Japanese but scorn from Westerners

The Japan Times

KYOTO – A 400-year-old temple is attempting to hot-wire interest in Buddhism with a robotic priest it believes will change the face of the religion -- despite critics comparing the android to "Frankenstein's monster." The android Kannon, based on the Buddhist deity of mercy, preaches sermons at Kodaiji temple in Kyoto, and its human colleagues predict that with artificial intelligence it could one day acquire unlimited wisdom. "This robot will never die; it will just keep updating itself and evolving," said priest Tensho Goto. It can store knowledge forever and limitlessly. "With AI we hope it will grow in wisdom to help people overcome even the most difficult troubles. It's changing Buddhism," he added.

Japanese companies hiking pay and holding classes in race to get tooled up on AI

The Japan Times

OSAKA – There's a sense of panic within Japan Inc. and the government -- the world's No. 3 economy, doesn't have enough experts in artificial intelligence, and it's time to do something about it. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in June unveiled a plan to train 250,000 people in AI skills annually by 2025, albeit one criticized as unrealistic due to a shortage of teachers. Tech heavyweights like Sony Corp. are hiking pay for the right hires and boosting recruitment of foreign engineers. But Daikin Industries Ltd., the world's biggest maker of air conditioners with a market value of $37 billion, is taking a more unusual route to AI expertise. At a disadvantage to bigger tech firms in attracting top talent, it has created an in-house program that takes new graduates and current employees -- almost all with no AI background -- and trains them up.

Toyota turns to AI startup to accelerate goal of robots for the home


TOKYO (Reuters) - Toyota Motor Corp has designs on making robot helpers for your home, and has enlisted a Japanese startup that specializes in artificial intelligence to jump-start its plan. Japan's biggest automaker and Tokyo-based Preferred Networks Inc will carry out joint research to develop so-called service robots that are "capable of learning in typical living environments", the companies said in statements on Wednesday. The two firms have already been collaborating on driverless vehicles since 2014. Eighty-year-old manufacturing giant Toyota is trying to transform itself and adapt to technology, such as ride-hailing and automated driving, that is disrupting the auto industry. Toyota sees robots as part of that effort, particularly in Japan, where it aims to have them in homes and hospitals to support one of the world's fastest ageing populations.

SoftBank Group's quarterly profit jumps to ¥1.12 trillion, the highest recorded for a Japanese firm

The Japan Times

SoftBank Group Corp. said Wednesday its group net profit in the April-June period jumped more than threefold to a record ¥1.12 trillion ($10.6 billion) from a year earlier -- marking the best quarter for a Japanese firm since 2004 -- boosted by a special profit from selling part of its stake in Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. SoftBank Group said its operating profit fell 3.7 percent to ¥688.82 billion in the three months that ended June 30 on sales of ¥2.34 trillion, up 2.8 percent on a consolidated basis. The company logged the largest group net profit on a quarterly basis among 400 major firms listed on bourses operated by Japan Exchange Group Inc. since Nomura Holdings Inc. started compiling such data in 2004. The investment giant said it booked a one-time gain of ¥1.22 trillion in the quarterly period following the completion of the partial sale of the stake in Alibaba. The company's profit was also boosted by gains from investments in technology startups made by its Vision Fund, through which SoftBank made investments in 81 companies as of the end of June. "It is remarkable for us to mark a (group net) profit of more than ¥1 trillion in a quarter for the first time," said Chairman and CEO Masayoshi Son at a news conference in Tokyo.

Tourists to Japan are fueling a boom in personal translation devices

The Japan Times

Takehiko Fujita wouldn't be able to do his job selling eye drops and pain relievers without his pocket translator. Instead of an app, language dictionary or call-in translation service, the clerk in a Japanese drugstore uses Pocketalk, a ¥25,000 ($230) device made by Sourcenext Corp. that looks like an oval puck. The gadget translates phrases to and from 74 languages, helping Fujita communicate with customers from Sweden, Vietnam and other countries. Tourists are flooding into Japan, with 31 million people visiting the archipelago in 2018, triple the number six years earlier, according to the Japan National Tourism Organization. Businesses are struggling with visitors looking to shop, eat and move around -- a situation that will probably worsen during next year's Tokyo Olympics.

Japan Post could end Saturday standard mail deliveries next year after ministry moves to stop service

The Japan Times

A government panel decided Tuesday to end Saturday delivery for standard mail to deal with a labor shortage at Japan Post Co. and a drop in demand due to increased use of the internet. The Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry accepted the proposal from the panel and will seek a law amendment at an extraordinary Diet session this fall. Delivery on Saturday could be terminated possibly next year and it will be available only on weekdays. The panel also proposed that delivery for standard mail the day after posting be ended. Japan Post, a unit of Japan Post Holdings Co., has been calling for a review to trim standard mail service hours to five days a week from the current six days to address the workforce shortage.

Researchers in Japan have designed a robotic TAIL to improve balance and agility

Daily Mail - Science & tech

Researchers from Keio University in Japan have created a prototype for a mechanical tail that they say -- not unlike a real, biological tail -- provides the wearer more agility and balance. The tail, dubbed The Arque tail, was presented at conference in Los Angeles last week that brings together emerging technologies in gaming and graphics, Fast Company reports. Arque can augment a wearer's agility by acting as a a counterbalance that shifts weight While a human with a tail may evoke our primate ancestry, researchers say that their version -- a swiveling worm-like device strapped around a user's waist -- is inspired by the Seahorse. Seahorse tails, notes Fast Company, are strong enough to endure attacks from predators but still flexible enough to be used a type of hand that can grip coral and other environmental objects. For proof of a tail's efficacy in helping to gracefully navigate narrow or tenuous landscapes, one might look to the acumen of more domestic animals, like cats.