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Automated COVID-19 PCR-testing system launched

The Japan Times

The system uses robots to conduct polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, tests, significantly reducing infection risks for technicians. "The system will reduce the burden on medical workers, who are becoming exhausted from measures aimed at preventing infections," especially as Japan braces for a fourth wave of COVID-19 cases, Hiroyasu Ito, a professor at the university, said. The system, developed by Kawasaki Heavy Industries Ltd., is housed in a container 2.5 meters wide and 12.2 meters long, and has 13 robotic arms. It conducts all the steps required to test samples for coronavirus infections without human intervention. The university is aiming to make it possible for the system to produce test results in just 80 minutes.


How Toyota thrives when the chips are down

The Japan Times

Beijing – Toyota Motor Corp. may have pioneered the just-in-time manufacturing strategy, but its decision to stockpile the chips that have become key components in cars goes back a decade to the Fukushima disaster. After the catastrophe severed Toyota's supply chains on March 11, 2011, the world's biggest automaker realized the lead-time for semiconductors was far too long to cope with devastating shocks such as natural disasters. The automaker came up with a business continuity plan (BCP) that required suppliers to stockpile anywhere from two to six months' worth of chips, depending on the time it takes from order to delivery, four sources said. That's why Toyota has so far been largely unscathed by a global shortage of semiconductors following a surge in demand for electrical goods under novel coronavirus lockdowns that has forced many rival automakers to suspend production, the sources said. "Toyota was, as far as we can tell, the only automaker properly equipped to deal with chip shortages," said a person familiar with Harman International, which specializes in car audio systems, displays and driver assistance technology.


Robot pets help ease virus isolation in Japan

The Japan Times

Nami Hamaura says she feels less lonely working from home thanks to her singing companion Charlie, one of a new generation of cute and clever Japanese robots whose sales are booming during the pandemic. Smart home assistants such as Amazon's Alexa have found success worldwide, but tech firms in Japan are reporting huge demand for more humanlike alternatives, as people seek solace during coronavirus isolation. "I felt my circle became very small," said 23-year-old Hamaura, a recent graduate who has worked almost entirely remotely since April 2020. With socializing limited, life in her first job at a Tokyo trading company was nothing like she had imagined. So she adopted Charlie, a mug-sized robot with a round head, red nose and flashing bow-tie, who converses with its owner in song.


Japanese companies ramping up use of artificial intelligence, report says

#artificialintelligence

Fox Business Flash top headlines are here. Check out what's clicking on FoxBusiness.com. TOKYO - Japanese companies are ramping up the use of artificial intelligence and other advanced technology to reduce waste and cut costs in the pandemic, and looking to score some sustainability points along the way. Disposing of Japan's more than 6 million tonnes in food waste costs the world's No.3 economy some 2 trillion yen ($19 billion) a year, government data shows. With the highest food waste per capita in Asia, the Japanese government has enacted a new law to halve such costs from 2000 levels by 2030, pushing companies to find solutions.


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.


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.


Fukushima nuclear debris removal to be delayed due to pandemic

The Japan Times

The operator of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, which suffered core meltdowns in 2011, has decided to delay the removal of nuclear debris by about one year from 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic, sources said Wednesday. The process of removing the melted fuel, the most difficult part of cleaning up the facility, was to begin at the No. 2 reactor in 2021, but the virus spread has stalled tests in the U.K. of a robot arm that is to be used for the removal, the sources said. Of the Nos. 1 to 3 reactors that experienced meltdowns following a massive earthquake and tsunami, the removal procedure was to start at the No. 2 unit because the operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc., had the best grasp of its internal condition, they said. Tepco had planned to insert a robot arm into the unit's containment vessel, from which it would initially extract around 1 gram of the debris at a time, then gradually expand the amount as it works toward removing several kilograms a day. The company was originally scheduled to verify in August the viability of the robot arm in the U.K. and transfer the equipment to Japan in February 2021 so that workers could start training with it.


JR Hokkaido to scrap 18 unmanned train stations

The Japan Times

Sapporo – Hokkaido Railway Co., or JR Hokkaido, said that it will scrap 18 of its unmanned train stations due to a decrease in users amid the novel coronavirus pandemic. The stations to be closed down in line with the spring 2021 revision of its timetable are on four lines, including the Soya Main Line, according to the company, which serves the northernmost Japan prefecture of Hokkaido. The number of JR Hokkaido stations to be scrapped through a timetable revision is the largest since the company was born out of the breakup and privatization of Japanese National Railways in April 1987, which also created other Japan Railways, or JR, Group firms. The upcoming move will reduce the number of stations in JR Hokkaido's service area to 372. JR Hokkaido will also review the operations of 14 limited express trains next spring.