Archives: June 2006

Robot Museum set to open in October

30 Jun 2006

The Robot Museum, Japan's first museum fully dedicated to educating visitors about the robots of the world, is scheduled to open in Nagoya's Sakae district in October, according to a June 29 announcement by Osaka-based robot venture GYROWALK and Osaka-based real estate auction services provider IDU.

Robot Museum

Housed in a refurbished building that used to serve as an imported car showroom, the 2,600 square meter museum will center around an exhibition area entitled "Robothink," where everything from toy robots to industrial robots will be showcased in exhibits covering topics from robot history to the latest in robot technology. Some of the robots that enjoyed the limelight of the 2005 Aichi Expo, held just outside Nagoya, will be prominently featured.

The museum will also include a shopping area offering robot-related goods, as well as a cafe restaurant set in a near-future style environment where robots coexist peacefully with humans. (Advice: To maintain this peace, make sure to leave your droid waiter a generous tip.)

The entrance fee for the museum has yet to be determined.

[Sources: Yomiuri Shimbun, Nikkei Shimbun]

Super-sharp lasers to boost disc capacity tenfold

28 Jun 2006

Laser donutResearchers at Kyoto University have developed new semiconductor laser technology that allows the shape of beams to be tailored freely and that can output beams up to 10 times more compact than existing beams – a development that could lead to a tenfold increase in the storage capacity of optical discs. Research results were published in the June 22 edition of British science journal Nature.

The Kyoto University group, led by professor Susumu Noda, worked with Kyoto-based Rohm Co., Ltd. and the Japan Science and Technology Agency (JST) to engineer layers of photonic crystals consisting of tens of thousands of small holes, which were incorporated into 0.5 mm x 0.5 mm semiconductor chips. The photonic crystal layer works as an optical resonator, with each individual hole functioning as a tiny mirror that causes the light to resonate in the semiconductor until it is emitted as laser light. The result is a laser beam with a diameter up to 10 times smaller and with properties different from those of conventional semiconductor lasers.

According to the researchers, these new semiconductor lasers were able to produce a range of beam patterns while maintaining stable single-mode oscillation. The ability to control the oscillation direction of light in this way could lead to the development of compact lasers capable of producing diverse beam patterns on demand, such as hollow beams (with cross-sections that look like donuts), concentric hollow beams (donuts within donuts), and other shapes that have heretofore been impossible to form.

Controlling the oscillation direction of light also means that lasers can be focused into ultra-thin beams, enabling a tenfold increase in the density of data storage on discs without changing the wavelength of the laser. Using blue lasers such as those used in Blu-ray disc technology could lead to DVDs with hundreds of gigabytes of capacity.

Potential applications are not limited to ultra-high density storage media. Ultra-thin, hollow beams could be used as "tweezers" for trapping and moving microscopic particles, which could bring a new level of precision to molecular-level processing and fabrication. Hidemi Takasu, Rohm's research director, says, "In addition to seeing our research applied to next-generation DVD technology, we hope it can be applied to imaging technology that uses lasers to project precise images directly onto the human retina."

[Sources: Yomiuri Shimbun, Kyoto Shimbun, JST press release]

Video of Indonesian coelacanth

27 Jun 2006

A portion of the Indonesian coelacanth video shot several weeks ago has been made public.

The news report states that while more than 200 coelacanth finds have been documented off the coast of southern Africa, only 4 of the Indonesian variety had ever been confirmed before the Aquamarine Fukushima team caught theirs on video last month. According to the group's coelacanth web page, the researchers this time were able to capture a total of 7 coelacanth on video during the period from May 30 to June 5, as follows:

- May 30 (8:00 to 9:00 AM): Successfully videotaped an Indonesian coelacanth off the northern coast of Sulawesi, at a depth of 170 meters in 17 degrees Celsius water. Length of video is 5 to 10 minutes.

- May 31 (approx. 7:30 AM): Videotaped 2 more coelacanth in the same cave where the first coelacanth was videotaped.

- May 31 (approx. 10:00 AM): Videotaped another coelacanth in a different cave located at a depth of 180 meters.

- June 4 (approx. 6:40 PM): Videotaped 3 coelacanth over the span of 2 hours at a depth of 150 meters in the same area.

Beginning July 13, Aquamarine Fukushima will hold a special exhibit dedicated to the mystery of the Indonesian coelacanth, featuring video of the fish shown on a 65-inch plasma screen. The exhibit will run for an unspecified period of time.

[Source: Aquamarine Fukushima coelacanth page]

UPDATE (July 1, 2006): You can see the same coelacanth footage in this news report in English, on YouTube.

Kawasaki BULLDOG to sweep Cambodian landmines

23 Jun 2006

Kawasaki's BULLDOGOn June 21, Kawasaki Heavy Industries announced plans to send its BULLDOG landmine clearing system to Cambodia, where it will be put to the test in the field. The BULLDOG system, which employs Kawasaki's robotic remote control and electronic control technology, has undergone some upgrades after conducting mine clearing operations in Afghanistan in 2004 and 2005.

By conducting test operations in Cambodian minefields, Kawasaki hopes to gather data that will help them develop a BULLDOG system well-suited to the local vegetation, soil conditions, and terrain. As was the case in Afghanistan, the operations are financed by a grant extended by the Japanese government.

The BULLDOG system consists of three parts: (1) the MINE DOG, a mine-detecting vehicle equipped with mine detection sensors and a variety of cameras, (2) the MINE BULL, a mine-clearing vehicle equipped with a drum that drills the earth to excavate and detonate mines and a mechanism to collect waste products, and (3) a system of devices for remote control and operation.

Relying on an 8-channel system of mine detection sensors that automatically adjust their height with respect to uneven terrain, the MINE DOG can detect anti-personnel mines and unexploded bombs underground. A camera mounted on top of the vehicle detects trip wires and mines scattered on the ground surface. Sensor data is analyzed using software developed by Kawasaki, which allows operators to distinguish mines from objects such as rocks or cavities in the soil. For the tests in Cambodia, Kawasaki added features to help the MINE DOG deal with vegetation, as well as features to improve mobility on soft ground.

The MINE BULL detonates anti-personnel mines by means of a high-speed digging drum that turns the soil in front of the vehicle. The vehicle's excavation depth monitor, GPS antenna, and route-monitoring cameras ensure steady digging and forward motion, and a system of magnets extract waste materials that typically slow down the safety inspections that follow mine clearing operations. To deal with Cambodia's sticky soil, Kawasaki added a system of brushes to prevent soil buildup and mobility-enhancing features similar to those added to the MINE DOG.

The MINE BULL will be shipped to Cambodia in June, and work will begin in a minefield near Siem Reap in July. The MINE DOG will be shipped in August, and it will go to work beginning in October.

Kawasaki aims to use the data obtained from these tests to quickly develop a BULLDOG system well-suited for the Cambodian landscape, which they hope will make a valuable contribution to international demining activities that involve the Japanese government and international NGOs.

[Source: ZDNet Japan]

Warhol endorses TDK

23 Jun 2006

Andy Warhol's TDK videotape commercial (1983), on YouTube.

3800-year-old mummy gets a face

22 Jun 2006

Computer-generated image of mummy faceOn June 21, researchers at Waseda University's Institute of Egyptology unveiled the computer-generated facial image of an ancient Egyptian military commander that lived about 3,800 years ago. The image is based on CAT scans taken of a mummy.

Researchers claim the mummy, which was unearthed near Cairo at an archeological site in North Dashur, is from ancient Egypt's 13th dynasty (c.1756 to c.1630 BC), and according to inscriptions on the sarchophagus, it appears to be that of a military commander named Senw.

The facial image, which was created by a team of graphic artists from the Joshibi University of Art and Design, is based on bone structure data obtained from CAT scans of the mummy. The research group determined that he was a middle-aged to elderly man, and from information such as the military commander's title they hypothesized he was of mixed race. The artists worked to provide the face with strong, military commander-like features, referring to ancient Egyptian pictorial representations and sculptures.

"We had to rely on artististic imagination for the parts we did not understand," says Sakuji Yoshimura, Waseda University professor who led the research team. Several faces were generated, and the one that most resembled that of a military commander was chosen.

The face will be on display to the public beginning in July at Fukuoka City Museum.

You can read more about the mummy HERE.

[Source: Asahi Shimbun]

Nasal airflow regulator amplifies whispers

21 Jun 2006

Nasal airflow regulatorOn June 20, an Okayama University team of researchers led by Professor Shogo Minagi unveiled a nasal airflow regulator designed to alleviate voice loss such as that which sometimes occurs after a stroke.

In normal speech, the soft palate (located at the back of the roof of the mouth) works to regulate the amount of air expelled through the mouth and nose. When these nerves are damaged by a stroke, for example, the soft palate may sag, preventing air from escaping through the nose. The result is the inability to pronounce speech sounds.

When inserted into the nostrils, the device forces air through the nasal passage when speaking, enabling sounds to be produced. According to the developers, the device allows people with nasal airflow problems -- even those whose speech is all but inaudible -- to be clearly heard.

[Source: Akita Sakigake Shimpo, Jiji]

Critters get football fever, too

21 Jun 2006

Animals mimicking human behavior are a favorite staple of the Japanese media, and lately, for some reason or other, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of wire photos of animals playing soccer. Perhaps it is a sign that fascination with the sport extends deep into the animal kingdom. Regardless, we are not alone...

Crab playing soccer
Crabs play soccer, too.

Crow playing soccer
Crows play soccer, too.

Ants playing soccer
Ants play soccer, too.

Elepant playing soccer
Elephants play soccer, too.

Orangutan playing soccer
Orangutans play soccer, too.

Sea lion playing soccer
Sea lions play soccer, too.

Guinea pig playing soccer
Guinea pigs play soccer, too.

Blue tang playing soccer
Blue tang play soccer, too.

Sea turtle playing soccer
Sea turtles play soccer, too.

Hopefully, as the Samurai Blue prepare to square off in a do-or-die match against Brazil, they take comfort in knowing they have the full support of our feral friends, too. Gambare Nippon!

Petaflops-level supercomputer to be unveiled

20 Jun 2006

MDGRAPE-3

On June 19, Japan's Institute of Physical and Chemical Research (Riken), SGI Japan and Intel announced the development of a supercomputer with a theoretical peak performance of 1 petaflops (one million billion floating point operations per second). Known as the MDGRAPE-3 (or the Protein Explorer), the computer system is designed to perform molecular dynamics simulations of such phenomena as non-bonding interactions between atoms.

The system consists of 201 units equipped with 24 of RIKEN’s MDGRAPE-3 LSI chips for molecular dynamics simulation (total of 4,808 chips), which are connected to 64 parallel servers equipped with 256 of Intel's Xeon 5000-series cores and 37 parallel servers equipped with 74 Xeon 3.2 GHz cores.

In the future, RIKEN plans to further upgrade the system with Xeon 5100-series processors (codenamed Woodcrest), and testing is now underway.

The LINPACK Benchmark, which is the standard for the Top 500 List, could not be performed on the system, so the performance cannot be compared directly with the world's other top supercomputers. However, the system's theoretical peak performance of 1 petaflops will set the computer firmly at the top of the list, with a speed about three times that of IBM's BlueGene/L at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (currently No.1 on the list).

The system will be unveiled to the public on June 24 at RIKEN's Yokohama laboratory.

[Source: IT Media]