Tag: ‘RFID’

Robot ticketer welcomes cashless thrillseekers

12 Nov 2008

NEC robot ticket machine --

As the use of e-money gains popularity in Japan, versatile FeliCa RFID readers that support multiple forms of electronic currency are popping up in convenience stores and vending machines, making it easier for users to pay with the swipe of a phone. Electronics giant NEC is jumping in on the action with a FeliCa payment terminal modeled after a life-sized android.

The robot -- a prototype that NEC demonstrated at the recent iEXPO 2008 trade show in Tokyo -- incorporates existing technology, which means a finished version can be produced and deployed at short notice. NEC hopes to land it a job at an amusement park selling entrance tickets to visitors with FeliCa-enabled wallet phones, also known as osaifu keitai.

To pay the robot, users simply select the appropriate e-money icon on the robot's chest-mounted touch screen panel and then swipe their phone over the reader/writer embedded in the left hand. The robot can also be programmed to transfer electronic coupons and other data to the user's phone when payment is made.

NEC robot ticket machine --

Other features include a camera system that can work with face recognition technology to identify and profile park visitors. If asked to do so, the robot can recommend specific attractions based on the person's apparent age and gender.

It is unclear whether any theme parks have expressed interest in hiring the robot. If not, NEC could easily equip it with fingerprint scanners and put it to work at immigration counters to gather biometric data on foreigners in Japan. Tourists would love it.

[Source: IT Media]

Magazine photos fool age-verification cameras

27 Jun 2008

Face-recognition cigarette vending machine --

With the full-scale rollout of Japan's cigarette vending machine age-verification system just around the corner, a Sankei Sports news reporter has confirmed the existence of a minor flaw: magazine photos can be used to fool the age-verification cameras on some machines.

When the reporter went to check out the new age-verifying machines after they were introduced in the Osaka area in June, he soon discovered that the machines equipped with face-recognition cameras would let him buy cigarettes when he held up a 15-centimeter (6-in) wide magazine photo of a man who looked to be in his 50s.

The reporter also went to Kobe, where different face recognition hardware is being used. There, he bought cigarettes using an 8-centimeter (3-in) wide magazine photo of a female celebrity in her 30s. He also reportedly tried to use a 3-centimeter (1-in) wide photo, but the machines rejected it.

Taspo card -- As part of the age-verification system, most of Japan's 570,000 cigarette vending machines are being outfitted with RFID readers that check the purchaser's Taspo age-verification card. Smokers without a Taspo card can now either buy their cigarettes in person over the counter or use one of 4,000 special machines equipped with face-recognition systems (these machines do not require Taspo cards). More face-recognition machines are on the way, according to vending machine manufacturer Fujitaka, who developed the face-recognition hardware.

The face-recognition machines rely on cameras that scan the purchaser's face for wrinkles, sagging skin and other signs of age. Facial characteristics are compared with a database of more than 100,000 people, and if the purchaser is thought to be well over 20 years old (the legal age), the sale is approved. If the purchaser looks too young, they are asked to prove their age by inserting a driver's license. According to Fujitaka, the machines are 90% accurate.

Fujitaka admits that people may, on occasion, be able to fool the age-verification cameras with photographs -- but only for the time being. The company is now working on a more advanced system that will make sure each face belongs to a real human, but they are unable to say when these new machines will be put into place.

[Source: Sanspo]

Hitachi develops RFID powder

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 develops super-tiny RFID chips ---
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]

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]

“Unmanned hotels” to lose front desk staff

26 Oct 2006

RFID door lock --A new project to develop "unmanned hotels" in Japan may soon eliminate the burdensome task of checking in at the front desk. A consortium of five companies, including the trading company Itochu and consumer credit provider Orico, are working to develop a network of hotels that rely on an online reservation and payment system, RFID-enabled Orico credit cards that serve as keys, and RFID-enabled door entry locks.

When hotel guests reserve a room online with their RFID-enabled credit card, a "key" is assigned to the card. Since the credit card is the key, guests can bypass the check-in process and proceed directly to the room at the allotted time. The door lock recognizes the IC chip embedded in the credit card, opening for the guest upon arrival. The system eliminates the need for front desk staff to remain on duty.

Other companies involved in the project are Kesaka System, who are developing the entry locks, as well as Espace Construction and Miyabi Estex, who are handling construction and development.

Japanese law requires hotels to maintain staffed front desks, so the unmanned hotels will not be completely staff-free. However, the hotels are expected to require only half the ordinary number of personnel.

A dozen or so of these hotels are scheduled to begin operations nationwide in 2008.

[Source: Nikkei Net]

“I” robot: train station employee of the future

28 Aug 2006

JR's I robotEast Japan Railway Company (JR East) has become the world's first railway company to develop a humanoid robot guide. JR East spent two years working with a Japanese robot manufacturer to develop the droid, nicknamed "I" (which stands for "information"), who the company is now grooming for employment at train stations.

I stands 120 centimeters (4 ft) tall, weighs 50 kilograms (110 lbs) and is equipped with a Suica card (JR's rechargeable contactless train pass) reader on its shoulder and a touch screen on its chest that can display a variety of data. The robot moves around on wheels and is nimble enough to spin around in place.

I's future duties include providing assistance at customer service windows, performing security patrols around stations at night, and assisting station workers with other duties as needed.

As of now, the robot's reception skills include the ability to read Suica cards held near its shoulder and ring telephones to notify representatives of customers in need. The robot can also show customers to reception areas and it can point the direction to the restrooms if asked. Face and voice recognition skills allow it to carry on simple conversations with the people it encounters.

The robot was subjected to about 10 days of testing at JR's research facility in Saitama City at the end of July. However, the droid did not perform very well in the tests, receiving poor marks for awkward and slow movements.

Being awkward and slow does not appear to be a major obstacle to I's employment prospects, though. For the time being, it seems that the robot will get by on charm. "Customers find the robot entertaining," says JR East research director Takashi Endo. "There are still a number of issues that we need to address, but it can be used to create some amusement in the stations."

[Source: Asahi Shimbun]

Housecats “tagged” to protect Tsushima leopard cat?

10 Mar 2006
Tsushima Leopard Cat

Environmental advocates have come up with a set of guidelines aimed at preserving the Tsushima leopard cat (Tsushima yamaneko), an endangered and protected species that inhabits Tsushima in Nagasaki prefecture. Measures include mandatory registration of all domestic cats to reduce the number of strays and prevent the Tsushima leopard cat from contracting infectious diseases. The guidelines were decided at the International Workshop for the Preservation of the Tsushima Leopard Cat, which was held in Tsushima in January. Organizers are pressing the relevant national and prefectural organizations to adopt the proposed measures.

The guidelines stipulate that cat owners must register their pets and have them implanted with microchips. In addition, the guidelines call on the government to construct better roads to reduce the number of traffic accidents -- a major cause of death for the Tsushima leopard cat. They also suggest breeding the wildcats in captivity at several facilities to preserve the species.

[Source: Kyodo News]

RFID-based retail support system to be tested

26 Jan 2006

On January 25, Fujitsu, AEON and Dai Nippon Printing announced plans to conduct a trial run of a retail support system that uses IC tags and data display terminals. In this retail service system of the future, customers will be able access a variety of product information by electronically reading tags placed on supermarket shelves. The trial run will be conducted at Jusco supermarket (Yachiyo-midorigaoka branch) for a five-week period beginning February 6, in Yachiyo City, Chiba.

The trial run is part of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry’s 2005 "Japan Future Store Project," featuring a series of trial demonstrations of electronic tag applications aimed at realizing retail services of the future. The store will be outfitted with 25 "shopping navi-carts" equipped with tag readers and data display terminals, and IC tags will be attached to approximately 500 selected food items.

Shoppers will be able to view a variety of information, ranging from product descriptions and instructions to video commercials, by holding the tag reader near the tags. The equipment will also assist shoppers in locating specific products within the store. When carts are moved to specified locations, promotional information and other data related to the relevant product category will be delivered to the data terminals.

Customers using the system will be asked to complete surveys after they finish shopping. Technical issues and other side effects, such as whether or not customers purchased more when using the carts, will also be studied.

Each company will play a specific role in the trial run. Aeon will run the experiment in the store, review the content, and link the trial system with the existing system. Fujitsu will handle project management, provide administrative support, configure the system, and provide the navi-cart data terminals and software. Dai-Nippon Printing will create content and provide programming support.

[Source: Nikkei BP]