Archives: April 2006

Portable fuel cell powered by water and aluminum

24 Apr 2006

On April 24, Hitachi Maxell announced the development of a fuel cell battery that relies on water and aluminum to generate electricity.

Portable fuel cell

Measuring 16 (H) x 10 (W) x 6 (D) cm (6 x 4 x 2.5 inches), the simple, low-cost device produces an average of 10 watts of power. The company claims to be working on developing it as a power source with up to 100 watts of power, and they hope to see the fuel cell use recycled aluminum scrap.

The device is described as a type of proton-exchange membrane fuel cell that generates power by combining hydrogen with oxygen in the air. Separate cartridges contain aluminum and water, and hydrogen is generated as water is gradually added to the aluminum. With 20 grams (0.7 ounce) of aluminum, a laptop can be powered for 4 to 5 hours.

[Source: Nishinippon Shimbun, Hitachi Maxell press release]

Stacks of ultra-thin DVDs approach terabyte level

20 Apr 2006

On April 19, Hitachi Maxell, Ltd. announced the development of new volume optical storage technology that can provide terabyte-level storage capacity in a compact device. Relying on unique nanoimprint technology, the company has succeeded in reducing the thickness of DVDs to 0.092 mm (92 micrometers) -- which is 1/13th the thickness of current DVDs -- while maintaining the standard capacity of 4.7 GB.

Hitachi Maxell's thin DVD

The system features what the company calls Stacked Volumetric Optical Disc (SVOD) technology, which consists of 100 ultra-thin optical discs (12-cm in diameter, the same as current DVDs) loaded into a 6.5-cm (2.5-inch) thick cartridge. The result is a compact optical disc library system (1/10th the conventional size) capable of combining random access memory and long-term storage.

When laminated on both sides, disc capacity will reach 9.4 GB, bringing the 100-disc cartridge up to near-terabyte level with 940 GB of storage. The company claims that next-generation blue laser technology could boost cartridge capacity to 5 terabytes (50 GB for each double-sided disc).

According to Hitachi Maxell, potential applications of this storage media include library systems for business and institutions. While continuing to investigate other applications, the company aims to cultivate the market by presenting this technology at academic conferences and exhibitions.

The discs will be priced at under 40,000 yen (US$325) for a stack of 100.

[Source: IT Media, Hitachi Maxell press release]

A map of the genome for every home

19 Apr 2006

Japan’s Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology has published a map of the human genome for the general population that it aims to distribute to households across the country. A total of 40,000 maps are being provided to primary, middle and high schools nationwide, and about 50,000 copies are being supplied to science museums around the country, where they will be distributed to the public on a first-come, first-served basis.

Human genome map

The map includes the names and locations of about 1% of the 26,800 genes that make up the human genome. Details and illustrations help explain genes that hit close to home, such as the one that determines your ability to metabolize alcohol and the one that produces collagen. PDF versions of the map are available for download (large or small), and an interactive Flash version is here.

[Source: Asahi Shimbun]

Yellow dust clouds zapped with green lasers

18 Apr 2006

LIDARIn an annual rite of spring, scientists in Japan carefully monitor the atmosphere for yellow dust. Also known as Asian dust, yellow sand or yellow wind, yellow dust is a phenomenon in which strong seasonal winds kick up giant clouds of fine Gobi desert sand. The dust clouds travel eastward, affecting air quality in China, Korea and Japan, and occasionally the continental US.

Japan's Meteorological Research Institute uses a remote sensing technique known as aerosol LIDAR (light detection and ranging) to monitor the status of the atmosphere and measure phenomena such as yellow dust. When weather conditions permit, a green laser beam is shot into the night sky from a small prefab structure belonging to the institute. The laser light is partly backscattered as it strikes particles floating as high as 40 km (25 miles) in the atmosphere, and the strength and timing of the reflected signals allows observers on the ground to analyze the particle content of the air.

On the night of April 17, the Omaezaki weather station in Shizuoka prefecture confirmed the presence of yellow dust in the atmosphere.

[Source: Yomiuri Shimbun]

“Robo-carp” rehearses for public debut

14 Apr 2006

The robotic koi carp unveiled last month by a group of Hiroshima engineering companies (led by Ryomei Engineering) is scheduled to make its first public appearance this weekend.

It was spotted during rehearsal in a large tank at Miyajima Aquarium (in Hatsukaichi city in Hiroshima prefecture), practicing its trademark moves of spinning around, treading water, and swimming in reverse. The robot appeared to be getting along will with the other fish in the tank -- an alligator gar and three endangered pirarucu that measure over 2 meters in length.

“It looks like a robot, but it behaves like a real fish,” said one surprised onlooker.

Public demonstrations of the robot will be held at the aquarium this weekend (April 15 - 16).

[Source: Chugoku Shimbun]

Tourists bask in blue glow of firefly squid

13 Apr 2006

Toyama Bay is the habitat of the world-famous glowing firefly squid, which surface in large numbers every spring in a phenomenon that has been designated a special natural monument. Peak firefly squid season means big catches for fishermen and brisk business for sightseeing boats that provide close-up views of the magical action.

Firefly squid catch

Early in the morning, after 3 AM, sightseeing boats depart the Namerikawa fishing port (Namerikawa is also home to the world's only museum dedicated to the firefly squid) in Toyama prefecture, making a short journey to fixed nets located about 1 to 2 km offshore. As the fishermen haul in their nets, the light emitted by the firefly squid causes the sea surface to glow a cobalt blue, evoking squeals of delight from the tourists.

Firefly squid

Toyama Bay's firefly squid fishing season opened on March 1 and is expected to continue until the end of June. Sightseeing boats are scheduled to run until May 7.

[Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, Asahi Shimbun]

ROBO-ONE sets 2010 date for space robot battles

11 Apr 2006

At the ROBO-ONE competition held in Tokyo in March, organizers announced plans to begin holding its robot competition in space in the year 2010. According to the recently launched "ROBO-ONE in the Space" official website, the project aims to further the progress of robot technology and boost the value of engineers by embracing the coming era of robotics and space. By taking the battles into space, ROBO-ONE hopes to fuel dreams and create an environment that inspires people to become engineers.

ROBO-ONE in space

The tentative date for the first space competition is October 10, 2010 (10/10/10), but a number of variables -- such as obtaining international approval for the use of radio frequencies, the satellite launch schedules, etc. -- make it difficult to set a firm date. Organizers are shooting for an actual date somewhere between 2010 and 2015.

Battles will be conducted in the space surrounding the ROBO-ONE satellite, which will be in a polar orbit at an altitude of 400 to 600 km. Tokyo will have 10-minute windows of communication with the satellite 4 times per day as it passes overhead. Battles will be conducted during these 10-minute periods. The satellite will be launched as a "piggyback satellite" (a small satellite launched together with a major satellite, using the launcher's surplus payload capacity) and will measure 50 x 50 x 50 cm and weigh less than 50 kg.

The rules of combat will be similar to those in previous competitions, the only difference being the definition of what is considered "out" of the ring. A 5-meter long safety line that connects each robot to the satellite will be outfitted with tension sensors that detect when the line is fully extended (determining that the robot is "out" of the ring). To be eligible for the competition, the biped robots must measure no more than 10 x 10 x 10 cm and must be capable of walking on terra firma. They also must be controllable from the Earth's surface.

Since conditions in space vary greatly from those on Earth, builders will have to consider a range of new issues, such as how to deal with the strains of operating in a vacuum under extreme temperatures and high levels of radiation.

ROBO-ONE's long-term plan is to hold competitions on the surface of the moon, which many believe will not be possible until at least 2030. In the meantime, the group will use the satellite.

(Click the link on this page to see the promo video. WMV file, requires Windows Media Player.)

[Source: ROBO-ONE in the Space, IT Media]

Follow the solar brick road

11 Apr 2006

Solar LED blocks from Sunlight Sunlight Co., Ltd., a venture company based in Himeji, Japan, has unveiled a new line of self-illuminating bricks that contain solar-powered LEDs. The company expects the solar LED blocks, which are powered by sunshine collected during the day, to be used in the construction of public roads and parks.

Embedded in sidewalks, the solar LED blocks can provide lighting underfoot at night and during power outages, and can be used for decorative purposes or for emergency evacuation lighting. The block's built-in solar cells and light components are arranged so that illumination is distributed evenly across the entire surface, an improvement over Sunlight’s previous solar LED blocks that featured a segregated component arrangement.

The bricks use solar cells that efficiently store and generate electricity even on cloudy days or under poor lighting conditions, and they can emit up to 8 hours of continuous light (or 24 hours of blinking light).

"In addition to improving the scenery, these lights can play a role in accident prevention and in emergency lighting during a disaster," says Yoshikazu Arai, President of Sunlight. "And they are environmentally friendly, too." The blocks start at 12,000 yen (US$100) and come in 5 colors.

[Source: Kobe Shimbun]

Super-Kamiokande set to resume neutrino detection work

10 Apr 2006

Super-KamiokandeLast week, the University of Tokyo's Institute for Cosmic Ray Research (ICRR) announced the near completion of full-scale reconstruction work on its giant Super-Kamiokande underground neutrino detection facility, which was severely damaged in a 2001 accident. Super-Kamiokande, the world’s largest facility of its kind, detects neutrinos as they pass through the 50,000 tons of water held in its cylindrical water tank, which measures 39 meters (128 feet) in diameter and 42 meters (138 feet) in depth and is located 1 km underground. Solar neutrino measurements will resume when the tank is refilled with water at the end of June.

About 7,000 of the facility’s 11,000 neutrino-detecting photomultiplier tubes, which are shaped like 50-centimeter diameter light bulbs, were destroyed in 2001 when a chain reaction of implosions occurred after one of the tubes failed.

(Further reading: Wikipedia, Info About Super-K)

[Source: Mainichi Shimbun]