Archives: July 2009

Video: Zombie boot camp

31 Jul 2009

Zombie --

The Saikyo Senritsu Meikyu ("Ultimate Horror Maze") -- a 900-meter-long zombie-infested labyrinth at Japan's Fuji-Q Highland amusement park -- is billed as the world's longest and scariest house of horror.

However, at a "press conference" staged last month, organizers announced they had temporarily shut down the facility because the zombie staff had lost their edge and were not frightening people enough. While the haunted house was closed, the undead employees were put through a rigorous training program designed to upgrade their zombie skills.

Here's some video showing the treatment they had to endure:

+ Video

The horror house has since reopened and the camp-hardened zombies are reportedly as scary as ever.

[More zombie training camp videos]

The case of the captured mini-UFO (1972)

30 Jul 2009

Japan has had its fair share of UFO sightings over the years, but few encounters have been as peculiar as the one involving the mini-UFO captured in Kochi prefecture in 1972.

Mini-UFO, Kochi prefecture, Japan, 1972 --
Photograph of mini-UFO captured in Japan, 1972

The strange encounter took place in the Kera area of Kochi City. On the afternoon of August 25, 1972, a 13-year-old junior high student named Michio Seo sighted a strange object flying above a rice field while walking home from school. From a distance he watched the small, mysterious object zigzag quickly around the field like a bat chasing insects.

Later that day, Michio told his friends about the curious flying object. "UFO" had yet to become a household word in Japan in 1972, but the boys were intrigued nonetheless. At around 7:00 PM, four of them set out for the rice field in search of the object.

About an hour later, they spotted the object flying over the rice field, lighting up the night with a pulsating silver light. When one of the boys tried to approach to object, it suddenly made a loud "pop" sound and started to glow blue. Frightened, they turned and fled without looking back.

Over a week later, at 9:30 PM on September 4, several of the boys once again saw the bright object in the rice field. And two days after that, on September 6, the boys and a few of their friends found the object on the ground in the field. It appeared to have crash-landed.

One of boys -- a 14-year-old named Hiroshi Mori (14) -- picked the object up with his hands and carried it home.

The silver, hat-shaped object weighed 1.3 kilograms (3 lbs) and measured roughly 7 centimeters (3 in) tall and 15 centimeters (6 in) in diameter. The bottom surface was perforated with an array of tiny holes and imprinted with designs depicting what appeared to be a bird, some waves, and another flying object. Something rattled around inside the object when shaken.

That night, Hiroshi wrapped the curious object in a plastic bag and placed it inside his backpack. Later, however, the object mysteriously vanished without a trace.

Mini-UFO, Kochi prefecture, Japan, 1972 --

Before long, the boys encountered the object again. They once again captured it, but it soon vanished. This happened about five or six times over the next two weeks.

On one occasion, the boys decided to pour water into the holes on the bottom. The object emitted a loud cicada-like buzzing sound and glowed brightly inside. Later, when they ran some wire through the holes and dangled the object upside-down, the top and bottom sections of the object became slightly separated. Through the opening, they could see what appeared to be electronic components.

On the night of September 22, Hiroshi was riding his bicycle with the object in the basket when it suddenly disappeared. They never saw it again.

In 2007, 35 years after the incident, the Japan Space Phenomena Society (JSPS) conducted a new investigation into the case. According to Kazuo Hayashi, head of the JSPS Osaka chapter, all of the witnesses still stand by their original story.

The mini-UFO of 1972 was not the last that would be encountered in Kochi prefecture. Nearly four years later, on the night of June 6, 1976, a 9-year-old girl named Sachiko Oyama in the village of Agawa (now called Niyodogawa-cho) stepped outside to look for her family cat. She noticed a bright yellow luminous object in the eastern sky.

When she went to the street for a better view, the object suddenly descended into the surrounding woods, struck a nearby tree, and landed at her feet. It made no sound when it hit the pavement.

The silver, hat-shaped object appeared to be about 15 centimeters (7 in) in diameter. Curious, Sachiko touched it with her index finger. The object was constructed of solid material, but it was covered in a slimy substance that stuck to her finger.

She suddenly felt afraid started to run home. Over her shoulder, she saw the object start to glow yellow, spin counter-clockwise three times, and shoot quickly back into the sky.

What could explain these mysterious mini-UFO sightings? Perhaps there is a rational explanation -- or maybe they were hoaxes. It's also possible the encounters were the products of overactive imaginations. Or perhaps, as suggested by JSPS head Kazuo Hayashi, these flying objects temporarily lost their way after slipping into our realm from another dimension.

[Source: Namiki, Shin-ichiro. Nippon No Kaiki Hyaku. Magazineland, 2007.]

Mini-humanoid robot with iPhone head

28 Jul 2009

A robot hobbyist has developed an application that lets the iPhone 3GS function as the brain and face of a miniature humanoid robot.

+ Video

The body of the robot -- named "Robochan" -- consists of a Kondo KHR-2HV humanoid. The iPhone head, which attaches to the body via the dock connector, displays various facial expressions while functioning as the controller. Using Robochan's iPhone interface, the user can program it to function as an alarm clock, dance to music, and perform other moves based on user interaction.

Incidentally, Robochan's leek-spinning dance (and the infectious music) is a reference to the old Loituma Girl Internet meme, which began as a simple Flash animation showing a Bleach anime character (Orihime Inoue) twirling a leek to the traditional Finnish folk song "Ievan Polkka."

Video: Robot baseball

24 Jul 2009

To demonstrate the latest advances in high-speed industrial robot technology, researchers at the University of Tokyo have pitted a baseball-pitching robotic arm against a mechanical batter with a near-perfect swing.

+ Video

The robot pitcher consists of a high-speed, three-fingered hand (developed by professor Masatoshi Ishikawa and his team from the Graduate School of Information Science and Technology) mounted on a mechanical arm (developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology). With superb control of nimble fingers that can open and close at a rate of up to 10 times per second, the robot can release the ball with perfect timing. Precise coordination between the fingers, hand and arm allow the robot pitcher to hit the strike zone 90% of the time.

The robot batter is an upgraded version of a machine that Ishikawa's team developed in 2003.

In the demonstration -- which was designed to showcase the speed at which multiple high-speed industrial robots can respond to external circumstances and perform activities together -- the researchers placed the robot pitcher 3.5 meters (11 ft) away from the mechanical batter. The pitcher's 40-kph (25-mph) sidearm throws posed little challenge to the batter, whose 1000-frame-per-second camera eyes allow it to see the ball in super slow motion as it approaches. The robot batter has a near-perfect batting average when swinging at pitches in the strike zone.

To make future contests more interesting, the researchers plan to increase the robot pitcher's throwing speed to 150 kph (93 mph) and teach it to throw breaking balls and changeups. In addition, they plan to train the robot batter to repeatedly hit balls to the same target.

[Source: Mainichi]

Robot chic: HRP-4C droid goes bridal

22 Jul 2009

HRP-4C, a female humanoid robot created by Japan's National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST), made her first professional runway appearance at a fashion show in Osaka today.

HRP-4C robot in wedding dress -- HRP-4C robot in wedding dress --
Here comes the robot bride -- HRP-4C models a wedding dress

The chic robot, who stands 158 centimeters (5 ft 2 in) tall and weighs 43 kilograms (95 lbs) with her batteries installed, wore a wedding dress by designer Yumi Katsura.

HRP-4C robot in wedding dress -- Although much less hurried than her flesh-and-bone catwalk peers, the HRP-4C strolled smoothly up and down the 10-meter runway, struck various poses, and gazed sidelong at the delighted audience.

The positive response of the crowd shows the robot may have a future in entertainment, just as her creators suggested at her unveiling in March. At that event, they claimed HRP-4C's realistic looks had the potential to draw crowds at amusement parks and promotional events.

Developer Kazuhito Yokoi, who appeared at today's fashion show in a tuxedo, expressed his wishes for the robot's future. "We hope she can work in fashion and entertainment," he said, staring pensively at the stage.

Then, as if seeing his creation in a bridal gown had stirred his emotions, he added, "Like the father of a bride, I feel both happy and sad."

[Source: Chunichi]

Video: Moon shadow races across Earth

22 Jul 2009

+ Video

Japan's Himawari-7 (a.k.a. MTSAT-2) weather satellite has beamed back a series of images of Earth captured during the solar eclipse earlier today. Taken at 15-minute intervals from an altitude of 36,000 kilometers (22,400 miles), the satellite images show the dark shadow of the Moon racing east across Asia and into the Pacific.

[Images via Japan Meteorological Agency]

Watch the solar eclipse online

22 Jul 2009

Path of eclipse --
Later this morning in Asia, people from India to Japan to Kiribati will turn to the sky for a glimpse of the total solar eclipse.

After appearing at dawn in India's Gulf of Khambhat, the Moon's shadow will sweep across Asia and the South Pacific, covering approximately 15,200 kilometers (9,500 miles) in about 3.5 hours before disappearing near the Marshall Islands.

In parts of the Pacific, the duration of the total darkness will last up to 6 minutes and 39 seconds, making it the longest total solar eclipse of the 21st century. The next one of this duration will not occur until June 13, 2132.

For those unable to view the eclipse in person, here are a few places to catch it online (times are indicated in JST, GMT, and EST):

- Live Eclipse 2009 (China/ Japan/ Kiribati): iPhone-friendly webcast, live from three separate locations. Finished.

- NHK (Akusekijima/ Yakushima/ Boat in Pacific/ Iwo Jima): Scheduled to broadcast from 10:30 to 11:45 AM JST (1:30-2:45 AM GMT // 9:30-10:45 PM EST) from four locations. Finished.

- RKK Kumamoto Eclipse Live (Kumamoto, Japan): Scheduled to go live at 9:30 AM JST (12:30 AM GMT // 8:30 PM EST) - Finished.

- SAROS.ORG - Live Astronomy Webcast (China) - Finished.

- Atlas Post (China): Broadcasting from 9:20 to 19:00 AM JST (12:20-2:00 AM GMT // 8:20-10:00 PM EST) - Finished.

- University of North Dakota (Wuhan, China) - Finished.

- TV news broadcast from India: Finished.

- CCTV-4 (China): Finished.

* * * * *

For a few moments, the solar eclipse peeked through the clouds over Tokyo.

Partial solar eclipse over Tokyo --
Partial solar eclipse over Tokyo (11:07 AM) [Enlarge]

Partial solar eclipse over Tokyo --
Partial solar eclipse over Tokyo (11:07 AM)

* * * * *

In case you missed it, here's some NHK footage of the eclipse over Japan's southern islands.

Bape x Pokemon

17 Jul 2009

Bape x Pokemon --

Here's a peek at some of the forthcoming T-shirt designs spawned by the rumored collaboration between legendary Tokyo streetwear brand BAPE (A Bathing Ape) and the Pokemon media empire.

Bape x Pokemon --

Bape x Pokemon --

Bape x Pokemon --

Bape x Pokemon --

Bape x Pokemon --

Bape x Pokemon --

[Via: World Famous Design Junkies]

Sketches of hell by Kyosai

16 Jul 2009

Prolific Meiji-period artist Kawanabe Kyōsai (1831-1889), well-known in the West for his darkly humorous illustrations, was commissioned by Scottish surgeon and Japanese art collector William Anderson (1842-1900) to produce a large number of comic paintings in the 1870s. Anderson's collection, which today forms the core of the Japanese paintings at the British Museum, included the handful of fanciful depictions of hell shown below. (Click the "+" under each image to enlarge.)

Illustration by Kawanabe Ky?sai --
Torture in Hell [+]

Illustration by Kawanabe Ky?sai --
Enma, King of Hell [+]

Illustration by Kawanabe Ky?sai --
Enma's Judgment [+]

Illustration by Kawanabe Ky?sai --
Protest to Enma [+]

Illustration by Kawanabe Ky?sai --
Burning at the Stake [+]

Illustration by Kawanabe Ky?sai --
Monster Assault [+]

Illustration by Kawanabe Ky?sai --
Pandora's Box [+]

Illustration by Kawanabe Ky?sai --
Bashing a Monster into the Ground [+]

Illustration by Kawanabe Ky?sai --
Monster Battle [+]

Illustration by Kawanabe Ky?sai --
Hawk Counterattack [+]

Illustration by Kawanabe Ky?sai --
Retribution: Animals vs. Man [+]

Illustration by Kawanabe Ky?sai --
Retribution: Mice vs. Cat [+]