Tag: ‘RIKEN’

RIBA robot nurse bear

27 Aug 2009

Meet RIBA, a robot nurse that resembles a friendly bear.

RIBA, Robot for Interactive Body Assistance --

RIBA -- short for "Robot for Interactive Body Assistance" -- was developed by researchers at Japan's Institute of Physical and Chemical Research (RIKEN) and Tokai Rubber Industries, Ltd. (TRI). Designed primarily to assist nurses by lifting patients in and out of their beds and wheelchairs (as well as on and off the toilet), the 180-kilogram (400-lb) robot can safely pick up and carry people weighing as much as 61 kilograms (135 lbs).

+ Video

The cheery-looking machine has long, multi-jointed arms embedded with an array of tactile sensors that help it optimize the lifting and carrying of humans. For safety purposes, RIBA's entire body is covered in a soft skin molded from an advanced lightweight urethane foam developed by TRI. The soft skin is designed to ensure the comfort of patients while they are being carried. In addition, the arm joints yield slightly under pressure -- much like human arms do -- further increasing the level of comfort and safety.

The robotic bear can also recognize faces and voices, as well as respond to spoken commands. Using visual and audio data from its surroundings, RIBA can identify co-workers, determine the position of those nearby, and respond flexibly to changes in the immediate environment. The motors operate silently, and a set of omni-directional wheels allow the robot to navigate tight spaces inside hospitals and nursing facilities.

RIBA, Robot for Interactive Body Assistance --

Japan, which faces an impending shortage of nurses as the population grows older, is looking at ways to offset the inevitable challenges that medical institutions will encounter in the coming years. Technology is regarded by some as the solution to this problem, and a considerable amount of government and private research is being devoted to developing robots capable of working in the healthcare field.

RIBA is an upgraded version of RIKEN's RI-MAN, a robot nurse assistant developed in 2006 that was only able to lift dolls weighing 18.5 kilograms (40 lbs). In addition to better strength and perception, RIBA's improved information processing technology allows it to crunch data at least 15 times faster than RI-MAN. This allows RIBA to move faster and with more confidence than its predecessor.

RIBA, Robot for Interactive Body Assistance --

RIBA's creators say they chose the friendly teddy bear appearance to put patients at ease. Attempting to make the robot look human would only frighten people, they claimed in their press release.

RIKEN and TRI plan to put RIBA to work in hospitals within the next five years.

[Source: RIKEN (JP) // Added Sep 1: English press release]

Scientists extract images directly from brain

12 Dec 2008

ATR mind reader --

Researchers from Japan's ATR Computational Neuroscience Laboratories have developed new brain analysis technology that can reconstruct the images inside a person's mind and display them on a computer monitor, it was announced on December 11. According to the researchers, further development of the technology may soon make it possible to view other people's dreams while they sleep.

The scientists were able to reconstruct various images viewed by a person by analyzing changes in their cerebral blood flow. Using a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) machine, the researchers first mapped the blood flow changes that occurred in the cerebral visual cortex as subjects viewed various images held in front of their eyes. Subjects were shown 400 random 10 x 10 pixel black-and-white images for a period of 12 seconds each. While the fMRI machine monitored the changes in brain activity, a computer crunched the data and learned to associate the various changes in brain activity with the different image designs.

Then, when the test subjects were shown a completely new set of images, such as the letters N-E-U-R-O-N, the system was able to reconstruct and display what the test subjects were viewing based solely on their brain activity.

For now, the system is only able to reproduce simple black-and-white images. But Dr. Kang Cheng, a researcher from the RIKEN Brain Science Institute, suggests that improving the measurement accuracy will make it possible to reproduce images in color.

"These results are a breakthrough in terms of understanding brain activity," says Dr. Cheng. "In as little as 10 years, advances in this field of research may make it possible to read a person's thoughts with some degree of accuracy."

The researchers suggest a future version of this technology could be applied in the fields of art and design -- particularly if it becomes possible to quickly and accurately access images existing inside an artist's head. The technology might also lead to new treatments for conditions such as psychiatric disorders involving hallucinations, by providing doctors a direct window into the mind of the patient.

ATR chief researcher Yukiyasu Kamitani says, "This technology can also be applied to senses other than vision. In the future, it may also become possible to read feelings and complicated emotional states."

The research results appear in the December 11 issue of US science journal Neuron.

[Source: Chunichi]

Mice cloned after 16-yr freeze — Mammoths next?

04 Nov 2008

Mouse cloned after 16 years in freezer --

Is the second coming of the woolly mammoth near? Possibly, say researchers at Japan's Institute of Physical and Chemical Research (RIKEN), who have successfully cloned mice from carcasses that spent years in a deep freezer.

A RIKEN research team led by genetic scientist Teruhiko Wakayama successfully demonstrated a promising new cloning technique by replicating frozen laboratory mice whose cells were severely damaged after 16 years in permafrost-like conditions (-20 degrees Celsius). The technique might one day be used to resurrect mammoths and other extinct species, according to the researchers.

Here's some video from ANN News:

Scientists have long discussed the possibility of resurrecting extinct animal species by cloning carcasses preserved in ice, but existing techniques do not work with dead, freeze-damaged cell tissue. However, the RIKEN researchers were able to extract nuclei from the ruptured brain cells of the frozen mice after breaking down the tissue in a culture solution. Then, using the conventional nuclear transfer technique (which involves inserting cellular material from the frozen mice into the egg cells of healthy mice), the researchers created embryonic clones from the extracted brain cell nuclei. After that, the researchers established embryonic stem cell lines from the cloned embryos, which they used to produce four cloned mice.

When the clones reached maturity, they mated with other mice to produce healthy offspring.

Mouse cloned after 16 years in freezer --
Healthy offspring of cloned mice

The ability of clones to reproduce is a promising development for those interested in resurrecting extinct species.

Mammoths top the list of extinct animals that scientists will try to clone, primarily because many preserved specimens have been found buried in ice. In July 2007, a well-preserved frozen baby mammoth discovered in the Siberian Arctic was shipped to researchers in Japan.

"There are many technical challenges involved in resurrecting a mammoth," says Wakayama. "But we have shown that the nuclear transfer method can be used to create healthy clones, even when the animal's cells have been damaged by permafrost-like conditions."

Meanwhile, Kinki University biology professor Akira Iritani is pleased with the development. Iritani, a leading member of the Mammoth Creation Project -- a Japanese organization that aims to resurrect the woolly mammoth by cloning frozen specimens -- estimates as many as 10,000 frozen mammoth specimens lie buried in ice around the world, waiting to be cloned.

Iritani also coordinates the "Pleistocene Park" project, which aims to set up a Jurassic Park-like sanctuary in northern Siberia populated with resurrected mammoths and other creatures that roamed the Earth 20,000 years ago. The envisioned park would cover an area twice the size of Japan and include woolly rhinos, Siberian tigers, steppe lions, giant deer, ancient foxes, and ancestors of the Siberian horse.

[Sources: RIKEN, Yomiuri, Asahi]

Scientists teach rodents to use rake

26 Mar 2008

Degu learns to use rake --

Rodents can learn how to wield tools with the proper training, according to new research from Japan?s Institute of Physical and Chemical Research (RIKEN). In a series of experiments conducted over a 60-day period, researchers taught six degus (small rat-like rodents) to use a miniature rake to obtain food. Each degu was placed on one side of a fence with gaps large enough for its front legs to fit through, and sunflower seeds were placed out of reach on the opposite side. The rake was placed nearby, and after 60 days of practice, all six degus learned to use it to pull the sunflower seeds to within reach. This is the first known case in which rodents have been taught to use tools.

Watch a short video news report.

[Source: FNN/Yahoo!]

RIKEN creates insulated nanowires

08 Jan 2008

Insulated nanowire -- In a development that brings superdense memory devices and molecule-sized machines a step closer to reality, scientists at Japan's Institute of Physical and Chemical Research (RIKEN) have succeeded in creating 1-nanometer-thick electric wires with a layer of insulation. According to a January 2 RIKEN press release, the researchers grew the insulated nanowire crystals through a process involving a mixture of conductive and non-conductive organic molecules that organized themselves into the desired configuration.

For perspective, 10 hydrogen atoms laid side by side measure about 1 nanometer across, and a human hair is around 70,000 to 80,000 nanometers thick.

While scientists in the past have succeeded in creating nanowires from carbon nanotubes, metals and other materials, a great challenge has been to provide insulation to these microscopic wires so that they can be put to use in integrated circuits without short-circuiting. Another challenge has been to develop technology that enables nanowires to be arranged into regular arrays.

RIKEN researchers have overcome these challenges by developing a nanowire growth process that uses a tetrathiafulvalene (TTF) derivative -- an organic molecule that conducts electricity -- and non-conductive iodine-containing neutral molecules (HFTIEB), which together self-assemble into crystals that function as insulated nanowires. The researchers, who indicated success in organizing the nanowires into regular patterns, also demonstrated a certain degree of control over the crystal structure, creating two-conductor nanowires and insulation coatings of various thicknesses. The results suggest it may soon be possible to engineer these insulated nanowires for use in practical applications.

RIKEN's insulated nanowires have the potential to be used as a basic component in superdense 3D storage media that rely on molecular memory arrays, say the researchers, who indicate that memory devices built on this technology would be able to store up to 100 petabytes (100 million gigabytes) of data per cubic centimeter, or about 400,000 times more than today's typical desktop PC hard drive (250 GB) in a device the size of a sugar cube. If used in logic circuits, this type of wiring technology would revolutionize the electronics industry as we know it, the researchers add.

[Source: RIKEN]

Toyota studies brain to develop future cars, robots

17 Dec 2007

Brain -- In an effort to accelerate the development of next-generation automobiles and robots, Toyota is turning to some of Japan's top neuroscientists. According to a December 14 announcement, the automaker has teamed up with the Institute of Physical and Chemical Research (RIKEN) in a 20-year project aimed at researching the human brain and developing neurotechnology-based auto safety systems, sophisticated robots, and machinery that users can operate with their minds.

Toyota and RIKEN will conduct the brain research at the recently established RIKEN BSI-Toyota Collaboration Center, which will initially be staffed by 30 researchers, 5 of whom are from Toyota. The research will fall into three broad categories: (1) neuro-driving research, which focuses on the mental processes at work as drivers perceive, judge and react to the external environment, (2) neuro-robotics research, which focuses on how the brain processes information, and (3) mind-health research, which focuses on the physiology of the brain and nervous system and the relationship between the brain and physical health.

Through the neuro-driving research, which is expected to shed new light on how the brain works as drivers perceive obstacles and operate their vehicles, Toyota ultimately hopes to develop auto safety technology that can completely prevent all traffic accidents.

In addition, the automaker explains that the purpose behind the neuro-robotics research is to develop advanced robots that can interact more effectively with humans. Toyota, which sees robotics as one of its core businesses in the future, has been stepping up efforts in recent years to develop "lifestyle support" androids for use in nursing and health care. The company also believes the research will lead to the development of brain-machine interfaces that allow users to operate equipment by thought.

Toyota explains that the decision to pursue brain research is driven by an ever-increasing demand for more sophisticated automotive and robot technology. With a better understanding of the cognitive mechanisms underlying human feelings, thoughts and actions, the company reckons it can get a head start in the race to develop the cars and robots of the future.

[Sources: Sankei, Nikkei]

Giant jellyfish eyed as commercial mucin source

05 Jun 2007

Echizen kurage, Nomura's jellyfish -- In the latest development in Japan's war against giant jellyfish invaders, scientists studying the biochemistry of echizen kurage (Nomura's jellyfish) have discovered a previously unknown type of mucin in the sea creatures.

Mucins, the main structural components of mucus, are complex proteins found in human saliva, gastric juice and the lining of the stomach, all of which play a key role in the digestive process. The recently discovered jellyfish mucin, according to the researchers from the Institute of Physical and Chemical Research (RIKEN) and science equipment manufacturer Shinwa Chemical Industries, can be put to use in a variety of pharmaceutical, medical, food and cosmetic products.

While the researchers have yet to release the details about the molecular structure of the jellyfish mucin, they claim it has a simple structure similar to a type of glycoprotein (organic molecule composed of protein and sugar chains) found in human digestive fluid, suggesting it could be used as a digestive supplement for elderly people with weak gastric juice. In addition, the researchers see potential uses for jellyfish mucin in products such as eyedrops, artificial saliva and surgical adhesives.

At least 12 types of mucins are known to exist in various locations in the human digestive tract, as well as in saliva and in the mammary glands. While mucins are also known to exist in animals and in some plants such as okra, lotus root and yams, only a few sources of the slimy substance have been tapped for large-scale commercial production.

To harvest the jellyfish, RIKEN says it is investigating the possibility of enlisting the help of Japan's fisheries to catch the giant echizen kurage, which can grow up to 2 meters (6 ft 7 in) in diameter and weigh up to 200 kg (440 lb) each. The group is also considering harvesting moon jellyfish, the culprits responsible for disrupting output at nuclear power plants last year after they clogged seawater coolant intake pipes.

Business negotiations are now underway between 20 organizations, including pharmaceutical companies, medical institutions and food and cosmetics manufacturers.

[Source: Fuji Sankei]

New cement conducts electricity like metal

11 Apr 2007

Electro-conductive cement ---

A team of researchers led by professor Hideo Hosono of the Tokyo Institute of Technology has developed a new type of alumina cement that conducts electricity like metal by altering the crystal structure at the nano level.

Ordinary alumina cement made from a lime-alumina compound (C12A7) has a crystal structure consisting of asymmetric cages, making it a poor conductor of electricity. But by sealing the alumina cement compound along with titanium inside a glass tube and heating it to 1,100 degrees Celsius, the researchers were able to create a homogenized, symmetrical cage structure that conducts electricity like metal.

Results indicate the cement's electrical conductivity is on par with that of manganese at room temperature. Moreover, like other metals, the cement's conductivity increases as its temperature decreases.

The researchers say that forming the cement into thin membranes would make it nearly transparent, making it an ideal substitute material for rare metals such as indium, which is used in plasma and liquid-crystal displays. In addition to being cheaper than rare metals, the cement would make an environmentally-friendly alternative because its ingredients are more readily available.

The Tokyo Institute of Technology worked with researchers from Osaka Prefecture University, the Institute of Physical and Chemical Research (RIKEN), and the Japan Synchrotron Radiation Research Institute (SPring-8) to develop the cement. The results are published in the April 11 edition of Nano Letters.

[Sources: Nikkei Net, Mainichi, SPring-8 press release]

Instant bonsai

19 Jan 2007

Mini-petunias (top left) and ordinary petunias -- On January 18, researchers from Japan's Institute of Physical and Chemical Research (RIKEN) and the University of Michigan announced the development of a technique for engineering "mini-plants" that are 1/10th their ordinary size.

The researchers claim it is possible to tailor the size of plants by manipulating the genes that regulate the activity of growth hormones. The technique is expected to lead to the creation of miniaturized versions of decorative houseplants, as well as dwarf crops that are easier to harvest and more resistant to wind damage.

In studying dwarf varieties of rice and wheat created through ordinary hybridization, the researchers found damage to the genes that synthesize gibberellin, a growth hormone. When researchers looked for a mechanism to control the growth hormone, they discovered that the GAMT1 and GAMT2 genes commonly found in plants were responsible for producing an enzyme that neutralizes gibberellin.

When the researchers engineered strains of petunias and thale cress (Arabidopsis thaliana) in which the two genes were constantly expressed, the plants grew to 1/10th their ordinary size. When plants were administered gibberellin, they grew to their normal size, demonstrating that the size of plants can be freely adjusted.

[Source: Yomiuri]