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Saturday mail deliveries to end in Japan as early as autumn next year

The Japan Times

A revision to the postal law was enacted Friday, allowing Japan Post Co. to scrap Saturday and next-day deliveries of ordinary mail as early as autumn next year. The bill to amend the postal law was approved at a plenary session of the House of Councilors. The move reflects a decline in mail volumes and is also aimed at improving post office personnel's work conditions. The government had delayed the submission of the bill to the Diet in order to allow the Japan Post Holdings Co. group to prioritize dealing with the issue of irregularities in sales of Kampo postal life insurance products at post offices. The revised law will reduce the frequency of general mail deliveries from at least six days a week to at least five days a week.


China set to bring back rocks from the Moon

Science

On Earth, deep time is an open book. By measuring trace radioactive compounds in rocks that decay with metronomic regularity, dating experts have learned when oceans opened, volcanoes erupted, and mass extinctions struck. But the story is muddled elsewhere in the Solar System because records are sparse. Scientists estimate ages on the Moon and the rocky planets from the number of craters that pock their surfaces. They have fixed dates from just nine places, all on the Moon: the six Apollo and three Soviet Luna sites from which samples were returned to laboratories on Earth. China's Chang'e-5 mission, set to launch on 24 November, aims to make it 10, by returning the first Moon rocks since the last Luna mission in 1976. Getting a firm date from another location will improve the shaky crater counting scheme, says Kentaro Terada, a cosmochemist at Osaka University. It will also sharpen the picture of the Moon's history. A fresh sample date “is the most important and exciting new finding [that will come] from the Chang'e-5 samples,” Terada says. Getting it will require a tour-de-force, round-trip space flight that has not been attempted for more than 40 years. Chang'e-5's target is Mons Rümker, a 70-kilometer-wide volcanic mound on the Moon's near side, which may have erupted as recently as about 1.3 billion years ago. It is “the youngest mare basalt on the Moon,” says Xiao Long, a planetary geoscientist at the China University of Geosciences, referring to the dark lava also seen in the Moon's maria, or seas. Brett Denevi, a planetary geologist at Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Laboratory and science chair of a NASA lunar analysis group, says China has picked a spot where it can have a big scientific impact. “Understanding the age of those samples and all of the Solar System–wide implications that flow from that result will be a big leap forward for planetary science,” she says. The crater counting method for determining age relies on the notion that surfaces scarred with fewer craters are younger than those that have accumulated more. Regions dated with Apollo and Luna samples have helped calibrate the method. But except for one young outlier, all of those dates cluster between 3.2 billion and 3.9 billion years, leaving the method unanchored, and highly uncertain, for surfaces younger than 3 billion years old, Terada says. “Chang'e-5 samples will provide another data point,” he says. Getting a firm date for Mons Rümker will also shed light on how lunar volcanism changed over time. Evidence suggests numerous eruptions in the first billion years of the Moon's existence blanketed the surface with volcanic basalts, forming the dark maria, before tapering off about 3 billion years ago. If Mons Rümker material proves to be just 1.3 billion years old, it will raise questions about how the interior of a small planetary body remained hot enough to erupt so long after formation, says Romain Tartese, a planetary scientist at the University of Manchester. Retrieving the samples will require a complex deep-space ballet. After launch from the Wenchang launch center in southern China, Chang'e-5 will arrive at the Moon about 3 days later, where an orbiter will release a lander. Over the course of 14 days, the lander's robotic arm will scoop up surface samples and a drill will retrieve cores down to 2 meters. Scientists are hoping for 2 kilograms of material. (NASA's Apollo program brought back more than 380 kilograms; three Soviet robotic Luna missions returned 301 grams.) An ascent vehicle will ferry the samples to the orbiter, where they will be packed into a re-entry capsule for return to Earth and a touchdown in the grasslands of Inner Mongolia. Xiao says international investigators will have access to the samples, but U.S. scientists may not because of limits on cooperation with China set by the U.S. Congress. Chang'e-5 is the latest in a set of increasingly ambitious Moon missions from the China National Space Administration, all named after Chang'e, a Chinese Moon goddess. A pair of orbiters, launched in 2007 and 2010, focused on mapping and remote observations. The lander-rover Chang'e-3 mission, in 2013, carried the first ground-penetrating radar to the lunar surface. In 2019, Chang'e-4, another lander-rover, was the first spacecraft to soft-land on the far side of the Moon. Three more Chang'e missions and a robotic scientific research station are planned by 2035. Results from Chang'e-4, still trundling along after having traveled nearly 600 meters, are raising questions for later missions. The craft landed in the South Pole–Aitken basin, the Moon's largest, deepest, and oldest impact crater, at perhaps 4 billion years. Scientists have calculated that the impacting body likely burrowed 70 kilometers into the Moon and churned material from the mantle up to the surface. In a study published in 2019 in Nature , one group of Chinese scientists said the rover's instruments had detected mantle minerals, but other groups, including Xiao's, have challenged that interpretation. Patrick Pinet, a planetary geophysicist at France's Astrophysics and Planetology Research Institute, says researchers are debating why such an enormous impact apparently did not exhume mantle material—or whether the mantle composition is somehow unexpected. Zou Yongliao, a geochemist at the Chinese Academy of Sciences's National Space Science Center, says China is making the South Pole the focus of its near-term lunar plans. And although the target site has not been revealed for Chang'e-6, another sample return mission, planetary scientists are rooting for South Pole–Aitken. A basin sample would provide clues to the mantle puzzle. It would also anchor the older end of the crater-counting curve, says Carolyn van der Bogert, a planetary geologist at the University of Münster, and “illuminate the early history of the Moon.”


Japan eyeing AI use for speedier policy decisions

The Japan Times

The government is considering introducing an artificial intelligence-based big data analysis system developed by an American firm in order to enable speedier policy decisions, according to government sources. It has started basic research on the matter, the sources said. The move reflects progress in AI technologies and plans by the administration of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga to promote digitalization. The big data analysis system in question was developed by Palantir Technologies Inc., which was founded in 2003. "We are holding talks with Palantir in the fields of defense, national security and trade management," an official said.


Local gov'ts plan to use AI to rate seriousness of bullying cases

#artificialintelligence

Nearly 30 local governments across Japan are planning to or interested in introducing an artificial intelligence system designed to assess the seriousness of school bullying cases in hopes of better responding to them, a source close to the matter said Thursday. Otsu city government, which came under fire for the way it handled a high-profile bullying case in 2011, has teamed up with information technology services provider Hitachi Systems Ltd, to develop the AI system, which predicts how serious a case of bullying has the potential to become based on an analysis of past cases. School bullying has long been a concern in Japan, with the education ministry data showing that elementary, junior and senior high as well as special-needs schools nationwide reported 612,496 cases in the year through March, up 68,563 from a year earlier. When a new case of bullying is reported, information on the incident, such as time, place and perpetrator, is fed into the system, which then searches its database to come up with an estimate of how serious the case is, expressed as a percentage. In all, about 50 pieces of data are used for analysis.


Japanese government set to shut China out of drone supply chain

The Japan Times

Japan may effectively shut off China from supplying drones to its government to protect sensitive information, according to six people in government and the ruling party familiar with the matter, as part of a broad effort to bolster national security. The primary concerns, those people said, centered on information technology, supply chains, cybersecurity and intellectual property -- worries that have been rising outside Japan as well. But Japan must balance such fears -- particularly Beijing's growing push to export sensitive technologies such as commercial drones and security cameras -- against deep economic dependence on China. It must also navigate increasingly choppy waters between China and Japan's closest ally, the United States, which is at odds with Beijing over many things, including technology. "China is a big market and it is important for Japan," one of the senior government officials said. "On the other hand, there are worries that advanced technologies and information could leak to China and could be diverted for military use."


Local governments consider using AI to rate seriousness of bullying cases

The Japan Times

Nearly 30 local governments are planning to or are interested in introducing an artificial intelligence system designed to assess the seriousness of school bullying cases in hopes of better responding to them, a source close to the matter said Thursday. Otsu Municipal Government, which came under fire for the way it handled a high-profile bullying case in 2011, has teamed up with information technology services provider Hitachi Systems Ltd., to develop the AI system, which predicts how a case of bullying has the potential to become serious based on an analysis of past cases. School bullying has long been a concern in Japan, with education ministry data showing that elementary, junior and high schools as well as special-needs schools nationwide reported 612,496 cases in the year through March, up 68,563 from a year earlier. When a new case of bullying is reported, information on the incident, such as time, place and perpetrator, is fed into the system, which then searches its database to come up with an estimate of how serious the case is, expressed as a percentage. In all, about 50 pieces of data are used for analysis.


JAXA teams with GITAI for world-first private sector space robotics demo

#artificialintelligence

Space robotics startup GITAI and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) are teaming up to produce the world's first robotics demonstration in space by a private company. The new agreement under the JAXA Space Innovation through Partnership and Co-creation (J-SPARC) initiative aims to demonstrate the potential for robots to automate of the processing of specific tasks aboard the International Space Station (ISS). Robotics is altering many aspects of our lives in many fields and one where it is particularly attractive is in the exploration and exploitation of space. Ironically, the great strides made in manned spaceflight since the first Vostok mission lifted off in 1961 have shown that not only is supporting astronauts in orbit challenging and expensive, there are also many tasks, like microgravity experiments, where the human touch isn't the best choice. These tasks often require complex, precise, and subtle movements that demand either a highly specialized and expensive bespoke apparatus or a robot.


Army of avatar robots readies to invade Japanese job market

#artificialintelligence

Japanese startups are getting ready to deploy a small army of remote-controlled robots in the workplace. Called avatar robots, the machines are still experimental and their initial objectives limited. But if everything goes as planned, they could soon be clerking at convenience stores, patrolling buildings as security guards, or even assisting astronauts in outer space. The technology has the potential to replace humans, helping solve labor shortages and providing relief to essential workers combating natural disasters. Convenience stores in Tokyo have already put prototypes of the robots to work stocking shelves with beverages, instant noodles and other goods.


Japan agriculture crunch -- can AI-powered autonomous tractors help? - Tech Wire Asia

#artificialintelligence

Japan's farming market is possibly undergoing its twilight years with a significantly greying community, and that's why smart, autonomous tractors being developed by machine maker Kubota Tractor Corporation could hold commercial appeal. According to Japan's Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fishing, the number of Japanese engaged primarily in farming dropped to 1.7 million in 2014 from 1.86 million in 2011. About 515,000 farmers were 75 years or older in 2014. By comparison, only 83,000 were 39 years old or younger -- and that number was down by 7,000 from just three years earlier, reports USA Today. To make matters more pressing, Japan's population is shrinking by a quarter of a million people a year, and the number of births in 2014 was the lowest since record-keeping began in 1899, according to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare.


Japan Post closer to scrapping Saturday mail deliveries

The Japan Times

Saturday deliveries of ordinary mail from Japan Post may soon be a thing of past. During a Diet session set to begin on Oct. 26, the government plans to submit a bill scrapping such deliveries, sources have said. If the bill is enacted during the session, Saturday deliveries are expected to be abolished as early as autumn next year, the sources said. The government has been refraining from submitting the bill to revise the postal law in order to prioritize responses to sales irregularities involving postal life insurance products. The postal law currently requires Japan Post Co. to deliver ordinary mail six days a week or more.