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The Japan Times


Marketing and sports data apps join fight against pandemic

The Japan Times

Devices designed for improving customer marketing and sports performance are now being used in the fight against COVID-19 as companies deploy their technologies to meet new needs during the pandemic. Hitachi-LG Data Storage originally developed its 3D LiDAR People Counter sensor for retail stores to track shoppers' movements and analyse data in order to improve sales and customer satisfaction. The company, a joint venture between Japan's Hitachi and South Korea's LG Electronics, has now paired the application with a heat detection and camera app that takes customers' temperatures and checks if they are wearing a mask with a facial detection system. The technology monitors the number of people and their movements to reduce congestion and it estimates wait times at cash registers, to help reduce infection risks. It can also determine whether or not a customer has stopped by a specific area such as a required hand sanitizer station.


Japan to use AI for customs procedures, stop drug smuggling

The Japan Times

Japan's Finance Ministry is promoting a program to introduce artificial intelligence and other cutting-edge technology to help customs agents crack down on increased smuggling of illegal drugs. The program aims to establish the world's most advanced inspection capabilities according to a plan announced by the ministry in June last year. As part of the program, AI-based analysis will be used to sort through huge amounts of data on past cases of unlawful import activity, looking for patterns of false descriptions on such matters as price, quantity and weight of goods on import declarations. The information will help pin down importers who should be watched more closely. To prevent the importing of illegal drugs, the ministry has already started testing a prototype nuclear quadrupole resonance (NQR) device that uses AI to check X-rayed items and identify possible drug smuggling.


Honda to collaborate with GM over self-driving service in Japan

The Japan Times

Honda Motor Co. said Wednesday it will collaborate with General Motors Co. and its unit Cruise LLC on launching a service using self-driving vehicles in Japan and start feasibility tests later this year. Automakers are scrambling to develop next-generation autonomous vehicles, with IT firms also joining the race. Honda and major U.S. carmaker GM agreed in 2018 to join hands in developing self-driving vehicles. Honda said it plans to start a mobility business using the Cruise Origin, a self-driving vehicle being developed by the three companies, with an eye to offering new transportation solutions in potential collaboration with local governments in Japan. "Through active collaboration with partners who share the same interests and aspirations, Honda will continue to accelerate the realization of our autonomous vehicle MaaS business in Japan," Honda President Takahiro Hachigo said in a statement, referring to its mobility service.


Japan eyes use of robots to boost COVID-19 testing as Olympics loom

The Japan Times

Health minister Norihisa Tamura watched a demonstration Tuesday of a prototype automated COVID-19 testing machine that uses a robotic arm to take a sample from a person's nose and can deliver the results in about 80 minutes. The robot system, built by Kawasaki Heavy Industries Inc., fits in a standard shipping container that can be transported by truck and set up at stadiums, theme parks and other mass gatherings, the company said. "Looking at the global trend, we need to increase the number of people receiving tests, and the demand for preventive testing is rising," Tamura told reporters at the demonstration. Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga's administration has attracted criticism for Japan's paucity of testing. His government is under pressure to show it has the pandemic under control with fewer than 200 days until the start of the Summer Olympics in Tokyo -- already delayed by a year -- and vaccinations yet to start.


Glitches, long hours and delays: Inside Cyberpunk 2077's disastrous rollout

The Japan Times

CD Projekt SA Chief Executive Officer Marcin Iwiński made a public mea culpa this week about the disastrous rollout of the video game Cyberpunk 2077 in December. He took personal responsibility and asked fans not to blame the team. In a somber five-minute video address and accompanying blog post, Iwiński acknowledged the game "did not meet the quality standard we wanted to meet. I and the entire leadership team are deeply sorry for this." Iwiński's apology, the second within a month, was an attempt to restore the Polish company's reputation with scores of fans -- and investors -- who had waited eight years for the game, only to discover it was riddled with bugs and performance issues when it was finally released.


Stressed out? Blame bad technology.

The Japan Times

New York – There is no question that we are all more dependent on technology than ever. So what happens when that tech does not work? In the past, Emily Dreyfuss used an old-school strategy: She yelled. When Amazon's Alexa spat out wrong answers or misunderstood questions, Dreyfuss let the virtual assistant have it. "I used her as a scapegoat for my feelings," said Dreyfuss, a writer and editor for Harvard's Shorenstein Center.


Sony unveils Airpeak drone at CES

The Japan Times

Sony Corp. unveiled its Airpeak drone at CES, the world's largest consumer electronics and information technology show, which opened over the internet Monday. The 2021 Consumer Electronics Show, which is scheduled to run through Thursday, aims to create connections and showcase the latest in robotics, smart devices, digital health and more. Some 1,800 exhibitors are participating in the show, forced to go online by the coronavirus pandemic. Airpeak marks Sony's entry into the drone business. It can wield Sony's Alpha mirrorless cameras and is expected to allow creators to shoot high-definition aerial videos.


Japan considers vehicle-mounted laser to ward off drone attacks

The Japan Times

The Defense Ministry will begin research on ways to ward off drone attacks by using vehicle-mounted laser, according to informed sources. By mounting laser equipment on vehicles, the ministry aims to raise the mobility of the system. The ministry included ¥2.8 billion in research spending in its budget for fiscal 2021. It aims to establish related technology as early as fiscal 2024 and put it into practical use at an early date. In fiscal 2018, the ministry started research on using high-energy laser to destroy drones.


'No need to feel inferior': China dating app helps raise awareness of LGBT issues

The Japan Times

Beijing – Browsing the internet as a young policeman in China, Ma Baoli recalls the sheer volume of web pages telling him he was a pervert, diseased and in need of treatment -- simply because he is gay. "I felt extremely lonely after I became aware of my sexual orientation," says Ma, at the time a newly minted officer in a small coastal city. Two decades later, the softly spoken 43-year-old now helms Blued, one of the world's largest dating platforms for gay men. The app went public last July with an $85 million debut on Nasdaq, a remarkable tech success story from a country that classified homosexuality as a mental illness as recently as 2001. Parent company BlueCity's sunlit Beijing campus teems with young and casually dressed programmers who hold meetings in rooms named after Oscar Wilde and other prominent LGBTQ figures from around the world.


Masks no obstacle for new facial recognition system from Japan's NEC

The Japan Times

Japan's NEC Corp. has launched a facial recognition system that identifies people even when they are wearing masks, adapting to a new normal in which face coverings have become a key form of protection against the spread of the coronavirus. The technology firm had already been working on a system to meet the needs of allergy sufferers who wear masks when the COVID-19 pandemic prompted it to accelerate development. "Needs grew even more due to the coronavirus situation as the state of emergency (last year) was continuing for a long time, and so we've now introduced this technology to the market," Shinya Takashima, assistant manager of NEC's digital platform division, said. The system determines when a person is wearing a mask and hones in on the parts that are not covered up, such as the eyes and surrounding areas, to verify the subject's identity. Users register a photo of their face in advance.