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Sony Envisions an AI-Fueled World, From Kitchen Bots to Games

#artificialintelligence

In 1997, Hiroaki Kitano, a research scientist at Sony, helped organize the first Robocup, a robot soccer tournament that attracted teams of robotics and artificial intelligence researchers to compete in the picturesque city of Nagoya, Japan. At the start of the first day, two teams of robots took to the pitch. As the machines twitched and surveyed their surroundings, a reporter asked Kitano when the match would begin. "I told him it started five minutes ago!" he says with a laugh. Such was the state of AI and robotics at the time.


AI helping Japan railway companies to combat problems with snow

The Japan Times

Japanese railway companies are turning to artificial intelligence to help tackle potential problems for their shinkansen bullet trains caused by accumulations of snow. West Japan Railway Co. is developing an AI system to gauge the amount of snow attached to Hokuriku Shinkansen trains that cut through Niigata, Toyama and Ishikawa prefectures adjacent to the Sea of Japan. The railway operator currently decides how many personnel to deploy for snow clearance a day beforehand, based on information from meteorological data providers and past experience, but it is often not very accurate. AI will gather data from images of trains that have accumulated snow while traveling, study weather conditions and predict the number of personnel necessary for clearance work. Test operations have proved positive so far and the system is set for full introduction next winter.


Toyota to build 'city of the future' at the base of Mount Fuji

The Japan Times

LAS VEGAS – Toyota Motor Corp. said Monday it plans to build a prototype "city of the future" at the base of Mount Fuji, powered by hydrogen fuel cells and functioning as a laboratory for autonomous cars, smart homes, artificial intelligence and other technologies. Toyota unveiled the plan at CES, the big technology industry show. The development, to be built at the site of a factory that is planned to be closed in Shizuoka Prefecture, will be called "Woven City" -- a reference to Toyota's start as a loom manufacturing company -- and will serve as a home to full-time residents and researchers. Toyota did not disclose costs for the project. Executives at many major automakers have talked about how cities of the future could be designed to cut climate-changing emissions from vehicles and buildings, reduce congestion and apply internet technology to everyday life.


Japan criticized for lack of foreign-language information during Typhoon Hagibis

The Japan Times

During a natural disaster, the difference between life and death can come down to the availability of information that's fast, accurate and in a language you understand. Typhoon Hagibis made landfall on the Izu Peninsula in Shizuoka Prefecture on Saturday before making its way north toward the Tohoku region, bringing ferocious winds and record-breaking rain. Left in its wake were flooded cities, overflowing rivers and at least 25 fatalities. Through it all, phones were buzzing with news about evacuation advisories and updates on the trajectory of the typhoon, but mostly in Japanese. In the wake of Typhoon Hagibis, voices on Twitter and other social media services criticized the lack of information distributed in other languages.


Japan criticized for lack of foreign-language information during Typhoon Hagibis

The Japan Times

During a natural disaster, the difference between life and death can come down to the availability of information that's fast, accurate and in a language you understand. Typhoon Hagibis made landfall on the Izu Peninsula in Shizuoka Prefecture on Saturday before making its way north toward the Tohoku region, bringing biting winds and record-breaking rain. Left in its wake were flooded cities, overflowing rivers and at least 19 people dead. Through it all, phones were buzzing with news about evacuation advisories and updates on the trajectory of the typhoon, but mostly in Japanese. In the wake of Typhoon Hagibis, voices on Twitter and other social media services criticized the lack of information distributed in other languages.


Japanese astronauts visit factory making 'Mobile Suit Gundam' models bound for space

The Japan Times

SHIZUOKA – Astronauts Soichi Noguchi and Norishige Kanai on Wednesday visited a factory making models of humanoid robots from the anime series "Mobile Suit Gundam" which are slated to be launched into space. The project is part of an effort by Tokyo 2020 Olympics organizers and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) to boost spirits ahead of the games. In the project, a satellite carrying models of Gundam and Zaku, piloted by the main character from the series and his rival, will be launched into space. Noguchi and Kanai visited the Bandai Hobby Center, which creates molds for the models, in the city of Shizuoka. They spoke with factory staff about special materials that can withstand the conditions in space, asking questions such as what happens when radiation and ultraviolet rays hit the models.


Toyota group firms test out labor-saving prototype products at Gifu shopping mall

The Japan Times

Major component-makers of the Toyota group have launched an experiment of letting consumers and shop staff try their products under development at a shopping mall in the city of Gifu. Osaka-based Jtekt Corp. and Aisin Seiki Co., based in Kariya, Aichi Prefecture, introduced products designed to help reduce burdens on shoppers and staff at the Colorful Town Gifu commercial complex. After the experiment, which will run until the end of this month, user feedback will be reflected in the development of next-generation products. At a Nitori Co. outlet, a furniture and interior shop, a store staffer wore a Power Assist Suit while removing a large cardboard box from a push cart and putting it on a shelf. The suit is a Jtekt-developed wearable device that reduces the strain on the back when lifting heavy objects.


In pursuit of a sustainable society, Nagano turns to AI to help craft policy

The Japan Times

OSAKA - When times are good, there is less political pressure at the local level anywhere to be economically efficient or carefully scrutinize predictions that a new public works project or expensive industrial or tourism promotion scheme will lead to prosperity in 20 or 30 years. But with their rapidly aging and declining populations and shrinking tax bases, local governments now face a daunting task in formulating political, economic, social and environmental policies that will most likely benefit the greatest number of people decades from now. In contrast to the carefree public works spending of the bubble economy of three decades ago, often based on proposals that seemed little thought out, the demand for data-driven, evidence-based projections for various policy measures among local governments has grown, lest a wrong decision lead to local economic disaster, and voter anger. Earlier this year, Nagano Prefecture announced it would rely more on computer modeling and scenarios for local policy decisions. The decision came after the prefecture cooperated with Kyoto University's Kokoro Research Center, Hitachi Ltd. and Mitsubishi UFJ Research and Consulting to create two different models using artificial intelligence.


Toyota to cut managers' summer bonus by up to 5% due to high R&D costs

The Japan Times

NAGOYA - Toyota Motor Corp. will cut summer bonuses for some 9,800 managers by 4 to 5 percent, as it looks to tighten cost control in the face of high spending on developing technology for autonomous and electrified vehicles, a source close to the matter said Thursday. The decision comes even as the company expects a 19.5 percent rise in net profit in the current fiscal year, and reflects an uncertain business outlook due to the prolonged trade war between the United States and China, the source said. Toyota President Akio Toyoda said Thursday at an annual shareholders' meeting that his company is boosting efforts in developing zero-emission vehicles including fuel cell vehicles. "We are facing a once-in-a-century transformation. I hope to build a mobility society of the future with our shareholders," Toyoda said at the meeting at its headquarters in Aichi Prefecture.


IT services touted as key to future of Japan's farming sector

The Japan Times

NIIGATA/KYOTO - Self-driving tractors, tomato-picking robots, camera-mounted drones to survey fields and spot crop damage, and satellite data from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) to help farms keep track of climate and weather data. At over a dozen booths beside the G20 farm ministers' meeting venue earlier this month in the Sea of Japan city of Niigata, agricultural organizations and technology firms touted products and services they see as necessary tools to ensure a prosperous future for agriculture. "In today's Japan, the aging of farmers has become an issue, and the overall population of the country is decreasing. Collaboration between agriculture and nonagricultural sectors, such as satellite technology, IoT ("internet of things," internet connectivity into physical devices like tractors) and artificial intelligence has a key role to play in fostering agricultural innovation," said Susumu Hamamura, parliamentary vice minister at the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. The increased use of easily accessible data on tablet computers and smartphones to provide farmers with a wide range of agricultural data was a key message at the Niigata conference.