Archives: November 2006

Edible squid-flavored postcards

29 Nov 2006

Surumail: postcard made from squid -- Residents of the coastal town of Susami in Wakayama prefecture love the sea and the post office so much that the town once installed a mailbox on the ocean floor for scuba divers. Now, further evidence of this powerful sea/mail love comes in the form of "Surumail" -- edible postcards made from squid.

Produced by the Susami fishing cooperative, Surumail postcards consist of dried surume squid (Todarodes pacificus), the local seafood specialty. The squid jerky is flattened and vacuum-packed into the shape of a postcard, and an adhesive label is included for the postage, delivery address and a short message.

The fishing cooperative has sold between 4,000 and 5,000 cards each year since they went on sale in 2000. According to the Surumail website, which touts the postcards as a cutting-edge medium of communication for the 21st century, many big-name companies -- including Microsoft and IBM -- have inquired about the cards. Surumail may play an instrumental role in saving the Japanese economy, the website claims.

The postcards cost 320 yen (under $3) each and are available at the Susami post office and JR Susami station, as well as through the Susami fishing cooperative. You can also order the postcards online, but it is unclear whether they ship outside Japan.

It would be great to send one of these from Susami's underwater mailbox.

[Link: Surumail website]

Reborg-Q to keep the peace at shopping malls

28 Nov 2006

Reborg-Q -- On November 27, Sohgo Security Services (ALSOK) unveiled a new security system that relies on teamwork between robots and human security guards. The system, called Reborg-Q, will be put into action at AquaCity shopping mall in Odaiba (Tokyo) in mid-December.

The Reborg-Q security robot, which is an upgraded version of ALSOK's Guardrobo D1, weighs 90 kilograms (200 lbs) and measures 130 x 65 x 70 cm. It can be programmed to automatically patrol a preset course, or a joystick can be used to control it remotely. The robot can also be equipped with a function to control elevators, enabling it to move from floor to floor while making its rounds.

While on patrol, four cameras mounted in the robot's head and shoulders record video, and its sensors detect the presence of humans, water leaks and fire. When the robot encounters something suspicious, it alerts a computer in the security room and sends video. Human security guards view the video footage sent by the robot and determine how to respond.

Equipped with communication functions, the robot can also provide services to the people it is watching. A touch-screen embedded in the robot's chest can be used to display information about lost children and other data about the surroundings, and a voice synthesizer enables the robot to tell the time, provide weather data and make promotional announcements.

In addition, a contactless FeliCa card reader embedded in the robot's right shoulder means it can be used to check company IDs and verify the identity of employees at company entranceways. And like Guardrobo D1, Reborg-Q can also be equipped with a fire extinguisher.

Each robot costs about 380,000 yen ($3,200), so the initial cost of a system is in the 1 to 2 million yen ($8,500 to $17,000) range. The company plans to deploy the Reborg-Q system at 10 locations around Japan in 2007.

[Source: Robot Watch]

Dual-mode vehicle: half train, half bus

27 Nov 2006

Dual-mode vehicle (DMV) -- A dual-mode vehicle (DMV) that looks like a minibus and runs both on conventional railway tracks and paved roads was tested on the Gakunan railway in Fuji city (Shizuoka prefecture) on the night of November 24. The 28-passenger test vehicle was developed by the Hokkaido Railway Company (JR Hokkaido) in a project that began in 2000.

Technicians aboard the DMV evaluated the safety and ride quality during the series of tests on rail and road. After the 3-km railway portion of the test course, the vehicle stopped at a railroad crossing, retracted the railroad wheels and switched to street mode in a mere 10 seconds.

A number of local governments around Japan have shown interest in introducing DMVs because they are inexpensive to manufacture and run. In addition, DMVs conveniently allow passengers to travel from train stations to their final destinations without having to transfer vehicles. DMVs appear to be particularly attractive in rural areas with limited public transportation because they allow railways to offer more versatile and efficient services.

In April 2007, JR Hokkaido will begin operating DMVs along part of the Kushiro line in eastern Hokkaido.

[Source: Nikkei Net]

Dekotora photo galleries

20 Nov 2006

Dekotora --

Dekotora --

Dekotora --

Dekotora --

Dekotora --

They're big. They're bad. They're dekotora ("decoration trucks"). Explore some of the internet's best dekotora photo collections here: Link 1, Link 2 (third button down, on the left), Link 3, Link 4, Link 5, Link 6, Link 7. And for a small dose of dekotora history, check out this intro to one of the Torakku Yaro ("Trucker") movies, the 10-part series released by Toei in the late 70s that spawned Japan's dekotora boom.

Keep on truckin'...

Model train controlled via brain-machine interface

17 Nov 2006

Hitachi brain-machine interface -- Hitachi has successfully tested a brain-machine interface that allows users to turn power switches on and off with their mind. Relying on optical topography, a neuroimaging technique that uses near-infrared light to map blood concentration in the brain, the system can recognize the changes in brain blood flow associated with mental activity and translate those changes into voltage signals for controlling external devices. In the experiments, test subjects were able to activate the power switch of a model train by performing mental arithmetic and reciting items from memory.

The prototype brain-machine interface allows only simple control of switches, but with a better understanding of the subtle variations in blood concentrations associated with various brain activities, the signals can be refined and used to control more complex mechanical operations.

In the long term, brain-machine interface technology may help paralyzed patients become independent by empowering them to carry out actions with their minds. In the short term, Hitachi sees potential applications for this brain-machine interface in the field of cognitive rehabilitation, where it can be used as an entertaining tool for demonstrating a patientís progress.

The company hopes to make this technology commercially available in five years.

[Source: Yomiuri Shimbun via Seihin World]

Eco-friendly bra doubles as shopping bag

08 Nov 2006

No shopping bag bra --

Lingerie manufacturer Triumph International Japan has unveiled a new type of brassiere that can be converted into a shopping bag. Called the "No! Shopping Bag Bra" (NO! reji-bukuro bra), the environmentally-friendly lingerie is designed to promote the reduction of plastic bag consumption, a key objective of the revised Containers and Packaging Recycling Law hammered out by Japanese lawmakers in June.

Each year, Japanese shoppers receive an estimated 30 billion plastic shopping bags, which, in terms of the oil resources needed to produce them, amounts to two giant tankers full of oil (millions of barrels). About 30% of these bags are thrown away without being reused, and since the consumption of plastic shopping bags contributes to environmental problems such as increased energy usage, trash buildup, and global warming due to CO2 released in the garbage incineration process, there are urgent calls to reduce their usage.

When the bra is being worn, the "shopping bag" portions are folded away inside the bra cups, where they serve as extra padding. The bra quickly converts to a shopping bag by removing the bag portions from the cups and connecting the hooks on the bra's underwire. The lace cups serve as decoration along with the shoulder straps, which are disconnected and tied to the top of the bag as ribbons.

The bra -- available in red, blue, green, yellow and pink -- is made from the Teijin Group's ECOPET brand of polyester fiber, which has been recycled from plastic bottles through the company's patented EcoCircle recycling system.

Triumph International Japan has a long history of developing eco-themed bras, with such creations as the Recycle PET Bra (1997), Eco-globe Bra (2004) and Warm Biz Bra (2005).

[Source: Triumph International Japan via Slashdot Japan]

SHOJI: Symbiotic Hosting Online Jog Instrument

07 Nov 2006

SHOJI: Symbiotic Hosting Online Jog Instrument -- On November 6, GS Yuasa and the University of Tokyo unveiled a system that ascertains the "mood" of a room by monitoring a variety of factors -- including the feelings and behavior of the people in the room -- and relays the mood data to remote terminals where it is expressed as colored LED light.

The system, called SHOJI (Symbiotic Hosting Online Jog Instrument), is similar in concept to KOTOHANA (developed by NEC and SGI), which are pairs of flower-shaped terminals that share data and change color according to emotion detected in voice patterns.

Like KOTOHANA, the SHOJI system consists of a pair of terminals placed at separate locations. Each terminal is equipped with a full-color LED array, a microphone and five sensors (developed at the University of Tokyo) that detect light, temperature, humidity, infrared radiation and ultrasonic waves. In addition to constantly measuring the roomís environmental conditions, SHOJI terminals can detect the presence and movement of people, body temperature, and the nature of the activity in the room.

Each SHOJI terminal constantly sends the room's mood data over the Internet to the other terminal, where it is expressed as colored light on the LED array. By checking the color of light on the SHOJI terminal, users can easily understand the mood in the other room.

SHOJI's display consists of 10 rows of LEDs that emit colors corresponding to different emotions -- red for anger, blue for sadness, yellow for happiness, and green for peace. The display also provides a clear indication of mood shifts, with the top 5 rows representing the current mood of the room and the bottom 5 representing the recent past.

GS Yuasa will soon put SHOJI to a series of field tests at Tokyo-area companies, allowing head office managers to keep tabs on the mood at branch offices (and vice-versa). Tests are also planned at hospitals and in residential settings.

With the product release scheduled for April 2007, GS Yuasa plans to market SHOJI to companies at a price of between 300,000 to 400,000 yen ($2,500 to $3,300).

[Source: Fuji Sankei]

Iris recognition technology for mobile phones

06 Nov 2006

Iris recognition techology for cellphones -- On November 6, Oki Electric announced the development of iris recognition technology for camera-equipped mobile phones. Unlike Oki's previous iris recognition technology that relies on infrared cameras for the iris scan, the new technology uses ordinary cellphone cameras.

With plans to make the technology commercially available in March 2007, Oki hopes to boost the security of cellphone payment systems.

According to Oki, any camera-equipped cellphone or PDA can perform iris recognition once the special software is installed. Identification accuracy is said to be high, with only 1 in 100,000 scans resulting in error, and the system can tell the difference between flesh-and-blood eyes and photographs.

[Sources: Nikkei Net, Oki press release]

Creepy Japanese scarecrows

02 Nov 2006

Fantastic video slideshow of mannequin scarecrows haunting Japan...

[Via: Fucked Gaijin]