The Japan Times


Toyota group firms test out labor-saving prototype products at Gifu shopping mall

The Japan Times

Major component-makers of the Toyota group have launched an experiment of letting consumers and shop staff try their products under development at a shopping mall in the city of Gifu. Osaka-based Jtekt Corp. and Aisin Seiki Co., based in Kariya, Aichi Prefecture, introduced products designed to help reduce burdens on shoppers and staff at the Colorful Town Gifu commercial complex. After the experiment, which will run until the end of this month, user feedback will be reflected in the development of next-generation products. At a Nitori Co. outlet, a furniture and interior shop, a store staffer wore a Power Assist Suit while removing a large cardboard box from a push cart and putting it on a shelf. The suit is a Jtekt-developed wearable device that reduces the strain on the back when lifting heavy objects.


Toyota has plenty for robots to do during the 2020 Tokyo Olympics

The Japan Times

When athletes and organizers descend on Tokyo for the 2020 Olympic Games, they'll be ferried around in autonomous cars, while torch relay runners will be accompanied by AI-equipped cars. Robots will ferry javelins and hammers. All told, Toyota Motor Corp. will provide 3,700 vehicles, including dozens of self-driving cars, about 500 fuel-cell vehicles and 850 battery-electric cars to the international sports competition. As a top sponsor of the Tokyo Olympics and an automaker facing a murky future when gasoline-powered engines will fade away, Toyota is doing everything it can to market its transition into an eventual provider of on-demand transportation for consumers and businesses, instead of being merely an industrial manufacturer. "We want to use the Olympics and Paralympics that happen every two years as a milestone," Masaaki Ito, general manager of Toyota's Olympic and Paralympic Division, said in an interview.


Amazon and Microsoft are putting world at risk with killer AI, study says

The Japan Times

WASHINGTON – Amazon, Microsoft and Intel are among leading tech companies putting the world at risk through killer robot development, according to a report that surveyed major players from the sector about their stance on lethal autonomous weapons. Dutch NGO Pax ranked 50 companies by three criteria: whether they were developing technology that could be relevant to deadly AI, whether they were working on related military projects, and if they had committed to abstaining from contributing in the future. "Why are companies like Microsoft and Amazon not denying that they're currently developing these highly controversial weapons, which could decide to kill people without direct human involvement?" The use of AI to allow weapon systems to autonomously select and attack targets has sparked ethical debates in recent years, with critics warning they would jeopardize international security and herald a third revolution in warfare after gunpowder and the atomic bomb. A panel of government experts debated policy options regarding lethal autonomous weapons at a meeting of the United Nations Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons in Geneva on Wednesday.


First humanoid Russian robot, Fedor, flies to International Space Station

The Japan Times

MOSCOW – Russia on Thursday launched an unmanned rocket carrying a life-size humanoid robot that will spend 10 days learning to assist astronauts on the International Space Station. Named Fedor, for Final Experimental Demonstration Object Research with identification number Skybot F850, the robot is the first ever sent up by Russia. Fedor blasted off in a Soyuz MS-14 spacecraft at 6:38 a.m. The Soyuz is set to dock with the space station on Saturday and stay till Sept. 7. Soyuz ships are normally manned on such trips, but on Thursday no humans are traveling in order to test a new emergency rescue system. Instead of cosmonauts, Fedor was strapped into a specially adapted pilot's seat, with a small Russian flag in his hand.


Japanese-language students from South Asian countries see plunge in visa approval rates

The Japan Times

NAGOYA – The approval rate for visa applications by nationals of countries such as Myanmar and Bangladesh to study at Japanese-language schools from April is sharply down from the same month last year, school operators in Japan said Wednesday. The plunge in the percentage of visas that were approved appears to reflect efforts to crack down on foreign nationals who enter the nation to work under the guise of being students. A survey by the Japanese Language School Association in Tokyo showed that student visas were granted to just 15 percent of applicants from Myanmar, down sharply from the 76 percent approval rate seen last year, and to 21 percent of Bangladeshi applicants, down from 61 percent. The success rate for Sri Lankan applicants was 21 percent, down from 50 percent. The survey drew responses from 327 of the 708 Japanese-language schools throughout the country and collected figures regarding applications for student resident status from April, when such applications peak with the start of the new academic year.


Dogged by ads?: Facebook rolls out tool to block off-Facebook data-gathering

The Japan Times

SAN FRANCISCO – Soon, you could get fewer familiar ads following you around the internet -- or at least on Facebook. Facebook is launching a long-promised tool that lets you limit what the social network can gather about you on outside websites and apps. The company said Tuesday that it is adding a section where you can see the activity that Facebook tracks outside its service via its "like" buttons and other means. You can choose to turn off the tracking; otherwise, tracking will continue the same way it has been. Formerly known as "clear history," the tool will now go by the slightly clunkier moniker "off-Facebook activity."


British mall tested facial recognition of shoppers

The Japan Times

LONDON – A British mall that scanned shoppers using facial-recognition cameras said on Friday it is no longer using technology that advocacy groups called a threat to privacy. Meadowhall in the northern city of Sheffield, which attracts more than 25 million visitors a year, used the surveillance with police in 2018, according to its owners British Land. "We conducted a short trial at Meadowhall, in conjunction with the police, and all data was deleted immediately after the trial," said spokeswoman Claire Scicluna. She said British Land would change its privacy policy to show "we don't use the technology at our sites" but refused to rule out using facial recognition at a later date. A police spokeswoman said its officers had supported a four-week trial to develop "opportunities associated with the use of this technology."


Yemeni Houthis claim drone attacks on Saudi oil facilities

The Japan Times

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES – Yemen's Houthi movement launched drone attacks on oil facilities in a remote area of Saudi Arabia, the group's Al Masirah TV said Saturday, but there was no immediate confirmation from Saudi authorities or state oil giant Aramco. A Saudi-led coalition is battling the Iran-aligned Houthis to try to restore Yemen's government, which was ousted from power in the capital, Sanaa, by the group in late 2014. The war has been in military stalemate for years. The Houthis have stepped up cross-border missile and drone attacks on Saudi Arabia in recent months. "Ten drones targeted Aramco's Shaybah oilfield and refinery in the first Operation: Balance of Deterrence in the east of the kingdom," the Al Masirah channel reported, citing a Houthi military spokesman.


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.


From comic book to reality, 'robo-shorts' reduce body's energy needs

The Japan Times

WASHINGTON – Once confined to comic books, exosuits that enhance a wearer's physical abilities took a step forward Thursday as researchers unveiled a pair of robotic shorts that assist in walking and running. The entire get-up, which includes a battery that straps around the waist and a motor on the lower back that connects to pull-cables, weighs just 5 kilograms (11 pounds) and detects its wearer's gait to appropriately adjust its output. Walking and running are very different activities from a biomechanical viewpoint, and previous devices had focused on boosting one or the other, but not both, co-author Conor Walsh from Harvard's Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering said. "So I think it's a step towards these devices not only helping with a single activity, but devices that eventually can help people in their everyday lives, in many different ways across many different activities," he said. The breakthrough required developing a control algorithm that used three sensors to detect with 99 percent accuracy what the wearer was doing and respond accordingly.