08 Feb 2007
The harsh winter in Niigata, Japan brings heavy snow, which can pose problems for residents -- particularly the elderly -- who are faced with the laborious task of clearing it from driveways and entrances. To the rescue comes Yuki-taro, an autonomous snowplow robot developed by a team of researchers from five Niigata-area organizations.
The friendly-looking Yuki-taro measures 160 x 95 x 75 cm (63 x 37 x 30 in.) and weighs 400 kg (880 lbs). Armed with GPS and a pair of video cameras embedded in its eyes, the self-guided robot seeks out snow and gobbles it up into its large mouth. Yuki-taro's insides consist of a system that compresses the snow into hard blocks measuring 60 x 30 x 15 cm (24 x 12 x 6 in.), which Yuki-taro expels from its rear end. The blocks can then be stacked and stored until summer, when they can be used as an alternative source of refrigeration or cooling.
Yuki-taro is the result of nearly seven years of work by researchers from the Niigata Industrial Creation Organization (NICO), Research and Development, Inc. (RDI), Niigata Institute of Technology, Yamagata University and the Industrial Research Institute of Niigata Prefecture (IRI), who set out to design an environmentally-friendly robot that can operate by itself and support the elderly. In 2006, Yuki-taro received a Good Design Award in the small-to-medium sized enterprise category.
Researchers continue to work on reducing Yuki-taro's size, weight and cost, and they hope to make it commercially available in five years at a price of less than 1 million yen ($8,300). It is unclear whether or not the researchers intend to further enhance the robot's "cute" factor, but they might ought to consider attaching a pair of pointy ears. O-negai!
21 Feb 2006
Outcrops of combustible ice, or methane hydrate (also known as methane ice or methane clathrate), which many view as a potential source of fuel in the future, have been discovered on the ocean floor near the coastal city of Joetsu in Niigata prefecture. According to a statement made by scientists on February 20, the methane hydrate appears to be the exposed tips of ice columns that extend about 100 meters (325 feet) beneath the ocean floor.
The recent discovery marks the first time that exposed methane hydrate deposits have been found in Japanese waters. Methane hydrate, which is normally found several hundred meters beneath the ocean floor, is a sherbert-like substance that burns when exposed to flame. It forms when low temperature and high pressure under the ocean floor causes methane molecules to become trapped inside frozen water molecules.
Scientists from the University of Tokyo, the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology (JAMSTEC), and the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST) are working together to collect samples from two points located at depths of 800 to 1000 meters (2600 to 3300 feet), about 30 kilometers (19 miles) offshore. They are using unmanned submarines to collect the ice. Based on the high electrical conductivity of the ground beneath the ocean floor, the scientists suspect the existence of large underground columns of methane hydrate.
While methane hydrate is being hailed as a potential source of fuel in the future, methane is a greenhouse gas. Methane is generated when organic matter in deep layers of sedimentary rock breaks down due to heating. The methane moves into upper layers, where it accumulates and forms methane hydrate. As the temperature rises and pressure falls, methane hydrate dissociates into methane and water. The resulting methane concentration in the surrounding seawater ranges from dozens to thousands of times higher than normal.
The research group is also committed to exploring the impact that the use of methane hydrate will have on global warming.
[Source: Asahi Shimbun]
02 Feb 2006
A giant rescue robot with "feet" like a bulldozer and arms 5 meters in length is undergoing practical testing at Nagaoka University of Technology (Nagaoka City, Niigata Prefecture). Designed for avalanche disaster relief and snow removal operations, the robot -- known as T-52 Enryu (lit. "rescue dragon") -- is being developed by tmsuk, a Kitakyushu-based robot manufacturer. T-52 Enryu stands 3.45 meters tall and weighs 5 tons.
In the tests, which began on February 1, T-52 Enryu showed off its avalanche prevention skills by removing accumulated snow from the edge of a cliff. The robot also demonstrated its ability to extract a car buried under a bank of snow. Remote control operation is being tested at avalanche sites, where extreme caution is required to prevent secondary avalanches.
Tetsuya Kimura, an associate professor conducting rescue robot research at Nagaoka University of Technology, says, "In addition to performing avalanche-related work, we hope the robot will be useful in removing snow around the entrances to underground shopping arcades or tunnels." Tmsuk aims to put T-52 Enryu to practical use in another year or two. Testing will be open to the public on February 4.
[Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, Impress Watch]