Archives: January 2008

Fantastic Japanscapes

17 Jan 2008

The Japanese landscape makes a stunning subject for high dynamic range (HDR) photography, as demonstrated by these images and the 500+ others in the Japan HDR Flickr Photo Pool.

HDR Japan --
Nihonbashi [Tokyo] -- Photo: Altus

HDR Japan --
Wave Gate [Numazu] -- Photo: Altus

HDR Japan --
Cloudy Day in Gotokuji [Tokyo] -- Photo: stu72

HDR Japan --
No.6 [Kanagawa prefecture] -- Photo: dokool

HDR Japan --
Machinery [Nippori station, Tokyo] -- Photo: heiwa4126

HDR Japan --
Landmark Tower and Minato Mirai 21 [Yokohama] -- Photo: shinnygogo

HDR Japan --
Shibuya Backstreet [Tokyo] -- Photo: yongfook

Origami spaceplane to launch from space station

16 Jan 2008

Origami spaceplane --

Researchers from the University of Tokyo have teamed up with members of the Japan Origami Airplane Association to develop a paper aircraft capable of surviving the flight from the International Space Station to the Earth's surface.

The researchers are scheduled to begin testing the strength and heat resistance of an 8 centimeter (3.1 in) long prototype on January 17 in an ultra-high-speed wind tunnel at the University of Tokyo's Okashiwa campus (Chiba prefecture). In the tests, the origami glider -- which is shaped like the Space Shuttle and has been treated to withstand intense heat -- will be subjected to wind speeds of Mach 7, or about 8,600 kilometers (5,300 miles) per hour.

A large spacecraft such as the Space Shuttle can reach speeds of up to Mach 20 (over 15,200 mph) when it re-enters the Earth's atmosphere, and friction with the air heats the outer surface to extreme temperatures. The much lighter origami aircraft, which the researchers claim will come down more slowly, is not expected to burn up on re-entry.

No launch date has been set for the paper spaceplane, but Shinji Suzuki, an aerospace engineering professor at the University of Tokyo, is thinking ahead. "We hope the space station crew will write a message of peace on the plane before they launch it," says Suzuki. "We don't know where in the world the plane will land, but we hope that whoever finds it will contact us."

[Source: Asahi]

Brides of Kimiko Yoshida

16 Jan 2008

Photographer Kimiko Yoshida transforms herself into the brides of the world in an ongoing series of self-portraits taken over the last seven years.

The Sakura Bride --
The Sakura Bride, 2006

The Cyber Bride --
The Cyber Bride, 2003

The Green Tea Bride --
The Green Tea Bride, 2006

The Mao Bride --
The Mao Bride, 2006

The Pokemon Bride --
The Pokemon Bride, 2002

The Tamates Bride, Vanuatu --
The Tamates Bride, Vanuatu, 2003

The Afghani Bride with a Bukhara Cap --
The Afghani Bride with a Bukhara Cap, 2005

The Shinto Bride --
The Shinto Bride, 2002

Browse the entire collection of 150+ nuptial beauties at Yoshida's website (not entirely safe for work).

Portable subway strap shows you’re no groper

15 Jan 2008

Portable commuter strap --

A portable subway strap that sells for 525 yen (about $5) is featured on the cover of the fall/winter issue of Tsuhan Seikatsu, a mail order catalog with a readership of 400,000. The primary purpose of this male-targeted commuter strap is not to provide support when the train lurches, but to show other passengers -- particularly female passengers -- that your hands are occupied, thus reducing your chances of being falsely accused of groping. According to a report on the Cyzo website, Tsuhan Seikatsu quickly sold out of the portable subway strap, an indication that false groping accusations are a real fear for many men who brave the crush of Tokyo's crowded morning trains.

Dumb ‘Smart Globes’ recalled

11 Jan 2008

Smart Globe -- Tokyo-based educational company Gakken is recalling 10,000 of their electronic talking Smart Globes following a rash of customer complaints about a mislabeled Taiwan. On the globes, Taiwan -- a self-governing nation that split from communist China in 1949 during a civil war -- is labeled as "Taiwan Island," and the globe's smart pen reader, which streams audio data about a nation's geography, history and culture whenever you touch its location on the globe, identifies Taiwan as part of the People's Republic of China.

Gakken had originally intended to use the standard labeling for Taiwan (as per the Ministry of Education's specifications), but the Chinese factory based in Shenzhen apparently refused to produce the globes unless Gakken agreed to label Taiwan as part of China. Gakken agreed to the factory's demands.

The company sold out their entire first shipment of 10,000 Smart Globes, which were released in Japan last August, but customer complaints flooded in, prompting a recall.

Interestingly, a note included in the box along with each Smart Globe explained that Taiwan's name and data had been changed at the factory based on instructions from the Chinese government. However, at a January 10 press conference to announce the recall, Gakken said that they did not receive direct instructions to make the changes, and that they are investigating why the changes were made.

According to a Gakken press release announcing the Smart Globe recall, the company is reimbursing customers the full price of 29,400 yen ($270).

In a similar move, toy maker Takara Tomy also held a press conference on January 10 to apologize to customers and announce a recall of their smart "Talking Globe," which -- like Gakken's Smart Globe -- features a mislabeled Taiwan and was manufactured in China.

[Source: Yomiuri]

Shokotan’s Sukashikashipan

11 Jan 2008

Shokotan's Sukashikashipan --

Otaku idol Shokotan (Shoko Nakagawa)'s obsession with sand dollars has resulted in a new type of sweet bun, called Sukashikashipan, which is scheduled to hit Lawson convenience store shelves nationwide at the end of January.

Since Shokotan began drawing attention to sand dollars (known as sukashikashipan in Japanese) on her popular blog last April, she has often remarked how they look like a type of kashipan (sweet bun). A Lawson product development team apparently agreed (they also picked up on the fact that sukashikashipan sounds like kashipan), and they contacted Shokotan about helping them design a new product. The result is a sugary treat that looks like a palm-sized sand dollar, complete with five radially symmetric holes. Sukashikashipan will sell for 125 yen (a little more than $1) at Lawson stores nationwide beginning January 29.

As an added bonus, the package will feature a QR code that, when scanned, takes you to a mobile site that provides a variety of Sukashikashipan-Man anime content. Sukashikashipan-Man is a fictional hero conceived by Shokotan.


[Source: Gigazine]

$725,000,000 Gundam

11 Jan 2008

Gundam -- Ever wondered how much it would cost to build a working, life-sized Gundam robot? At least $725 million for the parts and materials, according to an estimate published on the SciencePortal website run by the Japan Science and Technology Agency. The price tag for this giant humanoid, which would stand 18 meters (60 feet) tall and weigh 43.4 metric tons (nearly 100,000 lbs), does not include the cost of labor (this is where an extensive pool of robot slave labor comes in handy), nor does it include the cost of the infrastructure needed to support the machine once you are ready to climb aboard and take it for a walk.

Estimated cost of Gundam parts:

Aluminum alloy (honeycomb) $1,800 43,875 $79,000,000
(+ Metal manufacturing/processing) $240,000,000
Main computer (IBM) $1,550,000 1 $1,550,000
Gas turbine engines (GE) $52,000,000 7 $364,000,000
Superconductive motors (IHI) $260,000 30 $7,800,000
Motor drivers $260,000 30 $7,800,000
Reducers $760,000 30 $22,800,000
Sensors $910,000
Cockpit $450,000
TOTAL: $724,310,000

Note that unlike in the anime, the Gundam described here would merely be able to walk -- it would not have the ability to fly or have any fancy weaponry. Also, instead of Gundanium, the robot would be covered in aluminum alloy plating.

Gundam -- An IBM Blue Gene supercomputer would serve as the Gundam's computer system ($1.5 million sounds like a steal), and its movements would be driven by 30 giant 400KW motors -- 12 in the legs, 2 in the torso, 14 in the arms, and 2 in the neck. A 400KW motor is quite powerful -- by comparison, some Shinkansen bullet trains use 300KW motors. The motors alone would cost $7.8 million, but to power them would require the equivalent of 7 Apache helicopter engines (the helicopters cost an estimated $52 million each).

While $700 million is a lot of money (more than the GDP of Liberia, Grenada and a dozen or so other nations), it does not seem like so much when you compare it to the cost of other large-scale machinery. Military tanks costs around $4 to $7 million each, commercial passenger planes cost around $200 to $300 million, rockets can cost around $100 million to launch, expensive fighter jets can cost billions, and aircraft carriers cost about $5 billion.

A robot of this size and stature would face a number of physical challenges, such as the inability to walk without completely destroying the ground surface beneath its feet. When humans walk, we exert about 1.5 times our body weight of pressure on the ground (and on our feet) with each step. This poses a huge problem for a 43-ton humanoid, which would probably need to have very wide feet (to distribute the pressure over a larger area) and walk very very slowly. Dinosaurs found a way to get around, though, so giant robots probably can, too.

But perhaps the greatest challenge of all would be to find the funding for an enormous walking machine with no apparent practical or military application. With no money, this Gundam will forever remain just a dream.

[Source: SciencePortal]

Power-assist robot suit for farmers

09 Jan 2008

Power-assist robot suit for farmers -- As Japan's dwindling ranks of farmers grow old, scientists are developing new ways to lighten their physical load and keep them productive. At the Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology, a research team led by professor Shigeki Toyama has developed a wearable power-assist robot suit designed to boost the strength of farmers working in the field.

Relying on real-time data from an array of sensors that detect muscle movement, the suit enhances physical strength by controlling the movement of 8 different motors that provide support to the shoulders, knees, arms and legs. To the wearer, heavy objects seem as light as 10 kilograms (22 lbs).

In addition to providing extra muscle to lift and carry things, the power-assist robot suit helps farmers with manual tree-pruning work by enabling them to hold their arms up for long periods of time without getting tired, according to the researchers. The suit also doubles the wearer's strength when performing grunt work like uprooting oversized daikon radishes from the earth.

At the unveiling on January 9, 25-year-old graduate student Ryosuku Tanaka demonstrated the suit by lifting and carrying 20-kilogram (44-lb) bags of rice. "I hardly feel the weight," said Tanaka. "It's as if I had powerful muscles."

The developers hope to make the suit commercially available in 4 years, at a price of 500,000 to 1 million yen ($4,500 to $9,000) each.

[Source: Sankei]


09 Jan 2008

Urbano-vegetal (structure 1) --

From Frederic Gautron's Urbano-vegetal series of digital photomontages.

[Link: Made in Tokyo]