The Japan Times


Drone operator faulted in NY collision with Army copter

The Japan Times

WASHINGTON – A recreational drone operator was at fault in the first confirmed midair collision in the U.S. between a drone and a manned aircraft, the National Transportation Safety Board said Thursday The operator was unaware the Federal Aviation Administration had temporarily banned drone flights in New York when his small drone collided with an Army Blackhawk helicopter on Sept. 21, the board said in a report on the incident. The U.N. General Assembly was meeting in New York at the time. The helicopter suffered minor damage while the DJI Phantom 4 drone was destroyed, the report said. The operator flew the drone 2.5 miles away despite a long-standing FAA prohibition on drone flights beyond the sight of an operator, the report said. The operator saw the helicopter on the tablet he was using to direct the drone and tried to move the drone out of the way, but it was too late to avoid the collision, the report said.


Driverless van taken on remote-controlled road test in town in Aichi

The Japan Times

NAGOYA – In the first test of its kind in Japan, a remote-controlled vehicle was tested Thursday on a public road in Aichi Prefecture, home to Toyota Motor Corp. and other auto firms. For the government-conducted test, the minivan traveled along a 700-meter road in the town of Kota with no one in the driver's seat and an assistant in the passenger seat. The route and traffic signs had been "memorized" by the system ahead of time. A member of the testing team operated the minivan remotely from nearby Kota Community Hall with the aid of video transmitted by the van's onboard camera. The assistant was present to stop the car in case of an emergency.


shark-spotting-drones-patrol-australian-beaches

The Japan Times

SYDNEY – High-tech shark-spotting drones are patrolling dozens of Australian beaches this summer to quickly identify underwater predators and deliver safety devices to swimmers and surfers faster than traditional lifesavers. As hundreds of people lined up in the early morning sun to take part in a recent ocean swimming race at Bilgola Beach north of Sydney, they did so in the knowledge the ocean had been scanned to keep them safe. "I think it is really awesome," 20-year-old competitor Ali Smith said. "It is cool to see technology and ocean swimming getting together, and hopefully more people will feel safer and get involved." The drones being used are top notch.


Google opens AI center in China despite exclusion from nation's internet

The Japan Times

BEIJING – Google announced Wednesday that it will open a new artificial intelligence research center in Beijing, tapping China's talent pool in the promising technology despite the U.S. search giant's exclusion from the country's internet. Artificial intelligence, especially machine learning, has been an area of intense focus for American tech stalwarts Google, Microsoft and Facebook, and their Chinese competitors Alibaba, Tencent and Baidu as they bid to master what many consider the future of computing. AI research has the potential to boost developments in self-driving cars and automated factories, translation products and facial recognition software, among other innovations. Google's move to open a Beijing office focused on fundamental research is an indication of China's AI talent, widely seen as being neck-and-neck with the United States in research capability. "Chinese authors contributed 43 percent of all content in the top 100 AI journals in 2015," Li Feifei, a researcher leading the new center, wrote in a blog post on Google's website.


Robots to be 'scattered' about Haneda airport to help visitors to 2020 Tokyo Olympics

The Japan Times

Visitors to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics can expect to arrive at an airport with robots "scattered" about to help them, an official said Tuesday as he unveiled seven new machines to perform tasks from helping with luggage to language assistance. Among the seven robots on show was a fluffy cat mascot that can carry out simultaneous interpretation in four different languages. Visitors speak into a furry microphone, and translations appear instantly on a smart screen. Travelers may also be approached by a small white humanoid robot, Cinnamon, asking if they need its help. The sleek white robot can converse with visitors through its AI system and give directions.


AI firm to use machine-learning programs to decipher corporate earnings announcements

The Japan Times

SYDNEY – After applying his machine-learning programs to central bank policy statements to churn out trading calls, a hedge fund-backed political economy specialist is aiming his sights on corporate earnings announcements. Evan Schnidman, a 31-year-old who set up his own firm after a Harvard University Ph.D. dissertation that looked at the Federal Reserve's communications, is hoping the approach that lured $3.3 million in a fundraising round last December will work in the corporate sphere. St. Louis-based Prattle has until now focused on applying the artificial intelligence method known as natural-language processing to make assessments of Fed and other central bank policy statements. At a time when analysis is poised to get its own price tag, with the introduction of Europe's MiFID II regulations, research costs are an increasing focus for investment banks and asset managers. BlackRock Inc. has even moved to use robots to design funds.


Japan's robots stepping up to fill worst labor shortage in 40 years

The Japan Times

While people fret about robots taking human jobs, machines in Japan are stepping in to fill vacancies amid the worst labor shortage in more than 40 years. That is creating an opportunity for up-and-coming startups focused on automating warehouse tasks. Nitori Holdings Co., the nation's biggest furniture maker, last week deployed 79 robots to move around shelves filled with products at its Osaka distribution center. The company, which introduced the country's first automated furniture warehouse in 1980, is looking to reduce its reliance on human labor. Japan's shrinking pool of workers helped push the number of jobs for every applicant to a ratio of 1.55 in October, the highest since 1973, according to the labor ministry.


Honda and Chinese IT firm to develop AI tech for self-driving vehicles

The Japan Times

Honda Motor Co. said Thursday it signed a joint research contract with Chinese IT company SenseTime Group Ltd. to develop artificial intelligence technology for use in self-driving vehicles. Honda's subsidiary Honda R&D Co. signed a five-year joint research and development contract with the Hong Kong-based company, which is known for developing a technology that can recognize moving objects via "deep learning," considered one of the most advanced AI concepts. "The two companies will develop highly sophisticated automated driving technologies that will enable complex automated driving in urban areas," Honda said in a statement. Japan's third-largest carmaker by volume is aiming to develop fully self-driving cars by around 2025 amid increasingly fierce international competition. The technologies to be developed by Honda and SenseTime will be able to assess the driving environment, the behavior and intentions of pedestrians and vehicles, and use those factors to predict risk.


Tokyo startup taps AI and big data to turn customer complaints into cash

The Japan Times

Hearing consumers' frustrations may be unpleasant for business operators, but within such feedback lies a hidden trove of information that can be used to improve products and services. Tokyo-based startup Insight Tech is betting on that concept, making what at first glance appears to be a bizarre offer: Sell us your complaints. "We basically buy any complaints," said the firm's president, Tomohiro Ito, in an interview with The Japan Times. The company collects people's grumbles and converts them into big data, which is analyzed by artificial intelligence systems. Insight Tech utilizes the analysis to provide consulting services for firms seeking to market products.


Nissan to test 'robot taxis' in March, eyeing official launch in early 2020s

The Japan Times

Nissan Motor Co. said it will test an autonomous ride-hailing service on public roads in Japan in March, aiming to officially start the "robot taxi" rides in the early 2020s. The carmaker will put two Leaf electric cars, equipped with sensors and cameras and autonomous driving software developed by DeNA Co., on roads in a designated part of Yokohama, where Nissan is based. Nissan will ask the general public to participate as passengers through a booking application on smartphones, said Kazumasa Fujita, a manager at Nissan's corporate strategy department. The trial is the first concrete step in Nissan and DeNA's joint robot taxi project, which was announced in January. The cars will be more advanced than Nissan's current semi-autonomous system known as ProPilot, which enables single lane automated driving on highways.