Archives: September 2009

‘Power Loader’ exoskeleton suit

30 Sep 2009

Power Loader exoskeleton suit by Activelink --

Engineers from Activelink, a Kyoto-based subsidiary of Panasonic, are hoping to turn science fiction into reality with a powerful robotic exoskeleton suit that gives its operator superhuman strength.


+ Video

The so-called "Power Loader" suit -- which takes its name from the fictional hydraulic exoskeleton suit appearing in the sci-fi classic "Aliens" (1986) -- is built on an aluminum-alloy frame and weighs 230 kilograms (500 lbs). Described as a "dual-arm power amplification robot," the exoskeleton suit is currently equipped with 18 electromagnetic motors that enable the wearer to lift 100 kilograms (220 lbs) with little effort. In addition, the Power Loader's simple, intuitive control system employs direct force feedback, allowing the operator to directly feel the movement of the robot while controlling it.

Power Loader exoskeleton suit in Aliens --
Power Loader exoskeleton suit in "Aliens"

Not unlike the film version of the suit, which was used for carrying cargo around on spaceships and colonies, the Power Loader is being created to help humans with heavy lifting, particularly in construction and disaster relief operations.

The Power Loader is still in the development phase, but Activelink plans to have a marketable version of the suit by the year 2015.

[Source: Mainichi]

Monster silhouettes on electric transformer boxes

30 Sep 2009

Electric transformer boxes painted with the silhouettes of Ultraman monsters can be seen on the streets of Sukagawa (Fukushima prefecture), the hometown of sci-fi special effects master Eiji Tsuburaya.

Electric transformer box decorated with Ultraman --
Ultraman [photo]

Electric transformer box decorated with Ultra monster --
Gomess [photo]

Electric transformer box decorated with Ultraman --
Ultra Seven [photo]

Electric transformer box decorated with Ultraman kaiju --
Clockwise from top-right: Antlar, Guts Seijin, Telesdon, Mephilas, Gomora [photo]

Electric transformer box decorated with tokusatsu silhouette --
Borg Seijin [photo]

Electric transformer box decorated with Ultraman kaiju --
Pegira [photo]

Mechanical tumor, external heart, elastic cell

28 Sep 2009

Interactive media artist Mio I-zawa's "mechanical tumor" is a quivering hunk of fleshy, organic-looking material that expands and contracts depending on the amount of stress your computer is experiencing.


+ Video

Equipped with a series of motors and pneumatic actuators, the mechanical tumor pulsates gently when the CPU load is low. When the CPU load is high, the tumor's air compressor is activated, causing the lump of flesh to inflate.

Mechanical tumor, by Mio I-zawa --

The size of the tumor fluctuates according to the CPU utilization rate, giving the user a very tangible reading of the computer's stress level.

* * * * *

Other biologically inspired interactive devices by Mio I-zawa include "external heart," a squishy latex heart on wheels that beats and rolls around in sync with the user's pulse...

...and "elastic cell," a system of 46 soft pulsating cells that react to human touch in a complex, lifelike way.

[Link: Mio I-zawa]

Design X: Japanese graphics from the early ’90s

25 Sep 2009

Here are a few samples of Japanese graphic design featured in the "Design X" special anniversary edition of IDEA magazine, 1995.

Design X, early 1990s graphic design from Japan --
"I'm Here" poster, Katsuhiko Shibuya [+]

Design X, early 1990s graphic design from Japan --
"I'm Here" poster, Katsuhiko Shibuya [+]

Design X, early 1990s graphic design from Japan --
Poster for "Life" exhibition, Mamoru Suzuki, 1994 [+]

Design X, early 1990s graphic design from Japan --
Poster for "Life" exhibition, Mamoru Suzuki, 1994 [+]

Design X, early 1990s graphic design from Japan --
Garbage bag design, Gento Matsumoto, 1994 [+]

Design X, early 1990s graphic design from Japan --
"Hiroshima-Nagasaki 50" poster for JAGDA exhibit, Mamoru Suzuki, 1995 [+]

Design X, early 1990s graphic design from Japan --
"Hiroshima-Nagasaki 50" poster for JAGDA exhibit, Mamoru Suzuki, 1995 [+]

Design X, early 1990s graphic design from Japan --
"Hiroshima-Nagasaki 50" poster for JAGDA exhibit, Mamoru Suzuki, 1995 [+]

Design X, early 1990s graphic design from Japan --
Iconova - Portrait of Towa Tei, Keiji Itoh, 1994 [+]

Design X, early 1990s graphic design from Japan --
Poster for E Company, Tatsuo Ebina, 1993 [+]

Design X, early 1990s graphic design from Japan --
Poster for E Company, Tatsuo Ebina, 1993 [+]

Design X, early 1990s graphic design from Japan --
Editorial design for Hanatsubuki magazine, Katsuhiko Shibuya [+]

Design X, early 1990s graphic design from Japan --
Poster for Yume-No-Yuminsha theatrical troupe, Noriyuki Tanaka, 1989 [+]

Design X, early 1990s graphic design from Japan --
Poster for Yume-No-Yuminsha theatrical troupe, Noriyuki Tanaka, 1989 [+]

Design X, early 1990s graphic design from Japan --
"Life/Elements" poster for "Life" exhibition, Keiji Itoh, 1994 [+]

Design X, early 1990s graphic design from Japan --
Voice, Ken Miki, 1993 [+]

Design X, early 1990s graphic design from Japan --
Primitive, Ken Miki, 1993 [+]

Design X, early 1990s graphic design from Japan --
Delicate Technology, Ichiro Higashiizumi, 1991 [+]

Design X, early 1990s graphic design from Japan --
Editorial design for "Dress-up Vol.1," Noriyuki Tanaka, 1994 [+]

Design X, early 1990s graphic design from Japan --
Editorial design for "Dress-up Vol.1," Noriyuki Tanaka, 1994 [+]

Design X, early 1990s graphic design from Japan --
Modera Tone, Kazumasa Nagai, 1995 [+]

Design X, early 1990s graphic design from Japan --
Godiva advertising poster, Osamu Fukushima, 1992 [+]

Design X, early 1990s graphic design from Japan --
Godiva advertising poster, Osamu Fukushima, 1992 [+]

Design X, early 1990s graphic design from Japan --
Laforet advertising poster, Takuya Ohnuki, 1991 [+]

Design X, early 1990s graphic design from Japan --
Poster for Sapporo wine museum, Kotaro Hirano [+]

Design X, early 1990s graphic design from Japan --
Poster for "Life" exhibition, Osamu Fukushima, 1992 [+]

Design X, early 1990s graphic design from Japan --
Poster for "Life" exhibition, Osamu Fukushima, 1992 [+]

Miruko: Wearable eyeball robot interface

24 Sep 2009

Miruko, wearable eyeball robot --

"Miruko," a wearable eyeball-shaped robot with a built-in camera and wi-fi capabilities, is designed to augment human perception by sensing and reacting to objects that cannot be seen with the naked eye.

In this video, Miruko's creators demonstrate how the robotic eyeball can be used as an interface for a virtual monster-hunting game played in a real-world environment.


+ Video

Worn on the player's sleeve, Miruko's roving eye scans the surroundings in search of virtual monsters that are invisible to the naked human eye. When a virtual monster is spotted, the mechanical eyeball rolls around in its socket and fixes its gaze on the monster's location. By following Miruko's line of sight, the player is able to locate the virtual monster and "capture" it via his or her iPhone camera.

Other skills, such as the ability to recognize and track specific faces or objects, suggest the Miruko robotic eyeball interface could be put to use in a variety of navigation, surveillance, and augmented reality entertainment applications.

Upstairs at Kitaro’s: Mini monster peepshow

24 Sep 2009

Several yōkai (Japanese folk monsters) inhabit the upstairs closet at the Kitarō Chaya teahouse in Chōfu (Tōkyō). Visible through peepholes in the door, these traditional monsters -- which are based on old folktales from across Japan -- appear in the popular GeGeGe no Kitarō manga/anime by Shigeru Mizuki, a long-time resident of Chōfu. (Click the [+] to enlarge each image.)

Monster in closet, upstairs at Kitaro Chaya teahouse --
Otoroshi [+]

The Otoroshi, a hairy creature depicted in Edo-period books and picture scrolls, perches atop the gates to shrines and temples, waiting to snatch up impious and ill-intentioned people passing below. [More]

Monster in closet, upstairs at Kitaro Chaya teahouse --
Abura-sumashi [+]

The Abura-sumashi (lit. "Oil Presser"), a folk monster from Kumamoto prefecture known for harassing mountain travelers, is believed to be the reincarnated spirit of an oil thief. Long ago, oil was essential for lighting and heating homes, and the divine punishment for people guilty of stealing this valuable commodity -- particularly from temples and shrines -- was reincarnation as a yōkai. [More]

Monster in closet, upstairs at Kitaro Chaya teahouse --
Kappa [+]

The Kappa, probably the most well-known yōkai in Japan, is a mischievous and often dangerous river imp. [More]

Monster in closet, upstairs at Kitaro Chaya teahouse --
Tsuchigumo [+]

The Tsuchigumo is a large blood-sucking spider sometimes found under the floorboards of old houses. Details about this creature vary from tale to tale, and some theories suggest the monster's origins can be traced back to the exaggerated and embellished stories of encounters with mountain-dwelling people of ancient Japan, who were also referred to as "tsuchigumo" (lit. "ground spiders"). [More]

Monster in closet, upstairs at Kitaro Chaya teahouse --
Kurage no Hinotama [+]

The Kurage no Hinotama is a jellyfish-shaped fireball (will-o-wisp) found near the sea. An account from the mid-18th century tells of a samurai who encountered one such ghostly flame on a warm breezy night at Zenshoji temple in Ishikawa prefecture. The man tried to slash the floating apparition with his sword, but to no avail. Unscathed by the attack, the fireball discharged a sticky red sap-like substance onto the man's face. [More]

Monster in closet, upstairs at Kitaro Chaya teahouse --
Peepholes in the closet doors upstairs

* * * * *

In addition to the small collection of yōkai art upstairs, the Kitarō Chaya includes a gift shop and a tiny cafe that serves GeGeGe no Kitarō-themed drinks and snacks. The teahouse is located just outside the main entrance to Jindaiji temple, which is a 20-minute bus ride from Chōfu station (bus #34, north side of station, 200 yen).

Typographic town logos in hiragana/katakana

18 Sep 2009

Municipal flag, Japan --
[Typographic logo for Kamagaya (Chiba) spells town name in katakana]

Japanese town logos -- official symbols designed to communicate the identity of each municipality -- come in a vast array of shapes and colors. Many of these municipal symbols incorporate typographical elements (particularly kanji, hiragana, katakana, and Roman letters) into their designs. In most cases, the stylized characters are straightforward and easy to spot (even if you don't read Japanese), but sometimes you have to bend your eyes to see them. The more complex logos encode the name of the town into a puzzle-like symbol that begs to be deciphered. Here are a few typographic town logos that make clever use of hiragana and katakana characters. (The examples are arranged in Japanese alphabetical order and include a mixture of both alphabets.)

Municipal flag, Japan --
[Abiko, Chiba]

A: Abiko's logo uses a stylized katakana ã‚¢ (a) that symbolizes Lake Tega.

* * * * *

Municipal flag, Japan --
[Itabashi, Tokyo]

I: The picture-puzzle logo for Tokyo's Itabashi ward consists of the katakana イタ (ita) surrounded by four (shi) katakana ハ (ha) -- the katakana ハ (ha) is a variant of バ (ba). Together, the elements express the name "Itabashi" ("ita" + "ha" + "shi").

* * * * *

Municipal flag, Japan --
[Urakawa, Hokkaido]

U: In Urakawa's design, a stylized kanji 河 (kawa) is surrounded by four sets of the katakana ウラ (ura), which represent the four municipalities that joined together in 1902 to form the current town.

* * * * *

Municipal flag, Japan --
[Ebino, Miyazaki]

E: Ebino's hiragana え (e) is in the shape of Mt. Kirishima.

* * * * *

Municipal flag, Japan --
[Owase, Mie]

O: Owase's town logo consists of a katakana オ (o) in the shape of an eagle (pronounced "wase" in the local dialect).

* * * * *

Municipal flag, Japan --
[Kanoya, Kagoshima]

Ka: The blue shape represents the Osumi peninsula, and the red circle with the gold katakana カノヤ (Kanoya) represents the city.

* * * * *

Municipal flag, Japan --
[Kikai, Kagoshima]

Ki: The logo for Kikai consists of a stylized hiragana き (ki).

* * * * *

Municipal flag, Japan --
[Kumamoto, Kumamoto]

Ku: Kumamoto's logo is a rounded hiragana く (ku).

* * * * *

Municipal flag, Japan --
[Kesennuma, Miyagi]

Ke: The logo for Kesennuma consists of a hiragana け (ke).

* * * * *

Municipal flag, Japan --
[Komaki, Aichi]

Ko: The katakana コマキ (komaki) in this logo is designed to represent an airplane engine.

* * * * *

Municipal flag, Japan --
[Misawa, Aomori]

Sa: In Misawa's picture-puzzle logo, the three (mi) katakana サ (sa) form a ring (wa). The Y-shaped objects are pine needles.

* * * * *

Municipal flag, Japan --
[Shimonoseki, Yamaguchi]

Shi: Shimonoseki's logo consists of the hiragana しも (shimo) in the shape of a puffer fish.

* * * * *

Municipal flag, Japan --
[Sumida, Tokyo]

Su: This symbol for Tokyo's Sumida ward is composed of the katakana ス (su).

* * * * *

Municipal flag, Japan --
[Setana, Hokkaido]

Se: The katakana せ (se) is in the shape of Hokkaido, and the circle represents the town's location on the map.

* * * * *

Municipal flag, Japan --
[Urasoe, Okinawa]

So: The logo for Urasoe is said to incorporate the katakana ウラソエ (Urasoe), though the ソ (so) and エ (e) are difficult to see.

* * * * *

Municipal flag, Japan --
[Tateyama, Chiba]

Ta: Tateyama's logo consists of the katakana タ (ta) on the left, テ (te) on the right, and the kanji 山 (yama) in the center.

* * * * *

Municipal flag, Japan --
[Chitose, Hokkaido]

Chi: In Chitose's logo, the hiragana ち (chi) is shaped like an airplane.

* * * * *

Municipal flag, Japan --
[Tsushima, Nagasaki]

Tsu: The six hiragana つ (tsu) in this logo represent the six municipalities that merged in 2004 to form the current city.

* * * * *

Municipal flag, Japan --
[Toride, Ibaraki]

Te: Toride's logo incorporates the katakana トリテ (torite). デ (de) is a variant of テ (te).

* * * * *

Municipal flag, Japan --
[Tōkai, Aichi]

To: The logo for Tōkai uses the hiragana とう (tō).

* * * * *

Municipal flag, Japan --
[Nankoku, Kochi]

Na: In Nankoku's logo, the katakana ナ (na) resembles a pair of wings.

* * * * *

Municipal flag, Japan --
[Niiza, Saitama]

Ni: Niiza's logo incorporates the katakana ニ (ni) and ザ (za).

* * * * *

Municipal flag, Japan --
[Numazu, Shizuoka]

Nu: The logo for Numazu depicts the katakana ヌ (nu) with pine needles.

* * * * *

Municipal flag, Japan --
[Nerima, Tokyo]

Ne: The logo for Tokyo's Nerima ward consists of a katakana ネ (ne) with a horseshoe-shaped center -- a reference to the "horse" kanji 馬 (ma) in Nerima.

* * * * *

Municipal flag, Japan --
[Minoo, Osaka]

No: Minoo's picture-puzzle logo consists of three (mi) katakana ノ (no).

* * * * *

Municipal flag, Japan --
[Hadano, Kanagawa]

Ha: The logo for Hadano consists of the katakana ハタノ (hatano) drawn to resemble wings. ダ (da) is a variant of タ (ta).

* * * * *

Municipal flag, Japan --
[Biei, Hokkaido]

Hi: Biei's logo design features the hiragana び (bi) in the shape of Mt. Tokachi. び (bi) is a variant of ひ (hi).

* * * * *

Municipal flag, Japan --
[Fukuchiyama]

Fu: The picture-puzzle logo for Fukuchiyama incorporates nine (ku) katakana フ (fu).

* * * * *

Municipal flag, Japan --
[Sasebo, Nagasaki]

Ho: Sasebo's logo is drawn with the katakana サセホ (Saseho). ホ (bo) is a variant of ボ (ho).

* * * * *

Municipal flag, Japan --
[Higashi-Matsuyama, Saitama]

Ma: This logo design consists of three katakana マ (ma). The symbol as a whole is meant to represent the kanji 東 (higashi), as well as the kanji 山 (yama).

* * * * *

Municipal flag, Japan --
[Minato, Tokyo]

Mi: The design for Tokyo's Minato ward features a stylized version of the hiragana み (mi).

* * * * *

Municipal flag, Japan --
[Mutsu, Aomori]

Mu: Mutsu's symbol consists of the hiragana むつ (mutsu).

* * * * *

Municipal flag, Japan --
[Kameoka, Kyoto]

Me: Kameoka's logo design is said to incorporate letters from three alphabets, including the hiragana かめ (kame), the katakana カメ (kame), the roman letters KA, and others.

* * * * *

Municipal flag, Japan --
[Mobara, Chiba]

Mo: Mobara's town symbol is said to incorporate a stylized version of the hiragana ã‚‚ (mo), though it is difficult to make out.

* * * * *

Municipal flag, Japan --
[Yachiyo, Chiba]

Ya: The logo for Yachiyo consists of the hiragana ã‚„ (ya).

* * * * *

Municipal flag, Japan --
[Yokosuka, Kanagawa]

Yo: Yokosuka's symbol, which represents a mariner's compass, incorporates the katakana ヨコ (yoko) styled like the Miura clan symbol.

* * * * *

Municipal flag, Japan --
[Omura, Nagasaki]

Ra: Omura's picture-puzzle logo features the kanji 大 (oh) surrounded by six (mu) katakana ラ (ra).

* * * * *

Municipal flag, Japan --
[Rishiri, Hokkaido]

Ri: Rishiri's symbol is said to incorporate the hiragana り (ri), which representing ocean waves, along with the hiragana し (shi), which represents Mt. Rishiri.

* * * * *

Municipal flag, Japan --
[Rumei, Hokkaido]

Ru: The logo for Rumei consists of the katakana ル (ru) surrounded by four seagulls.

* * * * *

Municipal flag, Japan --
[Rebun, Hokkaido]

Re: Rebun's town symbol incorporates the katakana レ (re).

* * * * *

Municipal flag, Japan --
[Muroran, Hokkaido]

Ro: Muroran's picture-puzzle logo consists of six (mu) katakana ロ (ro) surrounding an orchid (ran).

* * * * *

Municipal flag, Japan --
[Tokorozawa, Saitama]

Wa: The picture-puzzle logo for Tokorozawa features a yam (tokoro) surrounded by three katakana ワ (wa). In Japanese, "three" is pronounced "san," which sounds similar to "za."

[More]

Space caramel made from giant jellyfish

16 Sep 2009

In the latest move in Japan's war on giant jellyfish, high school students in the town of Obama have developed a new type of caramel candy made from the enormous sea creatures -- and they are offering it up as a snack for astronauts in space.

Echizen kurage, Nomura's jellyfish --
Nomura's jellyfish (Echizen kurage) -- If you can't beat 'em, eat 'em (in space)

The enterprising Obama Fisheries High School students have requested the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) to place their chewy treat on the official menu for astronauts aboard the International Space Station. The space agency, which appears to be entertaining the proposal, is reportedly sending a representative to the school tomorrow (September 17) to evaluate the candy.

Described as having a sweet and salty flavor, the caramel's ingredients include sugar, starch syrup, and jellyfish powder, which is obtained by boiling the jellyfish down to a thick paste, drying it, and grinding it into fine particles. The most recent batch of caramel uses powder from Nomura's jellyfish snared last month in fixed fishing nets in nearby Wakasa Bay. The bay is located in Fukui prefecture, which has been among the areas hardest hit by the giant jellyfish swarms in recent years.

Students pose with caramel made from giant jellyfish -- The students began cooking with Nomura's jellyfish three years ago, after a NASA-designed food safety management system was installed at the school. In 2006, after the school developed a method for processing giant jellyfish into an edible powder, a local company began using it as an ingredient in their jellyfish cookies.

Since then, the students have been searching for new ways to use their jellyfish powder. They are hoping to benefit from the recent raw caramel craze sweeping Japan.

[Source: Chunichi]

Video: Extreme custom cars

15 Sep 2009

A few of Japan's more outlandish custom rides were featured on a recent episode of Sokon Tokoro.


+ Video

The vehicles appearing in this video are:

- A rather ordinary-looking BMW E66 whose trunk is decked with Buddhist sutras written in 30,000 Swarovski crystals (the owner, a Buddhist priest, also owns the next vehicle).

- A Toyota Celsior UCF20 with gullwings, scissor doors and a split hood, which took 12 years to build and cost 10 million yen ($110,000). The interior includes 24 monitors, including several mounted in the headrests behind the passengers' heads (you can watch them with the eyes in the back of your head, according to the priest).

- Batman van, a rolling tribute to the superhero that cost 25 million yen ($280,000), took 13 years to complete, and earned the owner a divorce.

- Rocket launcher van, a 1981 Daihatsu Hijet outfitted with a cheap launcher for an 8-meter (26-ft) water rocket (the owner is an eggplant farmer).

- Replica of the "Pointer," the famous battle vehicle used by the Earth Defense Force in the Ultra Seven TV series that aired on Japanese TV in the late 1960s.

- Fan-flapping Hitachi ASTACO machine, which the Tokyo Fire Department Hyper Rescue Team uses to clear debris from disaster sites.


+ Video

The rides featured in this video are:

- Host George Tokoro's Subaru R1 disguised as a Ferrari.

- A 1994 Cadillac limo lowrider with plush pink interior and 11-color paint job that took a year to complete and cost 10 million yen ($110,000).

- "Tank" dragster powered by a 25,000-horsepower US military jet engine that spews a powerful, camera-melting flame. The dragster, which can reach speeds of 400 kph (250 mph), took 4 years to build and cost 40 million yen ($450,000).

- T-REX super three-wheeler with a 1352cc Kawasaki ZZR1400 engine that can reach speeds of 230 kph (140 mph).

[Via: Watashi to Tokyo]