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Fukushima College robot wins top prize for nuclear decommissioning

The Japan Times

Fukushima – A robot created by a team from a technology college in northeastern Japan recently won the top prize in a robotics competition that had the theme of decommissioning the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. The Mehikari robot of Fukushima College earned praise for its speed as well as ability to employ different methods to retrieve mock debris similar in size to that at the plant, the site of a nuclear disaster triggered by a massive earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011. The robot completed the set task in about 2 minutes, the fastest time, in the annual competition aimed at fostering future engineers that was attended by students from 13 colleges belonging to the National Institute of Technology. Sunday's competition was the fifth of its kind. Students in 14 teams from the colleges across the country such as in Osaka and Kumamoto prefectures were tasked this year with developing robots to remove fuel debris from the plant, organizers said.


Marketing and sports data apps join fight against pandemic

The Japan Times

Devices designed for improving customer marketing and sports performance are now being used in the fight against COVID-19 as companies deploy their technologies to meet new needs during the pandemic. Hitachi-LG Data Storage originally developed its 3D LiDAR People Counter sensor for retail stores to track shoppers' movements and analyse data in order to improve sales and customer satisfaction. The company, a joint venture between Japan's Hitachi and South Korea's LG Electronics, has now paired the application with a heat detection and camera app that takes customers' temperatures and checks if they are wearing a mask with a facial detection system. The technology monitors the number of people and their movements to reduce congestion and it estimates wait times at cash registers, to help reduce infection risks. It can also determine whether or not a customer has stopped by a specific area such as a required hand sanitizer station.


Japan to use AI for customs procedures, stop drug smuggling

The Japan Times

Japan's Finance Ministry is promoting a program to introduce artificial intelligence and other cutting-edge technology to help customs agents crack down on increased smuggling of illegal drugs. The program aims to establish the world's most advanced inspection capabilities according to a plan announced by the ministry in June last year. As part of the program, AI-based analysis will be used to sort through huge amounts of data on past cases of unlawful import activity, looking for patterns of false descriptions on such matters as price, quantity and weight of goods on import declarations. The information will help pin down importers who should be watched more closely. To prevent the importing of illegal drugs, the ministry has already started testing a prototype nuclear quadrupole resonance (NQR) device that uses AI to check X-rayed items and identify possible drug smuggling.


Honda to collaborate with GM over self-driving service in Japan

The Japan Times

Honda Motor Co. said Wednesday it will collaborate with General Motors Co. and its unit Cruise LLC on launching a service using self-driving vehicles in Japan and start feasibility tests later this year. Automakers are scrambling to develop next-generation autonomous vehicles, with IT firms also joining the race. Honda and major U.S. carmaker GM agreed in 2018 to join hands in developing self-driving vehicles. Honda said it plans to start a mobility business using the Cruise Origin, a self-driving vehicle being developed by the three companies, with an eye to offering new transportation solutions in potential collaboration with local governments in Japan. "Through active collaboration with partners who share the same interests and aspirations, Honda will continue to accelerate the realization of our autonomous vehicle MaaS business in Japan," Honda President Takahiro Hachigo said in a statement, referring to its mobility service.


AI app allows banks to screen loan applicants' face and voice to determine their 'trustworthiness'

Daily Mail - Science & tech

People tend to make snap judgments on each other in a single look and now an algorithm claims to have the same ability to determine trustworthiness for obtaining a loan in just two minutes. Tokyo-based DeepScore unveiled its facial and voice recognition app last week at the Consumer Electronics Show that is touted as a'next-generation scoring engine' for loan lenders, insurance companies and other financial institutions. While a customer answers 10 question, the AI analyzes their face and voice to calculate a'True Score' that can be help companies with the decision to deny or approve. DeepScore says its AI can determine lies with 70 percent accuracy and a 30 percent false negative rate, and will alert companies that fees need to be increased if dishonesty is detected. However, scientists raise concerns about bias saying the app is likely to discriminate against people with tics or anxiety, resulting in these individuals not receiving necessary funds or coverage, Motherboard reports.


Robot Battle Still Favors Japan and Europe---For Now

WSJ.com: WSJD - Technology

Covid-19 has accelerated automation in factories, especially in manufacturing powerhouse China. Foreign companies have long dominated the market for industrial robots and automation tools there--but there are signs that dominance is fraying around the edges. As the factory for the world, China is unsurprisingly far and away the largest market for industrial robots. Before the pandemic, however, the U.S.-China trade war was slowing growth. New installations of industrial robots amounted to 140,500 in 2019, a 9% decline from the previous year, but still almost three times the number for second-place Japan, according to the International Federation of Robotics.


Japan eyes use of robots to boost COVID-19 testing as Olympics loom

The Japan Times

Health minister Norihisa Tamura watched a demonstration Tuesday of a prototype automated COVID-19 testing machine that uses a robotic arm to take a sample from a person's nose and can deliver the results in about 80 minutes. The robot system, built by Kawasaki Heavy Industries Inc., fits in a standard shipping container that can be transported by truck and set up at stadiums, theme parks and other mass gatherings, the company said. "Looking at the global trend, we need to increase the number of people receiving tests, and the demand for preventive testing is rising," Tamura told reporters at the demonstration. Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga's administration has attracted criticism for Japan's paucity of testing. His government is under pressure to show it has the pandemic under control with fewer than 200 days until the start of the Summer Olympics in Tokyo -- already delayed by a year -- and vaccinations yet to start.


Archive review – anyone for a posthuman wife? She comes with an off switch

The Guardian

British illustrator and visual-effects director Gavin Rothery makes his feature debut with this artificial intelligence thriller: a tale of love, death and robotics that has some nicely creepy moments. Set in 2038, it centres on lonely computer scientist George Almore (Divergent's Theo James), who is holed up in a remote research facility in Japan secretly working on an android version of his wife Jules (Stacy Martin); she has died in a car crash. His prototype, J3 (also played by Martin), is his closest yet to the real thing: a highly advanced humanoid with spookily pale skin who looks like she might be the ghost of his dead wife. Poor old J1 and J2, his earlier, clunkier prototypes: they look on bitterly as the newer, sleeker model gets all George's attention. The movie opens with sweeping helicopter shots over a snowy forest.


Japan considers vehicle-mounted laser to ward off drone attacks

The Japan Times

The Defense Ministry will begin research on ways to ward off drone attacks by using vehicle-mounted laser, according to informed sources. By mounting laser equipment on vehicles, the ministry aims to raise the mobility of the system. The ministry included ¥2.8 billion in research spending in its budget for fiscal 2021. It aims to establish related technology as early as fiscal 2024 and put it into practical use at an early date. In fiscal 2018, the ministry started research on using high-energy laser to destroy drones.


Masks no obstacle for new facial recognition system from Japan's NEC

The Japan Times

Japan's NEC Corp. has launched a facial recognition system that identifies people even when they are wearing masks, adapting to a new normal in which face coverings have become a key form of protection against the spread of the coronavirus. The technology firm had already been working on a system to meet the needs of allergy sufferers who wear masks when the COVID-19 pandemic prompted it to accelerate development. "Needs grew even more due to the coronavirus situation as the state of emergency (last year) was continuing for a long time, and so we've now introduced this technology to the market," Shinya Takashima, assistant manager of NEC's digital platform division, said. The system determines when a person is wearing a mask and hones in on the parts that are not covered up, such as the eyes and surrounding areas, to verify the subject's identity. Users register a photo of their face in advance.