Tag: ‘RIKEN’

Petaflops-level supercomputer to be unveiled

20 Jun 2006


On June 19, Japan's Institute of Physical and Chemical Research (Riken), SGI Japan and Intel announced the development of a supercomputer with a theoretical peak performance of 1 petaflops (one million billion floating point operations per second). Known as the MDGRAPE-3 (or the Protein Explorer), the computer system is designed to perform molecular dynamics simulations of such phenomena as non-bonding interactions between atoms.

The system consists of 201 units equipped with 24 of RIKEN?s MDGRAPE-3 LSI chips for molecular dynamics simulation (total of 4,808 chips), which are connected to 64 parallel servers equipped with 256 of Intel's Xeon 5000-series cores and 37 parallel servers equipped with 74 Xeon 3.2 GHz cores.

In the future, RIKEN plans to further upgrade the system with Xeon 5100-series processors (codenamed Woodcrest), and testing is now underway.

The LINPACK Benchmark, which is the standard for the Top 500 List, could not be performed on the system, so the performance cannot be compared directly with the world's other top supercomputers. However, the system's theoretical peak performance of 1 petaflops will set the computer firmly at the top of the list, with a speed about three times that of IBM's BlueGene/L at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (currently No.1 on the list).

The system will be unveiled to the public on June 24 at RIKEN's Yokohama laboratory.

[Source: IT Media]

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]

The bioluminescent tail of Genji

16 Mar 2006

Scientists have succeeded in unraveling the mystery -- at the protein structure level -- of the mechanism at work in the glowing tail of the "Genji firefly" (Luciola cruciata Motschulsky), which is considered to have the highest luminous efficiency of any known source of light. The results of the joint research carried by the Institute of Physical and Chemical Research (RIKEN) and Kyoto University are to be published in the March 16 edition of the British science journal Nature.


By tinkering with the chemical composition of luciferase (a bioluminescent enzyme), the research team succeeded in changing the emission color from its normal greenish-yellow to orange and red. Researchers are now attempting to recreate the blue glow of the sea firefly (Vargula hilgendorfii) and firefly squid (Watasenia scintillans) in order to have all three primary colors at their fingertips.

"This might prove useful in applications such as short-term emergency lighting when no source of electricity or combustion is available," says Kyoto University professor Hiroaki Kato. "Light could be created by mixing up a liquid protein solution."

Anytime energy is converted into light, there is some loss due to heat. Luminous efficiency is a measure of the proportion of energy supplied to a light source that is effectively converted into visible light energy (i.e. the amount not lost to heat or infrared radiation). The luminous efficiency of incandescent light bulbs is around 10%, while fluorescent light is around 20% and LED is around 30%. Firefly tails are significantly higher, at 90%. Scientists were aware that the Genji firefly used luciferase in combination with luciferin (a light-emitting substrate) and adenosine triphosphate (ATP) to produce light, but the detailed workings of the mechanism have until now remained a mystery.

[Sources: Jiji, RIKEN press release]

RI-MAN revisited

14 Mar 2006

RI-MANMore details about RI-MAN, the soft-skinned robot, were revealed in a press release issued by RIKEN yesterday.

RI-MAN is the world's first robot designed for lifting and carrying humans. A variety of sensors, including flexible tactile sensor sheets, provide RI-MAN with a sense of vision, hearing, touch, and smell. These senses help RI-MAN perform tasks such as locating people who are calling out to it, responding to spoken commands, carefully lifting those who need lifting, and checking the sanitary condition of the person it is carrying. RI-MAN is able to integrate a wide range of sensory data to adapt to changes in the environment.

The robot is also equipped with 19 motors, controlled by a system of hierarchical distributed processing that is modeled after the nervous system found in biological organisms. This "nervous system" -- a network of what RIKEN calls C-CHIPs -- integrates sensor data processing with motor control to provide RI-MAN the autonomy needed to respond quickly to changes in the environment. The head has 3 degrees of freedom, each arm has 6, the waist has 2, and the base (which acts as RI-MAN?s legs) has 2. Safety-related technology, including safety circuits and soft skin and joints designed to prevent injury, are incorporated into RI-MAN?s design.

Still in the initial testing phase, RI-MAN is currently practicing with dolls that weigh about 12 kg (26 lbs). Researchers plan to increase the weight of the practice dolls over time, with the aim of achieving the ability to lift human adults in 5 years. Researchers will continue working to upgrade RI-MAN's sensors and data processing skills to improve adaptability. The aim is to create a robot with the physical power needed for heavy lifting and the reasoning skills needed for operating in places like people's homes. RIKEN says that with these skills, RI-MAN can be put to work in nursing and rehabilitation, in furniture moving, or in any other job that requires muscle.

[Source: RIKEN press release]

[See also: RI-MAN homepage (includes video)]

RI-MAN, the soft-skinned robot

28 Feb 2006

RI-MAN, an autonomous lifestyle-support robot developed at RIKEN's Bio-Mimetic Control Research Center (Nagoya, Japan), now has soft skin. If put to work in care facilities, RI-MAN's soft arms and chest will enable it to perform delicate work that present-day robots are not allowed to do, such as lifting patients up into its arms.

RI-MAN, the soft-skinned robot

The robot, which is 158 cm (5 ft 2 in) tall and weighs about 100 kg (220 lbs), consists of a humanoid upper body that sits atop a wheeled base. A 5-mm layer of silicone covers most of the upper body, including the face and chest. The skin sinks in slightly when pressed, giving it a resilient, supple feeling. Under the layer of silicone are 320 pressure sensors that enable RI-MAN to self-adjust the softness as needed.

Research team leader Zhiwei Luo says, "We may see commercial applications of this technology in as early as five years."

UPDATE: Read RI-MAN revisited for more details.

[Source: Asahi Shimbun]