Tag: ‘MEXT’

Project promises blue-collar bots for aging society

08 Aug 2006

Maid robotTokyo University and a consortium of 7 companies have launched a long-term joint research project to develop next-generation robot and information technology aimed at supporting Japan's aging population. Over the next 10 to 15 years, the group (known as CIRT) aims to help develop robots that will, among other things, assist the elderly with housework and serve as personal transportation capable of replacing the automobile.

According to an announcement made by CIRT on August 4, group participants include Toyota, Olympus, Sega, Toppan Printing, Fujitsu, Matsushita (Panasonic), and Mitsubishi. The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) will play a supportive role and bear half the cost of the research, which is expected to be as high as 1 billion yen (US$9 million) per year. Around 100 researchers from academia and the private sector are expected to participate in the project.

The participating companies will work together to combine information technology (IT) and robot technology (RT) to form a new type of technology called information/robot technology (IRT), which organizers claim will spawn new industries that will succeed the automotive and computer industries. In addition to simply developing new robots, the project is designed to spur innovation in software and other technology for automotive, home appliance and medical applications.

The project timeline includes developing robots capable of straightening up rooms by 2008, robots capable of making beds by 2013, and robots capable of lifting/carrying the elderly by 2016. Other goals include developing robots that can arrange products on supermarket shelves, fold laundry and perform heavy-duty cleaning. Enhancing robot autonomy appears to factor highly into the goals of the project, which hopes to see the development of autonomous robots able to perform product assembly work with little supervision.

Another project objective is to contribute to the development of autonomous personal transporation robots capable of moving safely through busy intersections by 2016. The development of this technology, for example, would rely on Toyota's expertise in robot development combined with Tokyo University's research on human intention recognition technology.

Japan's declining birth rate means the work force is shrinking and the population is aging. CIRT believes the next generation of robots can help bring about a more productive and comfortable society by boosting the efficiency of the work force and taking on the unwanted tasks of a graying society. However, developing robots, no matter how advanced, does not address another major problem foreseen by the Japanese government: how does a shrinking tax base pay for ballooning social security costs? Will this new breed of robot also be called upon to pay its fair share of taxes?

[Sources: Asahi Shimbun, Nikkei Net]

A map of the genome for every home

19 Apr 2006

Japanís Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology has published a map of the human genome for the general population that it aims to distribute to households across the country. A total of 40,000 maps are being provided to primary, middle and high schools nationwide, and about 50,000 copies are being supplied to science museums around the country, where they will be distributed to the public on a first-come, first-served basis.

Human genome map

The map includes the names and locations of about 1% of the 26,800 genes that make up the human genome. Details and illustrations help explain genes that hit close to home, such as the one that determines your ability to metabolize alcohol and the one that produces collagen. PDF versions of the map are available for download (large or small), and an interactive Flash version is here.

[Source: Asahi Shimbun]