Tag: ‘Material’

Cyber-concrete lets walls speak

15 Dec 2006

YRP Ubiquitous Networking Laboratory -- Sumitomo Osaka Cement and YRP Ubiquitous Networking Laboratory have developed cyber-concrete, a smart form of concrete embedded with RFID tags that can store data. Researchers developed a durable coating for YRP's "ucode" tags, which have a larger storage capacity than ordinary IC tags, and they developed a special reader that, when held near the concrete, retrieves the stored data and converts it into spoken form.

Sumitomo is set to begin field testing the technology at its cement factories this month, with the aim of making it available to large construction companies in the spring of 2007.

While the potential applications of cyber-concrete are endless, the companies are initially promoting it as a new tool for managing structural safety data. Cyber-concrete can store information about itself, such as when, where and how it was manufactured and data about strength and quality, making for more efficient and reliable safety inspection systems. This traceability data can be used by construction companies, inspectors, or tenants concerned about building safety.

Public concern for structural safety has risen with a recent building safety inspection scandal involving the discovery of falsified quake-resistance data for a number of buildings in Tokyo and the surrounding areas. Perhaps cyber-concrete will bring a little peace of mind, allowing people to bypass the shady inspectors and ask buildings directly how safe they are -- which is great as long as buildings have no reason to be dishonest.

And should you find yourself trapped under three floors of cyber-concrete after the Big One, at least you'll have something to talk to while waiting for the rescue bots to arrive.

[Sources: Fuji Sankei, Nikkei Net]

Aimulet LA: award-winning eco design

05 Oct 2006

Aimulet LA --

The 2006 Good Design Award for Ecology Design goes to Aimulet LA, a batteryless, light-activated handheld audio communication device with an outer shell made from molded bamboo. The environmentally friendly communication terminal was designed by the Information Technology Research Institute at Japan’s National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST).

The name "Aimulet" is derived from the word "amulet" plus the letter "i," which denotes "intelligent," "interactive" and "infrared," as well as "ai" (which means "love" in Japanese and refers to Aichi prefecture, the location of the 2005 World Expo). The initials "LA" stand for none other than Laurie Anderson, whose Walk Project installation for the 2005 World Expo featured the Aimulet LA. Visitors to the installation used the device to receive audio messages as they wandered the site.

Aimulet LA is designed to be held up to your ear like a cellphone. When you stand over special LED emitters set into the ground, Aimulet LA receives the light signals via an array of spherical micro solar cells (called Sphelar by manufacturer Kyosemi) set into the bottom of the handset. Aimulet LA translates the signals into audio messages that are transmitted through a tiny speaker in the device. In Laurie Anderson's installation, visitors used Aimulet LA to listen to poems in four different languages as they strolled through a Japanese-style garden.

According to AIST, the technology at work in Aimulet LA can be put to use in public spaces such as outdoor exhibits and events, amusement facilities, train stations and parks, where it can be used in interactive media or entertainment. In addition, the low cost of the device means it could also double as an entrance ticket, annual pass or ID card.

The Good Design Award judges gave high marks to Aimulet LA's design concept for its ingenious blend of new technology and natural materials. The device also earned points for its lack of external power source, a factor that contributes to the creation of a battery-free environment. Being light-activated also makes it highly versatile, and its use of bamboo makes it easily recyclable and environmentally friendly.

This award marks the first time for AIST to receive a Good Design Award in Ecology Design. AIST previously received a Good Design Award for Paro, the cuddly seal robot recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records as the world's most therapeutic robot.

Check out the Good Design Award page for more amazing designs.

[Source: AIST press release, AIST paper (English, pdf format)]

Robot beauty goes skin-deep

19 Sep 2006

Honey Doll --

In a move that could provide a crucial boost to our robotic friends struggling up the near side of the Uncanny Valley, major cosmetics manufacturer Kao Corporation and a Keio University research team led by robotics professor Takashi Maeno have developed an artificial skin that feels just like human skin.

Skin, the largest organ of the human body, consists of a soft layer of tissue (dermis) covered by a tougher protective layer (epidermis). The artificial skin developed by Kao and Keio mimics the feel of human skin with a 1-cm thick "dermis" of elastic silicone covered by a 0.2-mm thick "epidermis" of firm urethane. Countless tiny hexagonal indentations etched into the urethane epidermis provide it with a very realistic texture.

In a series of unscientific tests, 10 out of 12 people who touched the skin thought it felt like human skin, while equipment designed to measure the mechanical properties of skin confirmed the artificial skin had characteristics resembling human skin.

The skin was unveiled earlier this month at the 24th Annual Conference of the Robotics Society of Japan (RSJ) at Okayama University. While Kao plans to use the artificial skin in the development of new cosmetics, Professor Maeno sees potential applications in the field of household robotics, where there are many opportunities for human-robot interaction.

[Source: Yomiuri Shimbun]

Diamonds made from baby hair

01 Sep 2006

Heart-In Baby Diamond

New Age Diamonds, a Russian company specializing in the production of gem-quality synthetic diamonds, has entered the Japanese market with a new product called the "Heart-In Baby Diamond" -- a synthetic diamond made from the hair of newborn babies.

The Heart-In Baby Diamond is the latest addition to the company's "Your Personal Diamond" (YPD) line of commemorative diamonds, which are custom-made from the hair or fur of your favorite person or pet, living or departed.

Heart-In Baby Diamond prices range from 403,000 yen (US$3,500) for a 0.2-carat canary yellow diamond to 1,934,000 yen (US$17,000) for a 0.8-carat chameleon red diamond.

As Japan's population begins to shrink, newborn babies become all the more precious and each birth is a greater cause for celebration. In addition, fewer mouths to feed results in increased amounts of disposable household wealth. New Age Diamonds appears to be capitalizing on these two factors by offering proud new parents an innovative and luxurious way to bestow gratitude on their blessed offspring.

[Via: Slashdot Japan]

Polygonal spiral-shaped carbon nanotubes discovered

10 May 2006

Carbon nanotubeOn May 8, researchers from JFE Holdings, Inc. and Shinshu University announced the discovery of a new type of carbon nanotube (CNT) -- a polygonal tube shaped in a spiral configuration. Cross-sections of what are normally round tubes showed a structure with at least six sides.

This special structure appeared in CNTs that were synthesized using JFE's production method. The researchers speculate that the polygonal tube spirals arise because the production method’s high temperatures (over 3000 degrees Celsius) lead to high crystallinity, and the rapid cooling causes distortion in the crystal structure.

Using an arc discharge method of production, the company has succeeded in synthesizing 100-micrometer (1 micrometer = 1 millionth of a meter) thick CNT tape comprised of tubes with a purity of nearly 100%. This tape, according to the researchers, is the world’s first of its kind.

When the researchers analyzed the new CNT structure, they found that electron emission was at least several times better than conventional cylindrical CNTs, and they discovered that its strength as a material was at least dozens of times greater.

The company has begun test marketing the polygonal nanotubes, which they call nanocores, for applications in electronics and composite materials. Carbon nanotube tape can be used for such products as field emission displays, next-generation flat-panel displays, fuel cells and semiconductor parts.

[Source: Fuji Sankei]

Through the (zero-reflection) looking glass

07 Apr 2006

MetamaterialWhen light passes through material such as glass, a portion of its energy is lost as it reflects off the material's surface. Researchers at Japan's Institute of Physical and Chemical Research (Riken) have come up with a theoretical design for preventing this phenomenon from occurring.

The researchers have designed a prism of engineered material -- metamaterial comprised of an arrangement of nano-coils of precious metals such as gold or silver -- embedded in a solid glass-like material. The prism structure has a negative refractive index, which makes it truly transparent to light, allowing it to pass freely through with no reflection.

In the future, this type of metamaterial prism could lead to improvements in low-loss fiber optic communications, the development of telescopes and cameras well-suited for dark subjects, and the emergence of optical equipment we have never seen before.

[Sources: Jiji, Riken press release]

Panasonic develops bamboo speakers

30 Mar 2006

Bamboo speakerPanasonic Electronic Devices (subsidary of Matsushita Electric Industrial Co., Ltd.) announced on March 29 that it has teamed up with Doshisha University to develop speaker diaphragms using paper made from bamboo. Compared to speakers with conventional diaphragms that use paper made from softwood, bamboo speakers have a wider sound range and crisper treble.

Bamboo is lighter and harder than softwood, making it a suitable material for speaker diaphragms. To maintain the ideal properties of bamboo, high-speed grindstones are used instead of chemicals (which can cause some properties to be lost) to break the bamboo down into fiber.

Panasonic hopes to put the speakers on the market at the end of 2007. The speakers are expected to cost double that of conventional speakers, but the company claims that using bamboo can play a role in resource conservation because it grows faster than softwood. The company hopes to establish bamboo as a mainstream material for speakers.

[Source: Asahi Shimbun]

NTT Docomo to use bioplastic in cellphones

04 Jan 2006

CornNTT Docomo's new FOMA N701i ECO, the world's first cellphone to incorporate parts made from plant-based plastic, is scheduled for release this spring.

In June 2005, NTT and NEC worked together to develop prototypes, which were used at the Aichi World Expo. The plant-based plastic is formed from polyactide, which is derived from corn. Kenaf (a fibrous plant) fiber is used as a reinforcing agent, improving heat resistance and strength. About 75% of the phone's surface area will use the plant-based plastic, reducing carbon dioxide emissions during manufacturing by 50%.

NTT will target environmentally conscious females with the cellphones, which will be pink. The price is expected to be about the same as the N701i. NTT will devote 1% of the purchasers' monthly telephone bills toward environmental conservation activities, such as its Docomo Forest campaign.

[Source: Mainichi Shimbun]