03 Sep 2008
Japan's first field test of "smart posters" using Near Field Communication (NFC) -- a short-range high-frequency wireless communication technology that lets users view digital content simply by holding their compatible cellphones near the posters -- is being conducted at a Chiba-area shopping mall, it was announced on September 2.
Major phone operator SoftBank Mobile, along with NTT Data, Hitachi and Dutch smart chip maker Gemalto, are testing the technology with WALL-E and Tinker Bell movie posters embedded with NFC tags.
Throughout October, selected test participants will be able to receive and view digital content such as movie stills and trailers simply by holding their NFC-compatible phones (containing NFC-USIM cards) next to the smart posters. Along with the digital content, users also receive an access code that, when transferred to a compatible Hitachi HDTV at home, allows them to view a WALL-E trailer in high definition (via Hitachi's content distribution service).
The tests, which are designed to help the companies evaluate the effectiveness and potential of NFC smart posters as a promotional medium, could be a sign of things to come in the field of poster advertising. Should NFC smart posters become cheap and easy to produce, they have the potential to replace the ubiquitous QR (2D) code that commonly appears in Japanese advertising posters. NFC is seen as more convenient than QR code because the user does not have to scan a code and visit a separate website to view the data. Instead, digital content can be accessed directly with a simple swipe of the phone.
[Source: Nikkei Net, NTT Data]
19 Feb 2008
In recent years, Hitachi's finger vein authentication technology, which identifies individuals by the unique pattern of blood vessels inside their fingers, has helped beef up the security of devices ranging from ATMs and cardless payment systems to computers and automobile ignition systems. Now this biometric technology is heading to the gym.
IT company Fukui Computer has unveiled a new line of networked exercise machines, called "medimo," that are equipped with Hitachi finger vein readers. When users identify themselves with a simple press of the finger, the machines respond by automatically adjusting the weight resistance and seat position based on the user's previously set preferences.
The machines also connect to a remote server to retrieve the user's personal exercise data -- including previous exercise records and stats, training regimens and calorie consumption data -- which shows up on a touch-screen display. Users can then do their workouts based on this data, which is updated each time a machine is used, or personal trainers can refer to it when providing exercise advice.
Fukui, who unveiled the 12 new medimo machines on February 18, plans to begin selling them on April 1 for about 1.8 million yen ($17,000) each. The company is targeting fitness gyms, hospitals and welfare facilities, and is expecting to sell 2,000 machines over the next 3 years.
[Source: IT Media]
22 Nov 2007
Hitachi has unveiled an office worker robot named "EMIEW 2," which is a lighter, more compact and more sophisticated version of Hitachi's 1st-generation EMIEW (Excellent Mobility and Interactive Existence as Workmate) robot developed in March 2005. The robot was demonstrated on November 21 at the company's Mechanical Engineering Research Laboratory, where it was supposed to show off its ability to greet visitors, guide them through the office, retrieve documents and carry drinks. Apparently, however, things did not go as planned.
According to this AP report, the large amount of lunch-break traffic on the research center's wireless network interrupted EMIEW 2's communications, causing it to crash into a desk during the demonstration. The robot had to wait until after lunch break to perform its routine.
When operating properly, however, EMIEW 2 can respond to spoken commands, move around on two wheels at a speed of 6 kilometers per hour (4 mph), and safely weave its way through crowds of humans -- just like the original EMIEW. But while its predecessor stood 1.3 meters (4 ft 3 in) tall and weighed 70 kilograms (154 lbs), EMIEW 2 is only 80 centimeters (31 in) tall and weighs 13 kilograms (29 lb), which is light enough to allow the robot's adult female co-workers to lift and carry it, Hitachi says. EMIEW 2, which appears to have been modeled after a youngster wearing a red hat and outfit, sports a more childlike appearance than the 1st-generation model.
Other new features include a unique pair of Transformer-style legs that allow the robot to crouch on its knees and roll around on an extra set of wheels for greater stability, as well as the ability to lift its feet 3 centimeters (1.2 in) off the ground to step over small obstacles. In addition, a built-in radar system allows the robot to map its surroundings and understand its own position in relation to other objects in the room.
Hitachi developed EMIEW 2 as part of the Project for the Practical Application of Next-Generation Robots organized by NEDO (New Energy and Industrial Development Organization), which aims to encourage the development of robots that can coexist with humans while providing support in real-world situations. But judging from the real-world situation that occurred at the demonstration, Hitachi still has a bit of work to do.
[Sources: Sankei, Hitachi]
23 Oct 2007
Over the past few years, Hitachi's finger vein authentication technology -- which identifies individuals based on the unique pattern of blood vessels inside their fingers -- has appeared in everything from ATMs and computers to building entrances and cardless payment systems. Hitachi's latest development puts the biometric security technology inside the car steering wheel and couples it with a system that allows the engine to start only for drivers whose finger vein patterns the vehicle recognizes.
While providing an extra layer of security against car theft, Hitachi's steering wheel finger vein authentication system also works to improve in-vehicle comfort when used with seats, mirrors and air conditioners that auto-adjust according to the preferences of the driver touching the wheel. Furthermore, the finger vein reader, which is small enough to be embedded inconspicuously on the back of the steering wheel, can be used as a programmable multi-purpose switch that lets the driver perform different functions with different fingers. The driver could, for example, use different fingers to turn on the stereo, open the sunroof, and operate the navigation system -- all while concentrating on the road and maintaining a natural grip on the wheel.
The company also sees great future potential for the steering wheel finger vein reader as cars become smarter and equipped with increasingly complex IT-based functions. In Hitachi's vision, the reader will one day be used with on-board electronic payment systems that literally keep you in the driver's seat while making secure payments at drive-thrus, as well as with services that let you pay for and download music while on the road.
Hitachi first brought their finger vein authentication technology to automobiles in 2005, with a keyless car door lock that checks finger veins and opens only for the vehicle's registered driver. The technology, which Hitachi originally developed in 1997, relies on image sensors and near-infrared light passing through the finger to measure the vein patterns inside. Each individual finger has a unique pattern of blood vessels, much like a fingerprint, which can be used as a form of biometric identification.
A model vehicle equipped with Hitachi's steering wheel finger vein authentication system will be on display at the 2007 Tokyo Motor Show from October 27 to November 11.
[Source: Hitachi press release]
25 Jul 2007
On July 24, Hitachi announced the development of a biometric cardless credit payment system, called "finger vein money," which allows shoppers to pay for purchases using only their fingertips. The company plans to begin field testing the finger vein money in September.
Finger vein money relies on Hitachi's finger vein authentication technology, which verifies a person's identity by reading the pattern of blood vessels in his or her fingers. These blood vessel patterns are unique to each individual, much like fingerprints or retinas, only they are hidden securely under the skin, making them all the more difficult to counterfeit. Hitachi's finger vein authentication technology is already being used to verify user identities for ATMs, door access control systems and computer log-in systems in Japan and elsewhere.
In the finger vein money system, consumers first register their finger vein pattern data with the credit card company. The data is then entered into a database along with the individual's credit account information. Later, when shoppers want to pay for something, they simply go to the cash register and place their finger in a vein reader, which uses infrared LEDs and a special camera to capture a detailed image of their vein structure. The image is converted into a readable format and sent to the database, where it is checked against the records on file. When the system verifies the identity of the shopper, the purchase is charged to the individual's credit account.
Hitachi's three-month field test, which is set to begin in September, involves 200 Hitachi employees volunteering to use finger vein money at the company cafeteria and shops in the Hitachi System Plaza Building located in Shin-Kawasaki. If all goes well, Hitachi -- who is conducting the test with the cooperation of major credit card company JCB -- plans to expand the trial system to all of its company buildings.
As a cardless payment system that promises the ultimate in convenience and security, finger vein money could help contribute to the disappearance of credit cards and all the anxieties associated with their loss and theft. When that day comes, we may only need to worry about losing our fingers.
[Source: Nikkei Net]
23 May 2007
Hitachi has successfully trial manufactured a lightweight, portable brain scanner that enables users to keep tabs on their mental activity during the course of their daily lives. The system, which consists of a 400 gram (14 oz) headset and a 630 gram (1 lb 6 oz) controller worn on the waist, is the result of Hitachi's efforts to transform the brain scanner into a familiar everyday item that anyone can use.
The rechargeable battery-operated mind reader relies on Hitachi's so-called "optical topography" technology, which interprets mental activity based on subtle changes in the brain's blood flow. Because blood flow increases to areas of the brain where neurons are firing (to supply glucose and oxygen to the tissue), changes in hemoglobin concentrations are an important index by which to measure brain activity. To measure these hemoglobin concentrations in real time, eight small surface-emitting lasers embedded in the headset fire harmless near-infrared rays into the brain and the headset's photodiode sensors convert the reflected light into electrical signals, which are relayed to the controller.
The real-time brain data can either be stored in Flash memory or sent via wifi to a computer for instant analysis and display. A single computer can support up to 24 mind readers at a time, allowing multiple users to monitor brain activity while communicating or engaging in group activities.
In addition to health and medical applications, Hitachi foresees uses for the personal mind reader in fields such as psychology, education and marketing. Although it is unclear what neuromarketing applications the company has in mind, it is pretty clear that access to real-time customer brain data would provide marketers with a better understanding of how and why shoppers make their purchasing decisions. One can also imagine interactive campaigns that, for example, ask customers to think positive thoughts about a certain product in exchange for discount coupons or the chance to win a prize.
The technology could also be used in new forms of entertainment such as "mind gaming," where the player's physical brain activity becomes a part of game play. It is also feasible to integrate the brain scanner with a remote control brain-machine interface that would allow users to operate electronic devices with their minds.
Hitachi has yet to determine when the personal mind reader will be made commercially available.
14 Feb 2007
RFID keeps getting smaller. On February 13, Hitachi unveiled a tiny, new "powder" type RFID chip measuring 0.05 x 0.05 mm -- the smallest yet -- which they aim to begin marketing in 2 to 3 years.
Hitachi's new RFID chips (left, next to a human hair) are 64x smaller than their mu-chips (right)
By relying on semiconductor miniaturization technology and using electron beams to write data on the chip substrates, Hitachi was able to create RFID chips 64 times smaller than their currently available 0.4 x 0.4 mm mu-chips. Like mu-chips, which have been used as an anti-counterfeit measure in admission tickets, the new chips have a 128-bit ROM for storing a unique 38-digit ID number.
The new chips are also 9 times smaller than the prototype chips Hitachi unveiled last year, which measure 0.15 x 0.15 mm.
At 5 microns thick, the RFID chips can more easily be embedded in sheets of paper, meaning they can be used in paper currency, gift certificates and identification. But since existing tags are already small enough to embed in paper, it leads one to wonder what new applications the developers have in mind.
[Source: Fuji Sankei]
17 Nov 2006
Hitachi has successfully tested a brain-machine interface that allows users to turn power switches on and off with their mind. Relying on optical topography, a neuroimaging technique that uses near-infrared light to map blood concentration in the brain, the system can recognize the changes in brain blood flow associated with mental activity and translate those changes into voltage signals for controlling external devices. In the experiments, test subjects were able to activate the power switch of a model train by performing mental arithmetic and reciting items from memory.
The prototype brain-machine interface allows only simple control of switches, but with a better understanding of the subtle variations in blood concentrations associated with various brain activities, the signals can be refined and used to control more complex mechanical operations.
In the long term, brain-machine interface technology may help paralyzed patients become independent by empowering them to carry out actions with their minds. In the short term, Hitachi sees potential applications for this brain-machine interface in the field of cognitive rehabilitation, where it can be used as an entertaining tool for demonstrating a patientís progress.
The company hopes to make this technology commercially available in five years.
[Source: Yomiuri Shimbun via Seihin World]
12 Sep 2006
As long as robotic bellhops are one day destined to carry our luggage and show us to our hotel rooms, we might as well provide them with the agility to wiggle safely through crowds of people. That's the thinking of Hitachi's robotic engineers, who have been working with researchers from Tsukuba University to upgrade their EMIEW (Excellent Mobility and Interactive Existence as Workmate) robot's crowd navigation abilities.
To coexist with humans in the real world, robots need to be able to respond to a host of changes that constantly occur in the course of everyday life. This includes the ability to reach a destination without colliding into stationary or moving obstacles (such as fellow pedestrians) -- an ability that requires autonomous robots to "see" the people around them and measure their speed and direction.
When Hitachi originally developed EMIEW in 2005 as part of the Project for the Practical Application of Next-Generation Robots organized by NEDO (New Energy and Industrial Development Organization), the aim was to design a robot capable of coexisting with humans while providing support in real-world situations. These latest upgrades, which build upon Hitachi's original aim, include outfitting EMIEW with a reliable human motion detection system, which relies on lasers and distance sensors that constantly (40 times per second) measure the distance to the legs and feet of the surrounding people.
Hitachi also revamped the operation patterns of EMIEW's mobility control technology. The new technology enables EMIEW to interpret the data about the position and speed of the people nearby. From this data, the robot calculates an imaginary circle of a fixed radius around each person and selects a course based on those calculations.
In addition, Hitachi programmed EMIEW to search for new obstacles and correct its course every half second (roughly the average amount of time between a person's footsteps). This process enables EMIEW to respond when a nearby person changes speed or direction, or when a new person moves into the robot's path.
To check EMIEW's newfound ability to avoid obstacles, Hitachi put the robot to the test on an 8-meter long course along with 4 people walking at normal speeds of 4.3 kph (2.6 mph). The robot successfully completed the trial runs at a brisk 2.9 kph (1.8 mph). While these results suggest EMIEW may be ready for a job plying the hallways of a spacious luxury hotel, the day EMIEW totes your suitcases through Shibuya station appears to be a long way off.
Hitachi plans to unveil this new technology on September 14 at the 24th Annual Conference of the Robotics Society of Japan (RSJ) at Okayama University (Tsushima Campus). In addition, demonstrations of the upgraded EMIEW will be held beginning October 23, 2006 at the FISITA 2006 World Automotive Congress, an international automotive technology expo being held at Pacifico Yokohama.
[Source: Nikkei Net]