The Japan Times


Sony unveils family-friendly robot aimed at spurring communication

The Japan Times

Sony Mobile Communications Inc. announced Tuesday it will begin selling a new communications robot targeted at families next month, furthering its foray into the trending robot market. "We've developed this product based on a theme of making it a new member of the family," Hiroshi Ito, deputy head of the smart products division at Sony Mobile, said during a news conference in Tokyo. "We'd like to propose a new way of communication with this that makes communication more fun for families." Dubbed Xperia Hello, the robot will hit store shelves Nov. 18 and is expected to sell for around ¥150,000. The 21-cm conical-shaped robot can perform various functions such as using its camera to recognize people's faces and then chatting with them.


Toyota channels 'Knight Rider' with concept car that read drivers' emotions

The Japan Times

Toyota will be highlighting an array of experimental technologies aimed at improving safety and anticipating drivers' desires at the Tokyo Motor Show later this month. Toyota Motor Corp. manager Makoto Okabe told reporters Monday that the use of artificial intelligence means cars may get to know drivers as human beings by analyzing their facial expressions, driving habits and social media use. Such a vehicle might adjust drivers' seats to calm them when they're feeling anxious, or jiggle them to make them more alert when they seem sleepy. It might also suggest a stop at a noodle joint along the way. Despite concerns over potential intrusions into privacy, many automakers will be displaying prototypes of such technologies at the auto show which opens to the public Oct. 28.


After huge yet unclaimed bombing deadly to over 300, Somalia fears renewed al-Shabab onslaught

The Japan Times

KAMPALA – As the toll rises above 300 from one of the world's deadliest attacks in years, the al-Shabab extremist group has sent a powerful signal that the international focus on extremism can't afford to overlook the African continent. Saturday's truck bombing on a crowded Mogadishu street showed that al-Shabab, targeted for years by U.S. airstrikes and tens of thousands of African Union forces, has once again made a deadly comeback. Pushed from Somalia's capital in recent years, al-Shabab has retreated mostly to rural areas of the country's south, where the fragile central government can't assert its authority and local fiefdoms are in charge. From there, Africa's deadliest Islamic extremist group has continued to plan guerrilla-style attacks like Saturday's truck bombing in the capital, Mogadishu. While demonstrating al-Shabab's resilience in the face of new military offensives by the U.S. and Somalia in recent months, the attack also highlights the shortcomings of U.S. drone strikes in a politically fraught country with a weak military and even weaker police, analysts told The Associated Press.


Suspected U.S. drone strike kills 20 Haqqani militants in Pakistan near Afghan border

The Japan Times

DERA ISMAIL KHAN, PAKISTAN – Pakistani intelligence officials say suspected U.S. missiles have struck a home in the Kurram tribal region, killing 20 militants. Two intelligence officials said missiles fired from a suspected U.S. drone hit a compound in the Mukbal area near the Afghan border Monday evening. They added that it was being used by militants from the Haqqani network and that one of their top commanders, Sangeen Wali, was killed. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief media. The strike comes a day after roadside bombs killed four security troops engaged in a search operation for militants in Kurram.


h-s-open-robot-themed-hotels-tokyo-urban-areas-around-japan

The Japan Times

Major travel agency H.I.S. Co. will open Henn na Hotels, or "strange" hotels, where humanlike robots greet guests at the reception desk, in Tokyo and other urban areas. Ten such hotels will be launched by the end of March 2019, H.I.S. said Monday. The hotels will mainly target foreign tourists and business travelers, with rooms boasting the latest facilities, including 4K ultrahigh-definition televisions, according to the company. H.I.S. opened the first Henn na Hotel in March 2015 at Huis Ten Bosch, the Dutch theme park in Sasebo, Nagasaki Prefecture, the second in March 2017 in Urayasu, Chiba Prefecture, and the third in August in Gamagori, Aichi Prefecture. The first Henn na Hotel in Tokyo will open in December in the Nishikasai area in Edogawa Ward.


Airliner lands safely after being first over Canada to collide with drone

The Japan Times

QUEBEC – A Canadian passenger plane landed safely after it was hit by a drone in the first case of its kind in the country, a Cabinet minister said Sunday. The Canadian incident happened last Thursday when a drone collided with a domestic Skyjet plane approaching Jean-Lesage International Airport in Quebec City, Transport Minister Marc Garneau said in a statement. "This is the first time a drone has hit a commercial aircraft in Canada and I am extremely relieved that the aircraft only sustained minor damage and was able to land safely," said the minister, a former astronaut. But Garneau said this year there have been 131 drone incidents "of aviation safety concern."


Hokkaido town tests driverless bus service

The Japan Times

KAMISHIHORO, HOKKAIDO – The town of Kamishihoro, Hokkaido, began testing a driverless bus service on Saturday. The test by the Kamishihoro Municipal Government is designed to study technical issues that may arise on roads that traverse hilly and mountainous terrain in the area. "We hope that driverless bus services will be put to practical use and work to help the mobility of residents," Kamishihoro Mayor Mitsugi Takenaka said during a ceremony to mark the occasion. Equipped with eight sensors and GPS, the bus ran at a speed of 10 kph near the municipal government office on a 600-meter road that was closed to traffic for the test.


Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ to automate 30% of its duties, equivalent to 9,500 jobs

The Japan Times

Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ will automate 30 percent of its duties, equivalent to 9,500 jobs, over the next seven years, using artificial intelligence and other technologies, Kanetsugu Mike, president and chief executive officer of the Japanese lender, said in a recent interview. To decrease workloads, the unit of Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group Inc. has already introduced a computer software program utilizing robotic process automation technology, which can handle complex data-matching processes. "Through automation, the amount of time each banker can spend with customers will triple," Mike said. The number of customers visiting Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ's branch offices has dropped by 40 percent in the past decade.


softbank-leads-93-million-investment-ai-startup-petuum

The Japan Times

NEW YORK – SoftBank Group Corp. is leading a $93 million (about ¥10.4 billion) investment in a startup that simplifies for companies the use of machine learning or deep learning applications at scale. The investment from a SoftBank subsidiary will be used to expand Petuum's team and further develop its operating system for specific industries, including manufacturing and health care, the company said Tuesday in a statement. "This technology should be standardized, accessible, and mass-producible, so that all can benefit from artificial intelligence, machine learning and deep learning," said Petuum founder and Chief Executive Officer Eric Xing. Its founders include Xing, an artificial intelligence professor and associate head of Carnegie Mellon University's Machine Learning department, as well as Qirong Ho, an adjunct assistant professor at the Singapore Management University School of Information Systems and Ning Li, a former advanced technology manager at Seagate Technology.


U.S. poised to boost military drone exports

The Japan Times

WASHINGTON – The Trump administration is nearing completion of new "buy American" rules to make it easier to sell U.S.-made military drones overseas and compete against fast-growing Chinese and Israeli rivals, senior U.S. officials said. While President Donald Trump's aides work on relaxing domestic regulations on drone sales to select allies, Washington will also seek to renegotiate a 1987 missile-control pact with the aim of loosening international restrictions on U.S. exports of unmanned aircraft, according to government and industry sources. A long-delayed $2 billion sale to India of General Atomics' Guardian surveillance drones finally secured U.S. approval in June. To gain an international stamp of approval for the relaxed U.S. export rules, U.S. officials want the MTCR renegotiated.