Archives: December 2006

Pink Tentacle’s biggest spikes of 2006

27 Dec 2006

Pink Tentacle Top 10, 2006 --

As 2006 comes to a close and Pink Tentacle celebrates its first birthday, I'd like to thank all the readers for making this a rockin' first year for the site! In 2007, Pink Tentacle will continue to probe the less explored regions of the Japanese web in search of excitement. In the meantime, here's a quick look back at the site's top 10 stories of 2006 in case you missed them. Enjoy!

10. AIST develops 3D image projector -- Coming soon: eye-popping signs and ads that float in mid-air. (Watch a short video of this technology demonstrated at SIGGRAPH 2006.)

9. Hiroshima engineers develop robotic carp -- Robocarp!

8. Asimo: 'I've fallen and I can't get up' -- For many, the only thing more amazing than a robot climbing stairs is a robot falling down the stairs. Poor Asimo. This video spread like wildfire just as Asimo's new commercials were set to debut in the UK. However, rumor has it that Asimo is playing us all for fools, deliberately taking a dive to generate buzz for the commercials before their release. Even so, Asimo may never live it down.

7. Eco-friendly bra doubles as shopping bag -- Just say NO to plastic bags (and YES to braless grocery shopping).

6. Tourists bask in blue glow of firefly squid -- Toyama owes its economic existence to the bioluminescent firefly squid, a fishery product that also fuels the local tourist industry. Local residents recently worked with Solid Alliance to develop a USB drive modeled after their beloved glowing beast.

5. Dekotora photo galleries -- Wild Japanese art trucks!

4. Gallery of fantastic creatures -- Roam the hallways of Hajime Emoto's Museum of Fantastic Specimens.

3. Through the (zero-reflection) looking glass -- Is this glass truly invisible?

2. Actroid DER2 fembot loves Hello Kitty -- Fembot for rent. She ain't cheap, fellas, so start saving your yen.

1. Device uses waves to "print" on water surface -- AMOEBA (Advanced Multiple Organized Experimental Basin) writes on water. Check out this short video of AMOEBA in action.

Edo-period illustrations by Kurimoto Tanshuu

21 Dec 2006

Octopus/jellyfish/squid --

Vermin --

Fantastic fish --

Kurimoto Tanshuu (1756 - 1834) sketched wildlife during the Edo period. Check out the National Diet Library links below for more of his fantastic illustrations.

- Senchuufu: 275 pages of creepy crawlies (3 volumes)
- Tako-kurage-ika rui zumaki: 16 images of octopi, jellyfish and squid
- Igyozusan: 10 images of unusual fish (folding scroll)
- Gyofu: 51 images of stingrays and unusual fish
- Gyofu: 60 pages of fish (2 scrolls)
- Mamboukou: 18 images from a book on mambou (sunfish)
- Igyozusan/Seikaihyakurin: 60 images of fish (2 volumes)
- Hyakucho fuzanketsu: 5 images from a scroll of birds
- Karei zui: 38 images of flatfish (scroll)
- Choujuugyo shaseizu: 5 images of various animals (scrolls)

[Via: armchair aquarium]

Sweet wheat

18 Dec 2006

Sweet wheat -- On December 12, researchers from Japan's National Agriculture and Food Research Organization (NARO) and Nippon Flour Mills announced the development of sweet wheat, a hybridized variety of wheat with twice the sugar concentration of common wheat. This first-of-its-kind sweet wheat eliminates the need to add sugar when it is used in cakes or other baked goods, researchers claim.

By repeatedly breeding varieties of wheat with low levels of enzymes associated with starch production, the researchers were able to lower the wheat's starch content -- which is ordinarily around 70% -- to 25%. The result is a variety of wheat with a significantly higher concentration of sugars such as maltose and sucrose.

In this way, sweet wheat is similar in concept to sweetcorn, which also was specifically bred to increase its sugar content.

Sweet wheat is identical in appearance to common wheat, except that it withers and develops wrinkles when dehydrated. Its natural sweetness gives it a distinctive flavor when it is ground into flour and used as an ingredient in baked goods.

Nippon Flour Mills hopes to make sweet wheat commercially available in two to three years. In the meantime, the company is looking into the possibility of developing new types of food products that draw upon the natural flavor of sweet wheat.

[Source: Chunichi, Yomiuri]

Cyber-concrete lets walls speak

15 Dec 2006

YRP Ubiquitous Networking Laboratory -- Sumitomo Osaka Cement and YRP Ubiquitous Networking Laboratory have developed cyber-concrete, a smart form of concrete embedded with RFID tags that can store data. Researchers developed a durable coating for YRP's "ucode" tags, which have a larger storage capacity than ordinary IC tags, and they developed a special reader that, when held near the concrete, retrieves the stored data and converts it into spoken form.

Sumitomo is set to begin field testing the technology at its cement factories this month, with the aim of making it available to large construction companies in the spring of 2007.

While the potential applications of cyber-concrete are endless, the companies are initially promoting it as a new tool for managing structural safety data. Cyber-concrete can store information about itself, such as when, where and how it was manufactured and data about strength and quality, making for more efficient and reliable safety inspection systems. This traceability data can be used by construction companies, inspectors, or tenants concerned about building safety.

Public concern for structural safety has risen with a recent building safety inspection scandal involving the discovery of falsified quake-resistance data for a number of buildings in Tokyo and the surrounding areas. Perhaps cyber-concrete will bring a little peace of mind, allowing people to bypass the shady inspectors and ask buildings directly how safe they are -- which is great as long as buildings have no reason to be dishonest.

And should you find yourself trapped under three floors of cyber-concrete after the Big One, at least you'll have something to talk to while waiting for the rescue bots to arrive.

[Sources: Fuji Sankei, Nikkei Net]

Wake up and smell the vacuum cleaner

13 Dec 2006

Alarm Service --

Ohayo gozaimasu. Heavy sleepers in Japan no longer need to fret about snoozing through alarm clocks and morning wake-up calls. Alarm Service, which appears to be a company based in Osaka, provides extreme wake-up services guaranteed to have its sleepy customers awake in time for their morning appointments. After an order is placed, an agent is dispatched to the customer's bedside at the prescribed wake-up time to perform the deed, which can involve the use of anything from condiments to household appliances. Prices are inexpensive, ranging from 500 yen ($4) for a dab of wasabi applied under the nose to 1,500 yen ($12) for hot S&M candle wax dripped on the stomach. Click around on the company website for video demonstrations of the services, or watch some of them on YouTube. The methods appear to be effective enough, but in the disclaimer at the end of each video, the company denies responsibility for any problems resulting from your decision to go back to sleep.

[Via: Korokoro Zaeega Gakuen]

Asimo: ‘I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!’

11 Dec 2006

In this video, Asimo shows the danger that androids face when climbing stairs. Go to the :50 second mark to see the robot take a tumble. Ironically, Asimo falls just after explaining how the sensors in its feet allow it to maintain balance.

[Via: HiroIro]

RoomRender renders rooms intelligent

08 Dec 2006

RoomRender -- SGI Japan has unveiled an intelligent room system, called RoomRender, that can control the electronics, appliances and hardware in a room based on the spoken commands and emotions of the room's occupants. The company installed the RoomRender system in one of its Tokyo office meeting rooms on December 5. With the cost of RoomRender's basic components estimated at between 5 and 6 million yen ($40K to $50K), the company initially hopes to see the system put to use in company meeting rooms, homes, hotels, hospitals and care facilities.

RoomRender relies on AmiVoice voice recognition technology (developed by Advanced Media) to recognize and analyze spoken commands, enabling the room to close the blinds, turn on the heater, etc. as instructed. When linked with a home entertainment system, RoomRender can be instructed to record TV shows. At present, RoomRender does not have the ability to learn the routines and preferences of its inhabitants, so it has to be told specifically what and when to record, but perhaps one day when RoomRender can predict your behavior, you won't have to tell it to record your favorite show -- it'll just know.

RoomRender also includes features that respond to the mood of its occupants. FeelingWall a wall whose colored lights change according to the mood of the people in the room relies on Sensibility Technology (developed by SGI and AGI), the same technology used in KOTOHANA, which was developed by SGI Japan and NEC. Like KOTOHANA, FeelingWall interprets emotions based on the intonation and rhythm of voices, adjusting the color and lighting accordingly. RoomRender can also be programmed to control an aroma diffuser, releasing fragrances that correspond to various moods. Features like these mean that if an inhabitant sighs Im tired, the room can automatically respond by dimming the lights, causing the light of the FeelingWall to pulsate gently, turning on some relaxing background music and emitting a soothing fragrance from the aroma diffuser.

Segway -- SGI, which recently became Segway's official distributor in Japan, is also developing a function that enables RoomRender to control the two-wheeled transportation devices. In the future, RoomRender will be able to send a Segway to an occupant that asks for it, and it will return a Segway to its battery charger when the power starts running low.

Unfortunately, this also means you won't be able to use the Segway as an escape vehicle if your relationship with RoomRender suddenly turns sour.

[Source: IT Media]

Top 10 robots selected for Robot Award 2006

04 Dec 2006

UPDATE Dec 21, 2006: Winners announced

GRAND PRIZE: Robotic building cleaning system (Fuji Heavy Industries and Sumitomo). The system received high marks for its efficiency and its ability to work both independently and alongside humans. The judges believe the robot has great potential to develop the market for robotic cleaning systems, as well as establish new business models in which robots and humans work side by side to provide inexpensive cleaning services.

SMALL-TO MEDIUM-SIZED VENTURE PRIZE: KHR-2HV (Kondo). The judges gave high marks to KHR-2HV for its relatively low price tag and its popularity with individual users both young and old. KHR-2HV was also recognized for fostering closer ties between humans and robots, as well as for its educational value.

HONORABLE MENTION: My Spoon (SECOM). The judges awarded their special prize to My Spoon for its contributions to society. The robot has received praise both in Japan and overseas for helping people enjoy the meals they want to eat and enabling them to eat with friends and family. The judges recognized the high quality of My Spoon resulting from SECOM's close cooperation with users and medical professionals in the development phase. They also like it because it is affordable.

// Dec 21, 2006 //
====================

Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) has announced its top ten list of finalists for the 2006 Robot Award. The ten robots selected from 152 applications fall into four categories -- service robots, industrial robots, public sector robots, and small- to medium-sized venture robots.

METI established the annual Robot Award this year to recognize outstanding developments in the field of robotics, encourage further research and development, and stimulate demand. Winners of the grand prize and the special prize for small- to medium-sized ventures will be announced on December 21.

Here's a rundown of the top robots in each category...

SERVICE ROBOTS:

Robot -- - Paro -- seal robot with therapeutic properties (Intelligent System/ AIST/ Microgenics)

Paro is a furry white robot modeled after a baby harp seal. Paro can serve as a pet alternative for general households, and research has shown that Paro has therapeutic effects on patients. Paro's entire body is covered in tactile sensors, and its actuators provide it with smooth movement. Lovingly crafted one by one, Paro is recognized for its safety, cleanliness, user-friendliness and durability. About 800 of the robotic seals have been adopted around Japan, and Paro's future plans include overseas travel. [More]

* * * * *

Robot -- - My Spoon -- meal assistance robot (SECOM)

Designed to assist patients unable to use their hands, My Spoon enables users to enjoy ordinary meals by transporting food from a tray to the patient's mouth, one bite at a time. Users can select from three levels of contol -- manual (joystick control), semi-automatic or fully automatic -- to best suit their physical condition. My Spoon is available outside Japan, in the Netherlands and other locations in Europe. [More]

* * * * *

Robot -- - Robotic building cleaning system (Fuji Heavy Industries/ Sumitomo)

This autonomous robot roams the hallways of buildings, performing cleaning operations along the way. Capable of controlling elevators, the robot can move from floor to floor unsupervised, and it returns to its start location once it has finished cleaning. The robot is currently employed as a janitor at 10 high-rise buildings in Japan, including Harumi Triton Square and Roppongi Hills. [More]

* * * * *

INDUSTRIAL ROBOTS:

Robot -- - MOTOMAN-DIA10/ MOTOMAN-IA20 (Yaskawa Electric)

These industrial robot arms are capable of human-like movement, which is great news for factories worried about Japan's shrinking population (and human labor force). The DIA10 consists of two 7-axis arms mounted on a torso.

According to this spec sheet (PDF), the robot has the "finesse of the human arm without the physical limitations." The same 7-axis design is incorporated into the IA20, a "snake" robot with great freedom of movement and the ability to operate in tight spaces.

* * * * *

Robot -- - High-speed reliability verification robot (Denso Wave)

This robot relies on advanced machine vision technology to perform automated inspections on the go.

Highly reliable inspections can be performed at each location without stopping the line, allowing for speedier and more cost-effective operations.
[More]

* * * * *

PUBLIC SECTOR ROBOTS:

Robot -- - Tele-operated construction equipment (Fujita/ Technical Office of Kyushu, Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport (Kyugi))

These remote-control unmanned construction machines were originally developed for dangerous recovery operations following disasters such as avalanches and rockslides.

Designed to prevent the occurrence of secondary disasters and greatly limit further damage and injury, these robots were deployed at the site of a disastrous mudslide that occurred in Okinawa in June 2006. [More]

* * * * *

Robot -- - Urashima -- deep-sea autonomous underwater vehicle (Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology)

Urashima is a remotely operated vehicle for deep-sea exploration. The 10-meter long vessel relies on hydrogen-based fuel cell batteries that allow it to travel much greater distances than vessels powered by standard lithium-ion batteries. Urashima is expected to play an important role in pre-dive surveys for manned submarines and in the survey of areas considered dangerous for or inaccessible by manned research submarines. [More]

* * * * *

SMALL-TO MEDIUM-SIZED VENTURE ROBOTS:

Robot --
- URG Series scanning laser range finders (Hokuyo)

These lightweight, compact laser range finders feature low power consumption, making them ideal sensors for autonomous mobile robots. [More]

* * * * *

Robot -- -KHR-2HV (Kondo)

KHR-2HV is a high-performance build-it-yourself biped humanoid robot kit.

The popular KHR-2HV is faster, lighter and more agile than its predecessor, KHR-1, and it is packed with more controls, gears, servos and software.

Seventeen adjustable joints allow KHR-2HV to perform back flips, cartwheels and human-like moves, and USB connectivity means you can teach it lots of neat tricks. [More]

* * * * *

Robot -- - Squid-fishing machine (Towa Denki)

Towa Denki has made a number of improvements to its automated squid-fishing machines since the company began manufacturing them in the 1970s.

Relying on functions such as high-tech load detectors, squid finders and water depth detectors, the machines can perform automated operations that boost squid-fishing productivity. [More]

[Source: Robot Award 2006]