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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.

AI, drones and 4K cameras: New tech boosts security systems in Japan

The Japan Times

An increasing variety of technologies such as artificial intelligence, drones and high-quality 4K video cameras is being introduced in the field of security amid a serious shortage of personnel in the field. A virtual "AI guard" developed by major Japanese security firm Secom Co. was tested at Ogikubo Hospital in Tokyo in late October. An animated character displayed on an electric panel at the hospital entrance takes visitors' temperatures and then welcomes those without fevers into the facility. The character has been programmed to respond verbally to basic inquiries and can tell visitors where the bathrooms are located and what time their buses will arrive. It is also able to make eye contact with visitors and lean down when approached by children or people in wheelchairs.

SoftBank's Rocky Year Ends on a Winning Streak WSJD - Technology

TOKYO--For a year that started out with a share crash, a record loss and a global pandemic, 2020 is turning out to be very good for SoftBank Group Corp. The Japanese technology investor, best known for its $100 billion Vision Fund and its mercurial chief executive, Masayoshi Son, this week scored an estimated $11 billion paper gain when U.S. food-delivery company DoorDash Inc. went public. It was the latest in a series of wins as soaring tech stocks pushed up the value of many of SoftBank's holdings. Cashing in on another investment, SoftBank said Friday that it agreed to sell an 80% stake in Boston Dynamics, a company known for dog-like robots that can maneuver through rooms, to Hyundai Motor Group . The deal valued the robotics company at $1.1 billion.

Researchers Give Robotic AI Spontaneous Behavior


BEGIN ARTICLE PREVIEW: Researchers and roboticists are continually trying to achieve autonomous functions in robots, and they often look toward the animal brain as a point of inspiration for control mechanisms. Because of the task-specific nature of robotic behavior, due to the reliance on predefined modules and control methodologies, they are often limited in flexibility.The newest development in this area is coming out of the University of Tokyo, where researchers have created an alternative machine learning-based method to give robotic AI spontaneous behaviors. The team did this by relying on intricate temporal patterns, such as an animal brain’s neural activities.The research was published in Science Advances, titled “Designing spontaneous behavioral switching via chaotic itinerancy.” High-Dimensional ChaosA dynamical system is a mathematical model of the ever-changing internal states of something, which describes robots and their control software. Researchers are especi

Test of self-driving taxi begins in Tokyo

The Japan Times

An unprecedented road test of a self-driving taxi using a fifth-generation, or 5G, ultrahigh-speed wireless network started in Tokyo on Thursday. Sompo Japan Insurance Inc., KDDI Corp., Tier IV Inc. and other firms tested the taxi on public roads around the metropolitan government office building in Shinjuku Ward. The companies hope to put such taxis into practical use in 2022 or later. A Toyota Motor Corp. JPN Taxi model equipped with software for autonomous driving developed by Tier IV, a startup based in Nagoya, is being used in the experimental project. The four-day test through Sunday is designed to check the safety, comfort and punctuality of the self-driving taxi in two modes -- one under complete remote monitoring and another under monitoring by a person sitting in the driver's seat.

Army of avatar robots readies to invade Japanese job market


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.

Dancing HRP-4C Robot Uncanny Valley Girl: Science Fiction in the News


HRP-4C, the cybernetic human robot from AIST, gave an amazing dance performance called "Dance Robot LIVE! - HRP-4C Cybernetic Human" at the Digital Content Expo in Tokyo. Take a look at the video and tell me if you think that this uncanny valley girl has passed beyond creepy to remarkable.

Remote Work Isn't Just for White-Collar Jobs Anymore WSJD - Technology

On the ground floor of a towering office building overlooking Tokyo Bay, in a space intended to resemble the interior of a moon base, a convenience store is tended by a humanoid robot. No, it is in the back, doing the unglamorous job of keeping shelves stocked. It has broad shoulders, wide eyes, a boomerang-shaped head and strange hands, capable of grabbing objects with both suction and a trio of opposable thumbs. Like a marionette on invisible, miles-long strings, the robot at the Lawson convenience store is controlled remotely, by a person elsewhere in the city wearing a virtual-reality headset. Built by Tokyo-based Telexistence, a three-year-old startup, this system is the culmination of nearly 40 years of research, and is the world's first commercial realization of an audacious goal: to enable a person to do any job on Earth from anywhere else.

This Japanese Engineer Created the Robots That Make Your Cars WSJD - Technology

It is well-known nowadays that robots do much of the work making a car, their giant arms swinging in precise motion to bolt on doors and weld metal. Less well-known is one of the major figures behind that assembly-line transformation, a Japanese engineer who built an empire at the base of Mount Fuji where his own robots churned out robots for the world's factories. Seiuemon Inaba, who died at age 95 on Oct. 2, led robot maker Fanuc Corp. from its start as a Fujitsu Ltd. spinoff in 1972. Today it is one of the principal industrial-robot makers in the world with a market value of some $40 billion, helping make products as diverse as cars and smartphones. Born March 5, 1925, in Chikusei, a small city some 50 miles north of Tokyo, Mr. Inaba was the son of a local landowner.

PlayStation inventor starts new career making robots for no pay

The Japan Times

Ken Kutaragi, the legendary inventor of the PlayStation gaming console, is taking on one of the hardest jobs in robotics. And he's getting paid nothing to do it. The founder of Sony Corp.'s gaming business is the new chief executive officer of Ascent Robotics Inc., a Tokyo-based artificial intelligence startup. Kutaragi, 70, wants to make affordable robots that can safely move around and do physical work alongside humans in factories and logistics centers, and aims to have a working prototype in about a year. He said he receives no salary to save precious capital.