Archives: March 2007

Platinum Gundam

30 Mar 2007

Gundam Fix Platinum --- Bandai and Ginza Tanaka have teamed up to create a Mobile Suit Gundam made from pure platinum. Called Gundam Fix Platinum, the 12.5-cm (5-in.) tall, 1.4-kg (3-lb.) work features 89 separate parts and a head adorned with a 0.15 carat diamond. Hajime Katoki, a mechanical designer and illustrator noted for his work in a range of anime and games, oversaw the two-year long production process.

According to the Bandai press release, the aim of the platinum Gundam masterpiece is to combine the pure, rare and eternal nature of platinum with the everlasting Gundam worldview. While Ginza Tanaka hopes to attract attention to the beauty and value of platinum, Bandai hopes to boost Gundam's name recognition around the world, nearly 30 years after the first anime episode aired on Japanese TV.

The platinum Gundam will be exhibited at BASELWORLD 2007, an annual watch and jewelry show held in Basel, Switzerland beginning April 12. After that, it will return to Japan.

There are currently no plans to sell the Gundam, but Bandai estimates its value at $250,000 (30 million yen).

[Sources: Fuji Sankei, Bandai press release]

Android shows off people-lifting skills

29 Mar 2007

Android lifts 60-kg dummy out of bed ---

In a public demonstration held in Tokyo on March 28, a human-sized android showed off its weightlifting skills by successfully picking up a 30-kilogram (66-pound) package from a desk and lifting a 66-kilogram (145-pound) humanoid doll out of bed.

University of Tokyo professor Yasuo Kuniyoshi and his team of engineers developed the 155-centimeter (61-inch) tall, 70-kilogram (154-pound) robot last year. A recent software upgrade allows the robot to move more like a human by constantly adjusting the power of its arm movements based on data received from 1800 tactile sensors embedded in its artificial skin.

It is this system of sensor-based control -- and not large motors -- that gives the robot its strength. "Large motors are not safe for use in household robots," explains Kuniyoshi. "Only a small amount of power is applied at each of this robot's joints, but it can successfully move heavy objects by using the tactile sensors to regulate how it lifts and carries things."

The droid demonstrated different maneuvers for different situations. To lift the 30-kilogram package, the robot used one arm to slowly slide it to the edge of the desktop, where it grabbed the package with its other arm to pick it up. To remove the 66-kilogram dummy from bed, the android slid its arms under the body, lifted it slightly and backed away.

Kuniyoshi says this robot's ability to lift such heavy objects with ease is unusual, and he hopes further improvements will earn the robot a job in nursing care or in the moving industry.

[Sources: Nikkei Net, Mainichi]

Turban Noguchi: Money as origami

28 Mar 2007

Turban Noguchi: origami made with 1000-yen bill --

Paper money is not just for spending -- it is also great for origami.

The Asahi website has posted a story about "Turban Noguchi," a popular origami made using a 1000-yen bill. The bill features a portrait of Hideyo Noguchi, the noted physician and bacteriologist who, among other things, discovered the agent of syphilis in 1911. By folding the money, you can outfit Noguchi with a turban or other fancy headgear.

Asahi credits a Mr. Nakajima, a 29-year-old Nagoya resident, with inventing the original Turban Noguchi origami technique. According to the article, Nakajima discovered Turban Noguchi by accident one night when playing around with his money. "I was shocked by Noguchi's bizarre appearance," he says.

Turban Noguchi: origami made with 1000-yen bill -- Since then, he has compiled a number of variations, some of which are featured on the Turban Noguchi no Sekai ("The World of Turban Noguchi") website. A couple of links to instructional YouTube videos also appear on the site. This video, for example, shows how to fold a standard Turban Noguchi, and this video shows how to make wedding rings from a 1,000-yen bill and a 5,000-yen bill. Nakajima offers a word of warning to overzealous origami enthusiasts, though -- too much folding can destroy the money, so be careful.

Another website, called Turban Noguchi to Yukai na Nakama-tachi ("Turban Noguchi and His Delightful Companions"), features an AMAZING gallery of origami made with paper money. Highly recommended.

[Via: Asahi]

Video: Mt. Fuji avalanche

27 Mar 2007

Oosawa Kuzure --- Fuji Sabo Works, an organization established by Japan's Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport (MLIT) to fight erosion on Mt. Fuji, has released video of a powerful slush avalanche that occurred on Fuji's western side at 8:09 AM on March 25.

Slush avalanches happen when cold, dry snow suddenly becomes saturated with water. About 90 millimeters (3.5 inches) of rain had fallen before the avalanche occurred.

The avalanche took place in an area on Mt. Fuji called the Osawa Collapse (Osawa Kuzure), a 2.1-kilometer (1.3-mile) long gully that begins near the summit and runs down the western side. The gully is up to 500 meters (1,640 feet) wide and 150 meters (490 feet) deep in some places, and according to this Fuji Sabo Works project outline (PDF), a total of 75 million cubic meters (2.6 billion cubic feet) -- equivalent to 60 Tokyo Domes -- of soil has been displaced. An estimated 150,000 cubic meters (5.3 million cubic feet) of soil washes out through the Osawa Collapse each year.

Check out video of the avalanche on Youtube (with smashing soundtrack by Caspar Brotzmann) or on the Fuji Sabo Works website (no audio).

[Via Slashdot Japan]

Seaweed as biofuel

23 Mar 2007

Sargasso seaweed as biofuel --- On March 22, a group of Japanese scientists released details of an ambitious proposal calling for the large-scale production of bioethanol made from cultivated seaweed.

Researchers from Tokyo University of Marine Science and Technology, Mitsubishi Research Institute, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and several other private-sector firms envision a 10,000 square kilometer (3,860 square mile) seaweed farm at Yamatotai, a shallow fishing area in the middle of the Sea of Japan. They claim a farm of this scale could produce about 20 million kiloliters (5.3 billion gallons) of bioethanol per year, which is equivalent to one-third the 60 million kiloliters (16 billion gallons) of gasoline that Japan consumes each year.

Seaweed has long been discussed as a potential source of bioethanol, which is typically made from crops such as sugar cane and corn, but the idea has never been brought to fruition. According to the proposal, giant nets used in nori and wakame seaweed cultivation would be laid out to cultivate sargasso seaweed (hondawara), which grows rapidly. Floating bioreactors -- special facilities that use enzymes to break the seaweed down into sugars -- would prepare the seaweed for conversion into ethanol, which would also be done at sea. Tankers would then transport the ethanol to land.

The main components of seaweed are fucoidan and alginic acid. While an enzyme for breaking down fucoidan has already been discovered, the scientists are looking for an enzyme that breaks down alginic acid. They are also looking at the possibility of using genetic modification technology.

The group is also conducting research on how to develop the production plants and attract investment. Other participants in the project include NEC Toshiba Space Systems, Mitsubishi Electric, IHI, Sumitomo Electric Industries, Shimizu Corporation, Toa Corporation, Kanto Natural Gas Development Co., Ltd., and the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology (JAMSTEC).

The researchers claim that in addition to serving as a source of fuel, the seaweed would help clean up the Sea of Japan. According to Professor Masahiro Notoya from Tokyo University of Marine Science and Technology, the seaweed would work to remove some of the excess nutrient salts that flow into the sea from the surrounding land masses.

Professor Notoya will formally present the proposal at the International Seaweed Symposium, which is set to begin on March 26 in Kobe, Japan.

[Source: Fuji Sankei]

Bionic hand with can-crushing grip

22 Mar 2007

Bionic hand crushes CC Lemon can --- A team of researchers from the Tokyo Institute of Technology (TIT) claim to have developed the world's first electromechanical prosthetic hand with a grip strong enough to crush an empty beverage can.

This bionic hand weighs a little more than 300 grams and has a grip strength of around 15 kg (33 lbs), which is about half that of the average adult male. The hand also features four quick, nimble fingers that take as little as 1 second to flex and extend. When used in combination with the hand's opposable thumb, each finger can deftly pinch and pick up small objects of various shapes.

Researchers have long considered it a great challenge to design an electric prosthetic hand with a strong grip. Toru Omata, a graduate school professor at TIT, explains that until now, electromechanical hands have relied solely on motors for their grip. The secret to this bionic hand's strong grip, he explains, is the system of pulleyed cables that run through the fingers and attach at the fingertips.

One day in the future, the proud owner of this bionic hand will be able to crush cans at will. For that to happen, though, the researchers need to outfit the hand with a system of myoelectric control technology, which would allow the user to control the hand by flexing other muscles.

(Watch video of the hand crushing a CC Lemon can.)

[Source: Japan News Network]

Mospeng-kun: tissue-dispensing robot

16 Mar 2007

Mospeng-kun, tissue-dispensing robot --- Mospeng-kun is a tissue-dispensing robot created by InterRobot Inc., a robot development and rental company based in western Japan.

When the friendly Mospeng-kun detects a person nearby, it utters a high-pitched onegai shimasu and offers up a pack of tissues. When the tissues are taken from the robot's hand, it thanks the customer with an arigato gozaimashita and grabs another tissue pack from the cartridge for the next person.

InterRobot's rental fees start at 100,000 yen ($835) for 5 days, which is quite a bit more than the going rate for a human tissue distributor. But Mospeng-kun looks to be a cheerful worker, constantly maintaining a smile on its face monitor. In addition, according to the company website, Mospeng-kun is capable of gathering information about the people it encounters on the job. Unfortunately, though, the robot really needs to learn to work faster before it is ready for the sidewalks of Shibuya. Watch the video.

NTT’s eye-tracking system monitors pupil size, blinking

15 Mar 2007

Eye-tracking system recognizes viewer interest --- The NTT Group has unveiled technology that analyzes the interest level of TV viewers and web surfers by monitoring their eye movement, pupil size and blinking.

Improving on conventional eye-tracking systems that provide an understanding of where viewers cast their gaze, this new computer-operated system features cameras that monitor and analyze unconscious physiological reactions to interesting viewing material -- namely, enlarged pupils and changes in the rate of blinking.

The technology, which became commercially available on March 14, was developed by NTT Learning Systems (NTTLS) and the Visual Interactive Sensitivity Research Institute (VIS), both of which are involved in visual content creation. NTTLS says the technology can be used in conjunction with driver safety training videos, and negotiations with a major automaker are now underway.

NTTLS claims the system appeals to a wide range of potential users, including those involved in TV commercial advertising and web content creation. Television audience ratings alone do not provide producers a clear picture of the level of interest in commercials, and web traffic stats do not show which parts of a web page visitors find interesting. With this system, however, producers can get a more accurate understanding of what the audience is looking at and how interesting they find it.

Judging from the large size (and presumably high cost) of the device that sits between the viewer and the monitor, though, the system is clearly designed for use in the laboratory. But it's just a matter of time before this is standard computer monitor/TV screen equipment and producers keep one eye on the real-time audience pupil data while they develop and deliver content.

[Source: Asahi]

Artificial blood vessels made from salmon skin

12 Mar 2007

Artificial blood vessels made from salmon skin --- Researchers from Hokkaido University have created artificial blood vessels using collagen derived from the skin of salmon. The researchers, who replaced the aortas of rats with the artificial blood vessels, claim to be the first to create and successfully test artificial blood vessels made using collagen derived from marine animals.

The researchers decided to use salmon skin for regenerative medicine applications after seeing large amounts of the skin go to waste in local seafood processing operations. On Japan's northern island of Hokkaido, seafood processors discard about 2,000 tons of salmon skin each year -- enough to yield an estimated 600 tons of collagen. In addition, there are no known viruses transmitted from salmon to humans, so the use of salmon collagen is regarded as relatively safe. Scientists have created artificial tissue from bovine (cow) and porcine (pig) collagen in the past, but there have always been concerns over the possible transmission of infectious diseases such as BSE (mad cow disease).

One problem the researchers faced early on was the salmon collagen's poor resistance to heat. Because salmon collagen ordinarily melts at about 19 degrees Celsius (66 degrees Fahrenheit), it could not be used as a tissue replacement in humans. But by developing a process that forms the collagen into fibers and strengthens the bonds between molecules, the researchers were able to raise the melting point of the collagen to 55 degrees Celsius (131 degrees Fahrenheit).

The heat-resistant collagen was used to create blood vessels with an internal diameter of 1.6 mm and a wall thickness of 0.6 mm. When grafted into rats, the artificial blood vessels demonstrated the ability to expand and contract along with the heartbeat, and they were shown to be as strong and elastic as the original aortas.

Nobuhiro Nagai, from Hokkaido University, says the researchers plan to test the blood vessels in larger animals such as dogs. One day they hope to see their biomaterial used in humans as a replacement for damaged blood vessels, he says.

The research results are set to be announced at a meeting of the Japanese Society for Regenerative Medicine (JSRM), which is scheduled to begin in Yokohama on March 13.

[Source: Mainichi]