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Japan's betting on autonomous cars – for a unique reason – Tech Wire Asia


Autonomous cars, commonly known as self-driving cars, aren't new in Japan -- nor the automotive industry. But whilst the rest of the developed world is pushing for autonomous vehicles largely for reasons of safety and convenience for people in general, Japan's a little different. It's to compensate for its aging population. The Japanese ageing population is in need of transportation -- but the country is plagued by persistent labor shortages. "In the cargo and transport sectors, drivers have become older and the shortage of human resources has become serious," a recent METI report said.

Bumpy road as aging Japan bets on self-driving cars

The Japan Times

With an aging population in need of transport, Japan is betting on autonomous cars, but an accident involving a self-driving showcase at the Paralympics illustrates the challenges ahead. Japan is far from the only place with autonomous vehicles on the roads, but its government has set acceleration of the technology as a key priority. Last year, it became the first country in the world to allow a vehicle capable of taking full control in certain situations to operate on public roads. The Honda car has "Level 3" autonomy, meaning it can take certain decisions alone, though a driver has to be ready to take the wheel in emergencies. The government has changed the law to pave the way for increasingly advanced autonomous vehicles, and the ministry of economy, trade and industry (METI) has plans for 40 autonomous taxi test sites nationwide by 2025.

JR East to deploy robotic baristas at Tokyo and Yokohama stations

The Japan Times

East Japan Railway Co. (JR East) will start testing fully autonomous robotic baristas this December to serve coffee at its Tokyo and Yokohama stations, in a tie-up with a Singaporean retail technology startup. The company said the planned test-marketing involves the Ella robotic barista system developed by Crown Technologies Holding Pte. Ltd., which has had a business partnership with the railway operator since late last year. The unmanned system serves coffee through an automated ordering, serving and cashless payment process. It can serve more than 200 types of blended coffee and allows customers to use dedicated apps and railway-related IC cards for payment. JR East expects the upcoming market research at two of the busiest stations in Japan to pave the way for it to provide loyal customers with customized coffee by using artificial intelligence analysis of their preferences.

Watch a one-legged robot hop about as researchers try to knock it over

New Scientist

A one-legged robot that can stand, hop and keep its balance on sloping or unsteady surfaces could offer a cheaper route to bipedal bots and self-balancing exoskeletons. Researchers at the Toyota Technological Institute (TTI) in Nagoya, Japan, built their robot, dubbed TTI Hopper, using simple motors and gears for less than $1000, then created an algorithm that compensates for the limited capabilities of these components. "In robotics, we sometimes use hydraulics, because they can be actuated fast," says Barkan Uğurlu, who is now at Özyeğin University in Istanbul, Turkey. "Or electric actuators that have a special spring arrangement or a strain gauge to measure forces inside. Instead, we used DC motors with gears. We only measure the joint angle, and we only used one very low-cost force sensor at the foot."

Japan steps up self-driving to revive rural areas, help older population

The Japan Times

Japan is bolstering its autonomous driving ambitions with a new project to be formally introduced Wednesday to expand the use of self-driving vehicles in more than 40 locations around the country by 2025. The "Road to the L4" project aims to popularize advanced mobility services including Level 4 autonomous driving, wherein vehicles can operate without a human at the wheel. It will include demonstrations of the technology to promote acceptance and understanding, according to the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry. One of the goals is to help revitalize communities. "People including the elderly don't have ways to get around in rural areas," said Tatsuki Izawa, an assistant manager in the ministry's autonomous driving division.

Focusing on mobility, Toyota looks to lead the world in smart city technology

The Japan Times

With its ambitious project to build Woven City -- a fully-connected, human-centered city at the base of Mount Fuji -- Toyota Motor Corp. aims to become a world leader in smart city technology. The COVID-19 pandemic has prompted a rethink of how people move and live, and has reinforced the need to create technology that supports "happy, healthy" human life, says Toyota Chief Digital Officer James Kuffner. "Woven City is not meant to be a technology bubble where the technology stays only within Woven City. It's really meant to be a place where we incubate it, test it, accelerate it and then export it all over the world," Kuffner said in a recent interview. For countries like Japan, addressing the challenges posed by the graying of society -- such as mobility and healthy living -- is an urgent task.

Apple Reportedly in Talks With Toyota About Apple Car Production Starting 2024


Apple is rumored to be in Asia visiting Toyota as it prepares to lay the supplier groundwork to mass produce a branded car by 2024, according to a new report by DigiTimes. Apple representatives were said to have met with South Korea's SK Group and LG Electronics last month to discuss Apple Car development, and now Japan's Toyota is being touted as its next potential destination. Apple has been working on a car-related project since at least 2014, and at one stage it looked as if the company was scaling back to focus on autonomous vehicle software. However, following several changes in management and hiring, Apple is now believed to be focused on building a car for consumers. But to do that, the company needs to tap into a whole new supply chain.

Facebook Apologizes For Embarrassing Mistake Caused By A.I.


In this photo illustration Facebook logo can be seen, Kolkata, India, 28 February, 2020. Facebook ... [ ] Inc on Thursday announced its decision to cancel its annual developer conference due to Coronavirus outbreak according a news media report. Some crisis situations are caused by what people say or do. On occasion, a crisis--or an embarrassing incident--is caused by technology. The New York Times reported yesterday that, "Facebook users who recently watched a video from a British tabloid featuring Black men saw an automated prompt from the social network that asked if they would like to'keep seeing videos about Primates', causing the company to investigate and disable the artificial intelligence-powered feature that pushed the message. "This was clearly an unacceptable error and we disabled the entire topic recommendation feature as soon as we realized this was happening so we could investigate the cause and prevent this from happening again," Facebook spokeswoman Dani Lever said in a statement to USA Today. "As we have said, while we have made improvements to our AI, we know it's not perfect and we have more progress to make," she said. "We apologize to anyone who may have seen these offensive recommendations." This is not the first time that advanced technology has created an embarrassing situation for an organization. The Washington Post reported yesterday that "a judge ruled that Apple will have to continue fighting a lawsuit brought by users in federal court in California, alleging that the company's voice assistant Siri has improperly recorded private conversations." Last week at the Paralympics in Tokyo, Toyota self-driving pods injured a pedestrian. Reuters reported that, "In a YouTube video, Toyota Chief Executive Akio Toyoda apologized for the incident and said he offered to meet the person but was unable to do so.

ANA and JAL plan drone services to boost remote areas and own bottom lines

The Japan Times

Top aviation companies ANA Holdings Inc. and Japan Airlines Co. are planning to launch commercial drone services to deliver medical supplies and daily necessities to people living in remote areas. The two companies see the new services as playing a useful role in supporting local health care provision and disaster preparedness as well as expanding community infrastructure on remote islands and other far-flung areas. At the same time, the initiatives will help them promote management diversification and strengthen profitability as the coronavirus pandemic continues to take a toll on their overall business performances. ANA Holdings, the parent of All Nippon Airways Co., conducted a trial run jointly with a pharmaceutical company and other entities in March. Footage that it released shows a drone carrying a package of medical supplies from one island to another among Nagasaki Prefecture's Goto Islands at a speed of around 100 kph.

Two years since deadly Tokyo crash, more older Japanese giving up driver's licenses

The Japan Times

The number of people who voluntarily give up their driver's licenses has continued to surge in Japan since an older driver struck and killed a mother and her daughter, and injured nine others, in Tokyo in 2019. The driver, Kozo Iizuka, was sentenced Thursday to five years in prison. The 2019 tragedy raised public awareness of accidents involving older drivers. The number of people who voluntarily surrendered their driver's licenses in 2019 rose by about 180,000 from the previous year to a record of about 600,000, according to data compiled by the National Police Agency. Drivers age 75 or older accounted for around 60% of the total.