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Top manufacturer says drones should transmit identifier for security

The Japan Times

WASHINGTON – The world's largest manufacturer of civilian drones is proposing that the craft continually transmit identification information to help government security agencies and law enforcement figure out which might belong to rogue operators. DJI, a Chinese company, said in a paper released Monday that radio transmissions of an identification code, possibly the operator's Federal Aviation Administration's registration number, could help allay security concerns while also protecting the operator's privacy. The paper suggests steps that can be taken to use existing technologies to develop an identification system, and that operators could include more identification information in addition to a number if they wish. Anyone with the proper radio receiver could obtain those transmissions from the drone, but only law enforcement officials or aviation regulators would be able to use that registration number to identify the registered owner. Law enforcement agencies and the U.S. military raised security concerns last year after FAA officials proposed permitting more civilian drone flights over crowds and densely populated areas.


Kyoto working to get its interpreter/guides up to global speed

The Japan Times

KYOTO – With over 3 million visitors from abroad visiting the ancient capital of Kyoto in fiscal 2015, getting around with an official interpreter would have meant relying on government-qualified guides. But critics have claimed that interpreter/guides who have passed national tests on language, history, culture and politics aren't necessarily well-versed on the details of Kyoto's rich history and culture. That's why the city has founded the Kyoto Visitors Host program, aimed at nurturing tour guides who have in-depth knowledge on the city and are fluent enough in a foreign language to explain it to visitors. The program, which began in November 2015, trains residents and visitors of any nationality to become professional city guides. While Kyoto still lacks the broad range of interpreter/guides offering the kinds of highly specialized historical tours one finds in cities like London or Paris, the Kyoto Visitors Host program is a first step toward recognizing the need for local experts who can provide a special localized experience for foreign guests.


Toyota, Suzuki to work together in green, safety technology

The Japan Times

Japanese automakers Toyota and Suzuki, which began discussing a partnership in October, said Monday they would work together in ecological and safety technology -- a rapidly growing area in the industry. Toyota Motor Corp., the maker of the Camry sedan, Prius hybrid and Lexus luxury models, and Suzuki Motor Corp., which specializes in tiny cars, announced the decision following approval by the company boards and signed a memorandum of agreement, both sides said. Another area for possible collaboration is information technology as well as supplying each other with products and components. The next step would be to come up with specific cooperation projects, they said. Suzuki does not have a hybrid, electric car or fuel cell vehicle in its lineup.


Global salary gaps hindering automakers' efforts to lure IT geeks

The Japan Times

Headhunter Casey Abel spent four months trying to hire a data center architect for a Japanese automaker, including five meetings with the client -- one with the top executive. In the end, the IT specialist joined an e-commerce company abroad for significantly more money. "There's just a massive mismatch in salaries," said Abel, managing director at recruiter HCCR K.K., who has spent as long as a year trying to land some IT candidates. "You've got some engineers making ¥20 million ($170,000) a year. Then you try to fit them in the traditional manufacturer-based salary structure" where it should be between ¥7 million and ¥9 million.


Sony, Samsung TVs wow CES crowds with new screen technologies

The Japan Times

NEVADA – It's been a while since a new TV raised any eyebrows, but Sony Corp. has just unveiled a new product that's creating a bit of buzz at the annual Consumer Electronics Show industry gathering in Las Vegas. Sony's XBR-A1E Bravia 4K is the electronics maker's first commercial foray into the niche market for televisions that use OLED, or organic light-emitting diode, technology. While the vivid, power-sipping screens have found their way onto smartphones, the cost of making them has so far limited their appeal for TVs. Only LG Electronics Inc. has made a serious effort to sell OLED TVs. Panasonic Corp. also unveiled an OLED TV at this year's CES.


Can artificial intelligence help Japanese bureaucrats write answers to Diet questions?

The Japan Times

The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry plans to launch a test soon to determine whether artificial intelligence can help bureaucrats write draft answers for questions made to Cabinet ministers and others during deliberations in the Diet. The ministry is considering using AI to draw up challenges and debate points for policy issues -- using Diet proceedings in the past five years as a guide -- in the hopes of improving work efficiency. The ministry, which has promoted what it calls the "fourth industrial revolution" that utilizes AI and the internet of things, is looking to set an example that would spread the use of AI in other government agencies and ministries. Bureaucrats often spend long hours drafting answers to Diet questions, with the work often continuing until dawn on the day they are used. In the Kasumigaseki government district in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward, close attention is being paid to whether the industry ministry's AI-related initiative will help reduce these long work hours.


Trump tweets himself praise as Ford dumps plan for Mexico plant, looks to hire more in Michigan

The Japan Times

WASHINGTON – Ford scuttled a plan to build a new factory in Mexico Tuesday following criticism from Donald Trump, and just hours after the president-elect attacked General Motors for importing Mexican-made cars into the US. Following months of criticism from Trump for its investments in Mexico, Ford said it was spiking a plan to build a new $1.6 billion plant in San Luis Potosi, and would instead invest $700 million over the next four years to expand its Flat Rock Assembly Plant in Michigan to build electric and self-driving vehicles. Ford chief executive Mark Fields said the second-biggest U.S. automaker was hopeful Trump's policies will boost the U.S. manufacturing environment. "It's literally a vote of confidence around some of the pro-growth policies that he has been outlining and that's why we're making this decision to invest here in the U.S. and our plant here in Michigan," Fields told CNN. Earlier, GM became the latest multinational to end up in Trump's line of fire -- via Twitter as usual -- with the president-elect threatening to impose a tariff on GM's imports of a small number of Mexican-made Chevy Cruze cars to the U.S. Trump took to Twitter again to crow about the Ford reversal.


The top tech stories of 2016

The Japan Times

The Japan Times newsroom selected these tech and digital stories as the most important of 2016. All systems go: For a few weeks in the summer, it seemed to be all that anyone was talking about was "Pokemon Go," an augmented-reality game you play on your phone. The game was the result of a collaboration between Nintendo and Niantic. With China's Alibaba offering the world's first virtual reality shopping experience, it seems the race for dominance has just begun. Insiders believe driverless cars will become a hot topic in 2017 as Japan hopes to showcase self-driving vehicles at the 2020 Olympics.


Depopulating rust belt counts on 'robonomics' to run assembly lines

The Japan Times

A withering factory town in the rust belt is looking for revival through a dose of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's "robot revolution." Kadoma's population in Osaka Prefecture has shrunk 13 percent as the nation ages, prompting mergers among elementary schools and emergency services departments. Factories can't find enough people to run assembly lines, further threatening an industrial base that includes titan Panasonic Corp. and smaller businesses like Izumo Co., a maker of industrial rubber. Yet Izumo President Tsutomu Otsubo doesn't believe the solution involves finding more people. He'd rather find more machines to do the work so his company can capitalize on Abe's plan to quadruple Japan's robotics sector into a ¥2.4 trillion ($20 billion) industry by 2020.


Apple reveals autonomous vehicle ambitions

The Japan Times

SAN FRANCISCO – Apple has revealed it is investing heavily in autonomous vehicles in a letter asking the government to make it easier to develop self-driving cars. The company is "excited about the potential of automated systems in many areas, including transportation," Apple said in a November 22 letter to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration offering Apple's opinion about draft regulations for the sector. "Apple looks forward to collaborating with NHTSA and other stakeholders so that the significant societal benefits of automated vehicles can be realized safely, responsibly, and expeditiously," the company's director of product integrity Steve Kenner wrote. Apple issued the letter because it is "investing heavily in machine learning and autonomous systems," an Apple spokesman said in an email. "There are many potential applications for these technologies, including the future of transportation, so we want to work with NHTSA to help define the best practices for the industry."