Archives: September 2006

Schadaraparr video: “Disco System”

15 Sep 2006

Schadaraparr, who were instrumental in popularizing hip hop in Japan in the early 90s, appear as the components of a Rube Goldberg machine in the music video for their new single "Disco System."

UPDATE: This post at "GilCrows Image Research Lab" points out the Schadaraparr video's striking resemblance to an advertisement for 118 118, the UK directory inquiries provider -- which is said to be a parody of this Honda accord commercial. That would make the Schadaraparr video an imitation of a parody of a commercial. Cool.

Watch the 118 118 commercial on YouTube (and check out all the 118 118 videos at The 118 118 Experience).

Fujitsu develops “invisible” barcode

15 Sep 2006

FP Code -- On September 13, Fujitsu unveiled a new type of "invisible" barcode, called FP (Fine Picture) code, which allows data to be embedded directly into color print photographs. FP code consists of a series of faint yellow lines -- said to be invisible to the naked eye -- which are overlaid on the photograph during the printing process. Once encoded, a photograph can retain its original quality while serving as an "object hyperlink" to websites that users can access via mobile phone.

To use FP code, users must first download special free software to their camera-equipped phone. Then, when the camera is used to take a picture of an encoded photograph, the code is sent to a server where it is converted into URL data, which is used to connect the user's mobile phone to the corresponding website. Text, video and audio content can then be delivered directly to the user's phone.

The first examples of FP code will reportedly begin to appear in Japanese catalogs and magazine advertisements as early as October. If FP code is what Fujitsu claims it is, we may soon bear witness to the disappearance of unsightly barcodes and QR code (2D code) from print material.

One thing, though. If FP code is invisible, how will anyone know where to point their camera?

[Sources: Asahi Shimbun and Fujitsu press release]

Robot pony: Sega’s new dream pet

14 Sep 2006

Dream Pony from Sega Toys Dreaming of owning a pony, but anxious about taking on the necessary responsibilities? Fret no more, there's an alternative. By the end of the year, Sega Toys will begin selling a life-sized robotic pony.

The 1.2-meter tall, battery-operated Dream Pony (Yume-Kouma) is outfitted with sensors that enable it to react to its environment. Pet the pony's neck and back and it shakes it head and moves its ears and tail in appreciation, just like the real deal. Dream Pony also responds to audio and visual stimuli with a whole repetoire of reactions -- including an anxious-sounding whinny when the room becomes dark and a jerk of the head in response to a sudden loud noise. Dream Pony also comes with a plastic carrot that it attempts to eat when held in front of its face.

Unfortunately, though, Dream Pony lacks the appeal of a real pony primarily because its legs do not move. (Come on, what do you expect for 68,000 yen/$US600?) No moving legs means no joyrides through the hood, so you can cross it off your list of alternative modes of transportation. But as long as you weigh less than 36 kg (80 lb), the pony should be strong enough to support your weight.

Dream Pony, whose sales are expected to reach 10,000 units per year, is the latest beast in Sega's Dream Pet (Yume-Petto) series of virtual pets, 800,000 of which have been sold to date. Another of Sega's recent mechanical pets is the popular Dream Cat Smile (Yume-Neko Sumairu), previously known as Near Me (Nyaa Mii is a Japanese play on words mimicking the sound a cat makes). There is a fantastic video (.wmv) on the Near Me homepage (near the bottom) that is worth a look. Another video of Dream Cat Smile can be found on YouTube here. The fluffy white feline is priced at just over 8,000 yen (US$70).

Sega Toys has made significant progress in carving out a market for alternative pets for families unable to keep real animals, and the company is now developing virtual dogs and birds to capitalize on the rising demand for "healing" pet robots. Blade Runner, here we come.

[Source: Fuji Sankei]

Fishing with nanotech

13 Sep 2006

STROMMajor vacuum equipment manufacturer ULVAC has announced plans to enter the fishing tackle industry with a new type of lure featuring a nanocoating applied with special vacuum technology. The high-tech lure, called STROM, will go on sale online in October.

Relying on a vapor deposition polymerization technique used in semiconductor manufacturing, an optical coating is formed over the entire glossy surface of the lure. The ultrathin optical coating has a high degree of light transmission, giving the lure an iridescent "holographic color" that changes according to the viewing angle.

Fishing lures typically use motion and color to attract the attention of fish, and they often feature decals and paint designed to reflect sunlight. These conventional lures are only capable of reflecting light in one direction, though, putting them at a distinct disadvantage when compared to STROM.

In tests, anglers using STROM caught 4 times as many fish as those using other commercially available lures. The company claims the lure appeals to freshwater fish such as trout, as well as to reef-dwelling saltwater fish such as rockfish.

ULVAC's initial plans are to roll out two types of STROM lures -- one weighing 2.4 grams and one weighing 3.7 grams. The lures will be priced at 3,000 yen ($US25) and will only be available online. The company hopes to sell 6,000 units.

"Now, even beginners can enjoy lure fishing," says the president of Tigold Corporation, the ULVAC subsidiary handling sales.

[Source: Fuji Sankei]

EMIEW upgraded to navigate crowds

12 Sep 2006

EMIEWAs long as robotic bellhops are one day destined to carry our luggage and show us to our hotel rooms, we might as well provide them with the agility to wiggle safely through crowds of people. That's the thinking of Hitachi's robotic engineers, who have been working with researchers from Tsukuba University to upgrade their EMIEW (Excellent Mobility and Interactive Existence as Workmate) robot's crowd navigation abilities.

To coexist with humans in the real world, robots need to be able to respond to a host of changes that constantly occur in the course of everyday life. This includes the ability to reach a destination without colliding into stationary or moving obstacles (such as fellow pedestrians) -- an ability that requires autonomous robots to "see" the people around them and measure their speed and direction.

When Hitachi originally developed EMIEW in 2005 as part of the Project for the Practical Application of Next-Generation Robots organized by NEDO (New Energy and Industrial Development Organization), the aim was to design a robot capable of coexisting with humans while providing support in real-world situations. These latest upgrades, which build upon Hitachi's original aim, include outfitting EMIEW with a reliable human motion detection system, which relies on lasers and distance sensors that constantly (40 times per second) measure the distance to the legs and feet of the surrounding people.

Hitachi also revamped the operation patterns of EMIEW's mobility control technology. The new technology enables EMIEW to interpret the data about the position and speed of the people nearby. From this data, the robot calculates an imaginary circle of a fixed radius around each person and selects a course based on those calculations.

In addition, Hitachi programmed EMIEW to search for new obstacles and correct its course every half second (roughly the average amount of time between a person's footsteps). This process enables EMIEW to respond when a nearby person changes speed or direction, or when a new person moves into the robot's path.

To check EMIEW's newfound ability to avoid obstacles, Hitachi put the robot to the test on an 8-meter long course along with 4 people walking at normal speeds of 4.3 kph (2.6 mph). The robot successfully completed the trial runs at a brisk 2.9 kph (1.8 mph). While these results suggest EMIEW may be ready for a job plying the hallways of a spacious luxury hotel, the day EMIEW totes your suitcases through Shibuya station appears to be a long way off.

Hitachi plans to unveil this new technology on September 14 at the 24th Annual Conference of the Robotics Society of Japan (RSJ) at Okayama University (Tsushima Campus). In addition, demonstrations of the upgraded EMIEW will be held beginning October 23, 2006 at the FISITA 2006 World Automotive Congress, an international automotive technology expo being held at Pacifico Yokohama.

[Source: Nikkei Net]

Bento-flavored biodiesel

08 Sep 2006


Plenus Co., Ltd., which operates Japan's nationwide take-out bento chain Hokka Hokka Tei (a.k.a. Hokka Hokka Bento, or Hokka-ben) and Yayoiken restaurants, has unveiled plans to begin recycling the used cooking oil from its 2,400 branches into fuel for its delivery vehicles. According to the plan slated for launch in January 2007, the company will establish 6 refining facilities in 3 years with the capability of producing 3.3 million liters (870,000 gallons) of fuel from 3.7 million liters (975,000 gallons) of used cooking oil -- enough to fuel its entire fleet of delivery vehicles, Plenus claims.

Discarded cooking oil makes for a viable alternative to diesel once it is mixed with methanol and refined into biodiesel. After the refining process, the fuel will be supplied to the company's 300 diesel delivery trucks through a network of independent filling stations.

Plenus will establish the initial refinery base in Fukuoka in January 2007 with 130 million yen (US$1.1 million) in capital. Subsequent refineries will be established in Saitama, Yamanashi and Miyagi prefectures, and in Hokkaido and Osaka. The company hopes to establish an efficient fuel supply system and cut overall fuel costs.

[Source: Nikkei Net]

Secrets of Plant Worms House

08 Sep 2006

Mushroom Queen
(Painting by Otake Shigeo)

Dare ye enter the Secrets of Plant Worms House?

Edo-period UFO

07 Sep 2006

The Iwase Bunko Library has in its possession a document entitled Hyouryuukishuu ("Tales of Castaways"), which was printed during the late Edo period (1603-1868).

Utsuro-bune scroll

The document recounts the stories of Japanese sailors who find themselves in foreign lands after becoming lost at sea, as well as castaway foreigners washed ashore on the beaches of Japan. To the Japanese people, who at the time had been living in a prolonged period of national isolation, these exotic tales must have seemed very fantastic.

Among these stories is the account of a wrecked ship with a very mysterious appearance.

Edo-period UFO scroll

According to the document, this vessel washed ashore at Harashagahama in Hitachi-no-kuni (present-day Ibaraki prefecture). The body of the ship, described as 3.3 meters tall and 5.4 meters wide, had been built from red sandalwood and iron and was fitted with windows of glass or crystal. The mysterious characters of an unknown alphabet were found inscribed inside the vessel.

Edo-period UFO scrollAboard the drifting vessel was a finely dressed young woman with a pale face and red eyebrows and hair. She was estimated to be between 18 and 20 years old. Because she spoke an unfamiliar tongue, those that encountered her were unable to determine from whence she came. In her arms she clutched a plain wooden box that appeared to be of great value to her, as she would allow nobody to approach it.

The document shows a portion of the text found inside the ship (see left).

Other Edo-period documents describe variations of this mysterious encounter. Toen Shousetsu (1825), a book by Kyokutei Bakin (who is most famous for his 106-volume samurai epic Nansou Satomi Hakkenden) tells the story of the same encounter, referring to the strange vessel as the utsuro-fune ("hollow ship"). Another variation of this tale appears in Ume no Chiri (1844), penned by a relatively unknown author named Nagahashi Matajirou. A thorough analysis of these two variations of the story can be found in a translated article by Kazuo Tanaka titled "Did a Close Encounter of the Third Kind Occur on a Japanese Beach in 1803?"

Contemporary fans of the paranormal know this ship as the Edo-period UFO.

[Link: Hyouryuukishuu in the Iwase Bunko Collection]

Pimp my Dream Tanker

05 Sep 2006

Dream Tanker

The Dream Tanker, one of the largest liquified natural gas (LNG) tankers in the world, now travels in style. Comedian-turned-painter Jimmy Onishi and 40 elementary school students have designed monster-sized psychedelic murals for the ship's spherical tanks. The total area covered by the murals is large enough to cover 100 buses.

The 120,000-ton Dream Tanker, owned by an affiliate of Osaka Gas, measures 289.5 meters (950 feet) long and 49 meters (160 feet) wide. With 4 independent spherical tanks measuring 43 meters (140 feet) in diameter, the tanker can hold up to 67,000 tons of LNG.

Osaka Gas decided to decorate the tanker with graphics in celebration of the company's 100th anniversary. The company asked Kansai-area elementary school students to draw pictures, which Jimmy Onishi then incorporated into his giant images of a fish, crab, shrimp and turtle. Sumitomo 3M Ltd. then used computers to process the images and printed them onto a special adhesive film, which was attached to the tanks.

The total surface area of the images amounts to about 4,000 square meters (43,000 square feet, or 1 acre), prompting Sumitomo 3M to submit an application to the Guinness Book of World Records to officially establish the work as the world's largest graphic design on a mode of transportation.

For more images, visit the official Dream Tanker website (Flash alert!). After you get past the Flash introduction, click on the second button on the right. That will take you to a control interface where you can zoom in on the ship and view it from different angles.

[Source: Garbagenews]