The Japan Times


Time prime in worker-scarce Japan for investing in service robots

The Japan Times

Faced with the worst labor shortage in decades, Japanese service companies are finally turning to labor-saving technology, an investment that could lift the sector's woeful level of productivity and allow them to raise wages. It plans to spend about ¥300 million ($2.7 million) to install new technology at its 15 nursing homes in and around Tokyo to make life easier for staff and residents. Capital spending is the most important factor in Japan's productivity growth, Goldman Sachs economists wrote in a recent report. Izumi Devalier, head of Japan economics at Bank of America Merrill Lynch in Tokyo, said the labor shortage could turn out to be an opportunity, forcing Japanese service-sector companies to finally start investing, and perhaps fueling an economic revival.


olympics-sponsors-showcase-innovative-tech-products-2020-games-draw-near

The Japan Times

With everything from a mist curtain designed to cool people off in the oppressive summer heat to hydrogen fuel cell vehicles and robots delivering refreshing drinks, companies are sparing no expense as they gear up for a marketing bonanza. Panasonic hopes to see Hospi robots guiding hotel guests to their rooms and also providing room service. Toyota Motor Corp. has a blueprint for hydrogen fuel cell vehicles or buses, which only emit water, to ride around the Olympic venues in an official capacity. The automaker also hopes to promote the Toyota Mirai -- the world's first mass-produced hydrogen fuel cell vehicle that went on sale in December 2014 -- to Olympic officials and visitors.


Man is charged with flying drones to bring drugs from Mexico

The Japan Times

SAN DIEGO – A 25-year-old U.S. citizen has been charged with using a drone to smuggle more than 13 pounds (6.1 kilograms) of methamphetamine from Mexico by drone, an unusually large seizure for what is still a novel technique to bring illegal drugs into the United States, authorities said Friday. Jorge Edwin Rivera told authorities that he used drones to smuggle drugs five or six times since March, typically delivering them to an accomplice at a nearby gas station in San Diego, according to a statement of probable cause. In 2015, two people pleaded guilty to dropping 28 pounds (62 kilograms) of heroin from a drone in the border town of Calexico, California. That same year, Border Patrol agents in San Luis, Arizona, spotted a drone dropping bundles with 30 pounds (66 kilograms) of marijuana.


DNA test data may not alter a person's health habits

The Japan Times

The field also gained a new entrant in July, when a company called Helix launched an online marketplace for DNA tests, including some for genetic health risk. Last year, researchers published an analysis that combined 18 studies of people who got doctor-ordered DNA test results about disease risks. In an interview, Dr. James Lu, a co-founder of Helix, agreed that the evidence on whether people change their lifestyles in response to DNA information is mixed. " Dr. Robert C. Green of Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, whose research indicates DNA test results can change health behavior, said cases like Collins are just the point.


Trio in car nabbed after drone drops cellphone, drugs into Michigan prison yard

The Japan Times

IONIA, MICHIGAN – Michigan prison officials say three people have been arrested after trying to use a drone to smuggle a cellphone and drugs into a prison. Michigan Department of Corrections says two guards at the Richard A. Handlon Correctional Facility in the western Michigan city of Ionia heard the drone in the prison yard shortly before 4 a.m. Moments later, the drone dropped a package near a housing unit. The Corrections Department says that as officers responded to the scene, the drone dropped a second package.


Japanese researchers tap AI to parse regional dialects, work toward early dementia diagnosis

The Japan Times

In an effort to tackle the problem, Hirosaki University in Aomori and Tohoku Electric Power Co. this month started analyzing the voice data of 6,700 phone calls, covering 900 hours of calls the utility's customer center has fielded from across the Tohoku region. Using AI-powered computers, the researchers will convert the voice data into standard Japanese text and then create a database, hoping to utilize it in medical practice and for research, said Ryo Suzuki, a senior administrator at the university's school of health sciences. In an earlier project with Kyoto University's medical school involving 20 people with Alzheimer's and 20 people without, the software identified those with the degenerative disease with an accuracy rate of 70 percent, he said. A Matter of Health covers current research, technology or policy issues relating to health in Japan.


U.S. Navy reports another close call with Iran drone

The Japan Times

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES – An unarmed Iranian drone shadowed a U.S. aircraft carrier at night and came close enough to F-18 fighter jets to put the lives of American pilots at risk, the Navy said Tuesday, reporting the second such tense encounter within a week. Iran's military and state-run media did not immediately report the incident, which came after a similar encounter Aug. 8, in which the Navy said an Iranian drone came within 100 feet (30 meters) of an F-18 preparing to land on the Nimitz. The incidents at sea almost always involved Iran's Revolutionary Guard, a paramilitary force that reports only to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Of the incidents at sea last year, the worst involved Iranian forces capturing and holding overnight 10 U.S. sailors who strayed into the Islamic Republic's territorial waters.


SpaceX poised to send supercomputer, Parkinson's experiment gear to ISS

The Japan Times

MIAMI – SpaceX is poised to launch an unmanned cargo ship toward the International Space Station Monday, including a supercomputer that could direct astronauts on future deep-space missions. The liftoff of the Falcon 9 rocket, carrying the Dragon cargo ship, is planned for 12:31 p.m. (1631 GMT) from Cape Canaveral, Florida. The Dragon is packed with 6,400 pounds (2,900 kg) of supplies, including a sophisticated supercomputer made by Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE), called The Spaceborne Computer. Another experiment on board is designed to help scientists study Parkinson's disease in greater detail in the hopes of finding better treatments for this degenerative disease.


Pentagon may boost support to Philippine fight against Islamist insurgents

The Japan Times

WASHINGTON – The United States is weighing additional support to the Philippine military to fight an Islamist insurgency in the south, a U.S. defense official said Tuesday. Discussions are "pretty advanced" and would see the U.S. provide increased surveillance drone capabilities and training for local forces, the official said. The Philippines' Department of National Defense said there had been no discussions regarding the use of U.S. drones to strike Islamic State-inspired "terrorist groups." Almost 700 people have been killed in the southern city of Marawi, according to the official count, in over two months of fighting against Islamist militants who have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group.


In alliance-happy auto industry, go-it-alone Honda the odd carmaker out

The Japan Times

In the latest industry tieup, Toyota Motor Corp. and Mazda Motor Corp. on Friday announced plans to jointly invest in a $1.6 billion assembly plant in the U.S. with the capacity to produce 300,000 Toyota Corollas and a new Mazda crossover model starting 2021. In fact, Honda is the only major Japanese carmaker without a strategic industry partner, meaning it lacks the economy-of-scale benefits of lower research, production and parts costs enjoyed by Toyota, Volkswagen AG and the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Motors confederation. "Its global revenues are higher than Nissan, but it lacks the benefit of alliance partners, so it must invest a bigger percent of revenues in R&D to remain competitive." A week earlier, the automaker said it will establish a $85 million joint venture with General Motors Co. to jointly manufacture fuel cell systems starting around 2020.