The Japan Times


Cambridge Analytica fights back on Facebook data scandal

The Japan Times

LONDON – Cambridge Analytica unleashed its counterattack against claims that it misused data from millions of Facebook accounts, saying Tuesday it is the victim of misunderstandings and inaccurate reporting that portrays the company as the evil villain in a James Bond movie. Clarence Mitchell, a high-profile publicist recently hired to represent the company, held Cambridge Analytica's first news conference since allegations surfaced that the Facebook data helped Donald Trump win the 2016 presidential election. Christopher Wylie, a former employee of Cambridge Analytica's parent, also claims that the company has links to the successful campaign to take Britain out of the European Union. "The company has been portrayed in some quarters as almost some Bond villain," Mitchell said. "Cambridge Analytica is no Bond villain."


Yamato and DeNA test autonomous delivery system in Japan

The Japan Times

On Tuesday, Yamato Transport Co. and DeNA Co. tested an autonomous vehicle delivery service to gauge the potential of self-driving technology in the field of logistics. The two Tokyo-based companies conducted the experiment in Fujisawa, Kanagawa Prefecture, in which an electric car navigated through a short, quarantined road without anyone sitting in the driver's seat. A person sat in the front passenger seat to observe the operation. During one demonstration, the vehicle, equipped with a camera and infrared sensor, ran through the residential area at 5 to 10 kph. When the delivery car arrived at its destination, a customer opened up a box inside the vehicle, allowed a QR code on her smartphone to be scanned, and picked up the product.


Amazon reportedly working on another big bet: home robots

The Japan Times

Ten years ago, Amazon introduced the Kindle and established the appeal of reading on a digital device. Four years ago, Jeff Bezos and company rolled out the Echo, prompting millions of people to start talking to a computer. Inc. is working on another big bet: robots for the home. The retail and cloud computing giant has embarked on an ambitious, top-secret plan to build a domestic robot, according to sources familiar with the plans. Code-named "Vesta" after the Roman goddess of the hearth, home and family, the project is overseen by Gregg Zehr, who runs Amazon's Lab126 hardware research and development division based in Sunnyvale, California.


Japanese firms see big future for small-scale industrial robots

The Japan Times

A two-armed robot in a Chiba factory carefully stacks rice balls in a box, which a worker carries off for shipment to convenience stores. At another food-packaging plant, a robot shakes pepper and powdered cheese over pasta that a person has just arranged in a container. In a country known for bringing large-scale industrial robots to the factory floor, such relatively dainty machines have until recently been dismissed as niche and low-margin. But as the workforce ages in Japan and elsewhere, collaborative robots -- or "cobots" -- are seen as a key way to help keep all types of assembly lines moving without replacing humans. Japan's Fanuc Corp. and Yaskawa Electric Corp., two of the world's largest robot manufacturers, didn't see the shift coming.


Sony and U.S. university working on home-use food preparation robot

The Japan Times

Sony Corp. and Carnegie Mellon University aim to jointly develop a home-use robot for food preparation that utilizes artificial intelligence technology. Sony and the U.S. school have concluded an agreement to collaborate on AI and robotics research. Their initial research and development efforts will focus on optimizing food preparation, cooking and delivery. They want to release a product within five years. "The technology necessary for a robot to handle the complex and varied task of food preparation and delivery could be applied to a broader set of skills and industries," Sony said in a statement.


Construction robots in Japan weld, bolt, and lift to tackle worker shortage

The Japan Times

Robots that can weld, lift and bolt are being developed to help bridge labor shortages at domestic construction sites, though their use will be limited to night shifts when no human workers will be nearby due to safety and regulatory concerns. Major construction firm Shimizu Corp. showed off several robots Monday, including one already in use at construction sites that picked up a big pile of boards and took them into an elevator. The Robo-Welder and Robo-Buddy, with twisting and turning mechanical arms, will be deployed at construction sites later this year, the company said. Japan's construction sector is booming but contractors are struggling to fill labor shortages -- a problem playing out in other parts of the world, including the U.S. The robots demonstrated at a Shimizu test facility in Tokyo can reduce the number of workers needed for each of the tasks they carried out to about a third or a fourth of what's required today. But construction work is so varied, delicate and complex that the robots are able to handle just 1 percent of overall construction work, according to Masahiro Indo, Shimizu's managing executive officer, who oversees construction technology.


Tourists, take note: As drones multiply, so do rules governing where they can be flown

The Japan Times

Make a trip to any major electronics store today and you're bound to find a section selling drones. Once little more than toys for enthusiasts, today's commercially available drones come in all shapes and sizes and are used for all sorts of purposes, with prices ranging from thousands to hundreds of thousands of yen. But the proliferation of drone technology has brought with it questions about security, and invasion of privacy. The central government and many localities around Japan have put into place a number of ordinances in recent years limiting and forbidding drones near certain locations. Last year the National Policy Agency said there had been 68 cases of illegal drone flights, almost double the previous year's 36.


Robot designed for faster, safer pipe cleanup at U.S. Cold War-era uranium plant

The Japan Times

COLUMBUS, OHIO – Ohio crews cleaning up a massive former Cold War-era uranium enrichment plant in Ohio plan this summer to deploy a high-tech helper: an autonomous, radiation-measuring robot that will roll through kilometers of large overhead pipes to spot potentially hazardous residual uranium. Officials say it's safer, more accurate and tremendously faster than having workers take external measurements to identify which pipes need to be removed and decontaminated at the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant in Piketon. They say it could save taxpayers tens of millions of dollars on cleanups of that site and one near Paducah, Kentucky, which for decades enriched uranium for nuclear reactors and weapons. The RadPiper robot was developed at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh for the U.S. Department of Energy, which envisions using similar technology at other nuclear complexes such as the Savannah River Site in Aiken, South Carolina, and the Hanford Site in Richland, Washington. Roboticist William "Red" Whittaker, who began his career developing robots to help clean up the Three Mile Island nuclear power accident and now directs Carnegie Mellon's Field Robotics Center, said technology like RadPiper could transform key tasks in cleaning up the country's nuclear legacy.


Tokyo police panel recommends computerizing crime prevention by tapping AI, big data

The Japan Times

A Metropolitan Police Department panel is calling for the use of information and communications technology, including artificial intelligence and big data, to prevent crime. The panel, led by Takushoku University professor Tadashi Moriyama, said in an MPD report released Friday that ICT works for crime prevention and event security and is "needed to secure the safety of people in Tokyo, and in Japan." The panel also highlighted related problems, such as the handling of personal data. Based on the report, the MPD will start detailed discussions with the aim of using ICT for security during the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. The panel, composed of five experts from fields such as information and communications and criminology, discussed ways to aggregate and analyze the MPD's vast crime and accident database, data on social networking services, and publicly available information, such as weather, to conduct police activities, the report said.


Diaper-makers deploy AI and app technology to help consumers learn about their products

The Japan Times

Diaper-makers are working to help consumers choose products for adult users with the aid of artificial intelligence and social networking apps. Production of disposable adult diapers in Japan in 2017 rose some 5 percent from the previous year to a record 7.8 billion units, according to recent data from the Japan Hygiene Products Industry Association. Demand is growing in line with the aging of the nation's population. With various types of products on store shelves, however, many elderly people and family members supporting them find it difficult to decide which ones they should choose, an official at Daio Paper Corp. said. Many family members taking care of elderly people work in the daytime, and find it inconvenient to make phone calls to diaper-makers' call centers to ask questions during business hours.