Posts Tagged ‘Japan’

sounds like a science fiction plotline—a space elevator. Now, it may be a possibility.

Scientists at Japan’s Shizuoka University are testing the space elevator, a potential solution to getting materials or satellites off of Earth. On September 11, the team will launch a scale model of the motorized box into Earth’s orbit.

The elevator consists of two cubic satellites that are only 4 inches on each side. The satellites will be connected by a 33-foot steel cable. The parts of the machine will launch on H-IIB rocket from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s Tanegashima Space Center to the International Space Station (ISS).

“It’s going to be the world’s first experiment to test elevator movement in space,” a university spokesman told AFP. From the ISS, the two satellites will be released into space. On the cable that attaches the satellites, a container will move using a motor. There will be a camera attached to the satellites that will record the container in action.

In the past, astronauts have extended a cable in space, but this is the first time that a container will move along a cable. Scientists have struggled with creating a space elevator in the past, so if this experiment is successful it will be a welcome step forward in the process. A space elevator could provide a low-cost solution to send materials—or people—to the station. One difficult part of creating a space elevator is finding the right material for a cable.

“No current material exists with sufficiently high tensile strength and sufficiently low density out of which we could construct the cable,” Keith Henson, a technologist and engineer, told Gizmodo. “There’s nothing in sight that’s strong enough to do it — not even carbon nanotubes.” And if to much pressure is applied, there’s the worry of the cable unzipping. The elevator would also have to avoid space junk and satellites, withstand winds, and be able to fight the gravity from the Sun, Moon, and Earth.

However, the Japanese team thinks the elevator could work. Obayashi Corp., which is serving as the technical advisor to the Shizuoka University researchers, is working on their own elevator experiment where six oval shaped cars that can hold 30 people each would ascend around 22,370 miles into space. The test next week could provide valuable data in making those plans.

“In theory, a space elevator is highly plausible.” Yoji Ishikawa, who leads the Obayashi research team, told the Japanese paper The Mainichi. “Space travel may become something popular in the future.”

https://www.newsweek.com/could-we-take-elevator-space-japan-1107684

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An electronics repair company gives a compassionate farewell to mechanical pets, with a traditional ceremony held in a historic temple.

By James Burch
A traveler happening upon a funeral for robot dogs might be taken aback.

Is this a performance art statement about modern life? Is it a hoax? A practical joke?

But this is actually a religious ceremony, and the emotions expressed by the human participants are genuine.

A dog-shaped robot—as opposed to say, a dish on wheels with a built-in vacuum cleaner—represented a focus on entertainment and companionship. When Sony released the AIBO (short for “artificial intelligence robot”) in 1999, 3,000 units—the greater share of the first run—were sold to the Japanese market. At an initial cost of $3,000 in today’s money, those sold out in 20 minutes.

But AIBOs never became more than a niche product, and in 2006 Sony canceled production. In seven years, they’d sold 150,000 of the robots.

Some AIBO owners had already become deeply attached to their pet robots, though. And here is where the story takes an unexpected turn.

AIBOs aren’t like a remote-control car. They were designed to move in complex, fluid ways, with trainability and a simulated mischievous streak. (Meet Sophia, the robot that almost seems human.)

Over time, they would come to “know” their human companions, who grew attached to them as if they were real dogs. (Learn how playing games helped build the modern world.)

The AIBOs’ programs included both doggish behaviors, like tail-wagging, and humanlike actions, such as dancing, and—in later models—speech.

So when Sony announced in 2014 that they would no longer support updates to the aging robots, some AIBO owners heard a much more somber message: Their pet robot dogs would die. The community of devoted owners began sharing tips on providing care for their pets in the absence of official support.

Nobuyuki Norimatsu didn’t intend to create a cyberhospital. According to Nippon.com, the former Sony employee, who founded the repair company A-Fun in a Chiba Prefecture, a Tokyo suburb, simply felt a duty to stand by the company’s products. (Watch sunlight create a heart inside a Chiba Prefecture cave.)

And then came a request to repair an AIBO. Nippon.com reports that, at first, no one knew exactly what to do, but months of trial and error saw the robodog back on its feet. Soon, A-Fun had a steady demand for AIBO repairs—which could only be made by cannibalizing parts from other, defunct AIBOs.

Hiroshi Funabashi, A-Fun’s repairs supervisor, observes that the company’s clients describe their pets’ complaints in such terms as “aching joints.” Funabashi realized that they were not seeing a piece of electronic equipment, but a family member.

And Norimatsu came to regard the broken AIBOs his company received as “organ donors.” Out of respect for the owners’ emotional connection to the “deceased” devices, Norimatsu and his colleagues decided to hold funerals.

A-Fun approached Bungen Oi, head priest of Kōfuku-ji, a Buddhist temple in Chiba Prefecture’s city of Isumi. Oi agreed to take on the duty of honoring the sacrifice of donor AIBOs before their disassembly. In 2015, the centuries-old temple held its first robot funeral for 17 decommissioned AIBOs. Just as with the repairs, demand for funeral ceremonies quickly grew.

The most recent service, in April 2018, brought the total number of dearly departed AIBOs to about 800. Tags attached to the donor bodies record the dogs’ and owners’ names.

Services include chanting and the burning of incense, as they would for the human departed. A-Fun employees attend the closed ceremonies, serving as surrogates for the “families” of the pets, and pliers are placed before the robodogs in place of traditional offerings like fruit. Robots even recite Buddhist sutras, or scriptures. (Meet a master of Japanese Tea Ceremony.)

According to Head Priest Oi, honoring inanimate objects is consistent with Buddhist thought. Nippon.com quotes the priest: “Even though AIBO is a machine and doesn’t have feelings, it acts as a mirror for human emotions.” Speaking with videographer Kei Oumawatari, Oi cites a saying, “Everything has Buddha-nature.”

AIBOs and similar robots are especially popular among the elderly, and limited research hints that robots could potentially act like therapy animals—though attachment to machines could also be a symptom of loneliness, an increasing concern in Japan. (READ: Will a robot be your friend or steal your job?)

Sony has now introduced a new line of more advanced AIBOs, and although they are apparently not technologically compatible with their predecessors, it would seem they stand a good chance of finding similar popularity with those who can appreciate the soul of a machine.

Though AIBO funerals are closed to the public, travelers in Japan can at other times visit the Isumi’s historic Kōfuku-ji, one of several temples in the region including work by the master wood carver IHACHI. Isumi tourist info (Click on “Select Language” in the upper right for English.)

To learn about other personal robots, such as Paro, a therapeutic seal-bot, visit the permanent exhibit “Create your future” at Miraikan, the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation in Tokyo.

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/travel/destinations/asia/japan/in-japan–a-buddhist-funeral-service-for-robot-dogs/

Thanks to Kebmodee for bringing this to the It’s Interesting community.


By Alex Horton

At 117, Nabi Tajima was older than modern-day Australia, and everyone else known to live on the planet.

Tajima, born Aug. 4, 1900, in Araki, Japan, and recognized as the world’s oldest person, has passed on that mantle. She died Saturday, having been hospitalized since January, the Associated Press reported, and was the last known person born in the 19th century.

She was living in the small island town of Kikai, the AP reported.

The title of “world’s oldest living person” is a remarkable, if fleeting, one. Tajima claimed the distinction in September, when fellow 117-year-old Violet Brown died in Jamaica. Brown was the oldest person in the world for about five months.

Tajima was in the exclusive group of supercentenarians, people who have crossed the 110-year threshold. The U.S.-based Gerontology Research Group, which tracks certified people who become supercentenarians, reports 36 worldwide. All but one of them are women, and 18 of them are Japanese. Good diets and supportive family structure have been linked to Japan’s world-leading life expectancy.

Tajima straddled the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries and is one of the few people who could recall a time before World War I. Two days after her 45th birthday, the United States dropped the first of two atomic bombs northeast of her home island.

Her legacy is similarly expansive; she had nine children and 160 descendants, including great-great-great grandchildren, the Gerontology Research Group said.

Tajima’s secret to longevity was “eating delicious things and sleeping well,” the group said. She danced with her hands at the sound of a samisen, a traditional three-string instrument.

Chiyo Miyako, also in Japan, has become the world’s oldest person, according to the group. At 116 years and 355 days, she has about nine months to reach her countrywoman’s mark of 117 years and 260 days.

Miyako would not have to travel far to visit her male compatriot. Japan’s Masazo Nonaka, at 112 years and 271 days old, was confirmed to be the world’s oldest man by Guinness World Records this month. The organization had been set to recognize Tajima before she died, the AP reported.


Crows can’t read, but the signs have still apparently curbed their habit of stealing insulation material from a university building in Japan.

by Russell McLendon

Crows are incredibly clever birds. Some species use tools, for example. Some also recognize human faces, even “gossiping” about who’s a threat and who’s cool. Crows can hold long-term grudges against people they deem dangerous, or shower their allies with gifts. Oh, and they can solve puzzles on par with a 7-year-old human.

With wits like this, it’s little wonder crows have adapted to live in human cities around the world. Yet despite all their uncanny displays of intelligence, a recent example from Japan is eyebrow-raising even for these famously brainy birds.

Wild crows had learned to raid a research building in Iwate Prefecture, stealing insulation to use as nest material. But as the Asahi Shimbun reports, they abruptly quit after a professor began hanging paper signs that read “crows do not enter.”

The idea was suggested by a crow expert from Utsunomiya University, and has reportedly worked for the past two years. This doesn’t mean the crows can read Japanese, but it may still shed light on their complex relationship with people.

The building in question is the International Coastal Research Center (ICRC), part of the University of Tokyo’s Atmosphere and Ocean Research Institute in Otsuchi. The ICRC was founded in 1973 to promote marine research around the biodiverse Sanriku Coast, but its building was heavily damaged by the 2011 Great East Japan earthquake and tsunami, which flooded all three stories. Nearby houses were all destroyed, the Asahi Shimbun reports, and many residents have moved elsewhere.

Repairs later allowed temporary use of the third floor, but the first and second floors were just cleared for warehouse space. While the University of Tokyo has plans to rebuild the center and restart its research, that “is expected to cost a substantial amount of money and several years of time,” according to the ICRC website.

The crows began their raids on the damaged building in spring 2015, according to Katsufumi Sato, a behavioral ecologist and ethology professor at the University of Tokyo. Once inside, they would find insulated pipes, tear off chunks of insulation and then fly away, leaving behind feathers and droppings as clues of their crime.

“Crows take it for their nests,” Sato tells Shimbun staff writer Yusuke Hoshino.

Hoping for a simple solution, ICRC staff sought advice from Sato, who in turn asked his friend Tsutomu Takeda, an environmental scientist and crow expert at Utsunomiya University’s Center for Weed and Wildlife Management. When Takeda suggested making signs that tell crows to stay out, Sato says he thought it was a joke. But he gave it a try, and crows quit raiding the ICRC “in no time at all,” Hoshino writes.

Sato remained skeptical, assuming this was a temporary coincidence, but the crows stayed away throughout 2015, even though the building still had openings and still had insulation inside. He put up the paper signs again in 2016, and after another year without crow attacks, he kept up the tradition this spring. Crows can still be seen flying around nearby, Hoshino points out, but their raids seem to have ended.

So what’s going on? Crows can’t read, but could they still somehow be getting information from the signs? As the BBC documented a decade ago, some urban crows in Japan have learned to capitalize on traffic lights, dropping hard-to-crack nuts into traffic so cars will run over them, then waiting for the light to turn red so they can safely swoop down and grab their prize. That’s impressive, albeit not quite the same.

Takeda offers a different explanation. The crows aren’t responding to the signs at all, he says; they’re responding to people’s responses. People might normally ignore common urban wildlife like crows, but these warnings — while ostensibly directed at crows themselves — draw human attention to the birds. As ICRC staff, students and visitors see the strange signs, they often look up at the crows and even point at them.

“People gaze up at the sky [looking for crows], you know,” Takeda says.

For clever birds that pay close attention to people, that’s apparently eerie enough to make the ICRC seem unsafe. It’s worth noting this is anecdotal, not a scientific study, and there may be another reason why the crows stopped their raids. But given how closely it correlated with the new signs, and how perceptive crows can be, Takeda’s plan is being credited with cheaply and harmlessly keeping the birds at bay.

If nothing else, this is a reminder to appreciate these intelligent birds living all around us, even in cities we built for ourselves. But since crows are sometimes a little too good at exploiting urban environments, it’s also a helpful reminder of how much a dirty look can accomplish. Sato, now a believer in Takeda’s unorthodox strategy, hopes more people will come to the ICRC and gawk at the local crows.

http://www.mnn.com/earth-matters/animals/blogs/crows-do-not-enter-signs-japan

by Amina Khan

One day, gardeners might not just hear the buzz of bees among their flowers, but the whirr of robots, too. Scientists in Japan say they’ve managed to turn an unassuming drone into a remote-controlled pollinator by attaching horsehairs coated with a special, sticky gel to its underbelly.

The system, described in the journal Chem, is nowhere near ready to be sent to agricultural fields, but it could help pave the way to developing automated pollination techniques at a time when bee colonies are suffering precipitous declines.

In flowering plants, sex often involves a threesome. Flowers looking to get the pollen from their male parts into another bloom’s female parts need an envoy to carry it from one to the other. Those third players are animals known as pollinators — a diverse group of critters that includes bees, butterflies, birds and bats, among others.

Animal pollinators are needed for the reproduction of 90% of flowering plants and one third of human food crops, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service. Chief among those are bees — but many bee populations in the United States have been in steep decline in recent decades, likely due to a combination of factors, including agricultural chemicals, invasive species and climate change. Just last month, the rusty patched bumblebee became the first wild bee in the United States to be listed as an endangered species (although the Trump administration just put a halt on that designation).

Thus, the decline of bees isn’t just worrisome because it could disrupt ecosystems, but also because it could disrupt agriculture and the economy. People have been trying to come up with replacement techniques, the study authors say, but none of them are especially effective yet — and some might do more harm than good.

“One pollination technique requires the physical transfer of pollen with an artist’s brush or cotton swab from male to female flowers,” the authors wrote. “Unfortunately, this requires much time and effort. Another approach uses a spray machine, such as a gun barrel and pneumatic ejector. However, this machine pollination has a low pollination success rate because it is likely to cause severe denaturing of pollens and flower pistils as a result of strong mechanical contact as the pollens bursts out of the machine.”

Scientists have thought about using drones, but they haven’t figured out how to make free-flying robot insects that can rely on their own power source without being attached to a wire.

“It’s very tough work,” said senior author Eijiro Miyako, a chemist at the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology in Japan.

Miyako’s particular contribution to the field involves a gel, one he’d considered a mistake 10 years before. The scientist had been attempting to make fluids that could be used to conduct electricity, and one attempt left him with a gel that was as sticky as hair wax. Clearly this wouldn’t do, and so Miyako stuck it in a storage cabinet in an uncapped bottle. When it was rediscovered a decade later, it looked exactly the same – the gel hadn’t dried up or degraded at all.

“I was so surprised, because it still had a very high viscosity,” Miyako said.

The chemist noticed that when dropped, the gel absorbed an impressive amount of dust from the floor. Miyako realized this material could be very useful for picking up pollen grains. He took ants, slathered the ionic gel on some of them and let both the gelled and ungelled insects wander through a box of tulips. Those ants with the gel were far more likely to end up with a dusting of pollen than those that were free of the sticky substance.

The next step was to see if this worked with mechanical movers, as well. He and his colleagues chose a four-propeller drone whose retail value was $100, and attached horsehairs to its smooth surface to mimic a bee’s fuzzy body. They coated those horsehairs in the gel, and then maneuvered the drones over Japanese lilies, where they would pick up the pollen from one flower and then deposit the pollen at another bloom, thus fertilizing it.

The scientists looked at the hairs under a scanning electron microscope and counted up the pollen grains attached to the surface. They found that the robots whose horsehairs had been coated with the gel had on the order of 10 times more pollen than those hairs that had not been coated with the gel.

“A certain amount of practice with remote control of the artificial pollinator is necessary,” the study authors noted.

Miyako does not think such drones would replace bees altogether, but could simply help bees with their pollinating duties.

“In combination is the best way,” he said.

There’s a lot of work to be done before that’s a reality, however. Small drones will need to become more maneuverable and energy efficient, as well as smarter, he said — with better GPS and artificial intelligence, programmed to travel in highly effective search-and-pollinate patterns.

http://www.latimes.com/science/sciencenow/la-sci-sn-robot-bees-20170209-story.html#pt0-805728

Most of the attention around automation focuses on how factory robots and self-driving cars may fundamentally change our workforce, potentially eliminating millions of jobs. But AI that can handle knowledge-based, white-collar work are also becoming increasingly competent.

One Japanese insurance company, Fukoku Mutual Life Insurance, is reportedly replacing 34 human insurance claim workers with “IBM Watson Explorer,” starting by January 2017.

The AI will scan hospital records and other documents to determine insurance payouts, according to a company press release, factoring injuries, patient medical histories, and procedures administered. Automation of these research and data gathering tasks will help the remaining human workers process the final payout faster, the release says.

Fukoku Mutual will spend $1.7 million (200 million yen) to install the AI system, and $128,000 per year for maintenance, according to Japan’s The Mainichi. The company saves roughly $1.1 million per year on employee salaries by using the IBM software, meaning it hopes to see a return on the investment in less than two years.

Watson AI is expected to improve productivity by 30%, Fukoku Mutual says. The company was encouraged by its use of similar IBM technology to analyze customer’s voices during complaints. The software typically takes the customer’s words, converts them to text, and analyzes whether those words are positive or negative. Similar sentiment analysis software is also being used by a range of US companies for customer service; incidentally, a large benefit of the software is understanding when customers get frustrated with automated systems.

The Mainichi reports that three other Japanese insurance companies are testing or implementing AI systems to automate work such as finding ideal plans for customers. An Israeli insurance startup, Lemonade, has raised $60 million on the idea of “replacing brokers and paperwork with bots and machine learning,” says CEO Daniel Schreiber.

Artificial intelligence systems like IBM’s are poised to upend knowledge-based professions, like insurance and financial services, according to the Harvard Business Review, due to the fact that many jobs can be “composed of work that can be codified into standard steps and of decisions based on cleanly formatted data.” But whether that means augmenting workers’ ability to be productive, or replacing them entirely remains to be seen.

“Almost all jobs have major elements that—for the foreseeable future—won’t be possible for computers to handle,” HBR writes. “And yet, we have to admit that there are some knowledge-work jobs that will simply succumb to the rise of the robots.”

Japanese white-collar workers are already being replaced by artificial intelligence

Thank to Kebmodee for bringing this to the It’s Interesting community.

By Kate Springer

A tiny scrap of land might not catch your eye.

But to Japanese architect Yasuhiro Yamashita of Atelier Tekuto, there’s nothing more beautiful.

A veteran designer of kyosho jutaku — or micro homes — Yamashita has built more than 300 houses, each uniquely shaped and packed full of personality.

All starkly different, the only thing these homes have in common is their size — Yamashita’s projects start at just 182 square feet.

Demand for small homes in Japan results partly from land scarcity, property prices and taxes, as well as the impending danger posed by the country’s regular earthquakes and typhoons.

But some residents simply prefer a smaller home, seeking a minimalist lifestyle.

“In Japan, there’s a saying (‘tatte hanjo nete ichijo’) that you don’t need more than half a tatami mat to stand and a full mat to sleep,” says Yamashita. “The idea comes from Zen — and a belief that we don’t need more than the fundamentals.”

Of course, the beauty of a well-designed micro home is that it doesn’t appear ‘fundamental’ at all.

Below, Yamashita divulges 10 strategies to make petite properties feel more spacious.

1. Embrace the awkward

“Asymmetrical pieces of land can often be obtained cheaper than others. And it is an architect’s job to work with the land and fulfill the client’s request,” says Yamashita.

“‘Lucky Drops’ — a house in downtown Tokyo — is a good example. It was a leftover scrap of land that was less expensive because of its irregular trapezoid shape. We had to be creative, but the result is beautiful. There’s a saying in Japanese, that the last drop of wine is considered to be lucky. That’s the inspiration.”

2. Build towards the sky

“When you look at an area in 2D, it might seem very small — perhaps the plot is just a few meters wide. But thinking in terms of volume, you can build the home higher and create more space. I try to make the house feel like it’s extending upwards into the sky, so it’s almost like the sky is part of the house. I also build high ceilings, so you don’t feel cramped.”


This Tokyo home, designed by Atelier Tekuto, takes the shape of a polyhedron in order to provide an enormous skylight above the living room.


Aptly named “Framing the Sky,” this Atelier Tekuto home was built on a polygon-shaped site. The architects focused on the relationship between nature and people, by incorporating a large skylight to make the home feel like it was extending upwards into the sky.

3. Incorporate nature

“In Japan, about 70% is mountains and forest and 30% of the land is rather flat, making it more suitable for residences and rice farms. Even so, we are not trying to fight against nature — we’re trying to live along with it. You can see this in the homes we design. Most of our homes incorporate natural materials and large windows to let in lots of natural light.”


A combination of a shop and private home, Wakka incorporates lots of natural touches, such as a small stone garden and a series of sliding doors that offer more alfresco space.


4. Think outside the box

“Instead of traditional square corners, I often cut the edges of the house into triangular shapes. This creates more surface area and more room for windows. There’s always a corner open to the sky. That way, as the sun moves, the home is always filled with natural light.”

Designed by Atelier Tekuto for a family of five, Iron Mask is steel-based house with a unique curving facade that made the most of the site’s shape.

5. Go monochrome

“What you see informs 60% of your perception of a space. Imagine that you’re inside an eggshell, with the same color and texture all over. There’s no real start or finish, no real corners.

It is a visual effect that will make the space expand. I think that the color white makes spaces look larger, but I prefer to use the natural colors of materials rather than painting.”


Designed by Atelier Tekuto for a family of five, Iron Mask is steel-based house with a unique curving facade that made the most of the site’s shape.


The color white can make spaces look larger, but any consistent palette can create a similar effect. Atelier Tekuto often incorporates natural materials and textures rather than painting.

6. Use reflective materials

“To trick the eye, I use polished stainless steel features. They reflect light and make an area seem larger. In ‘Reflection of Mineral,’ for example, I used stainless steel in the kitchen and in the bathroom to make the space feel more expansive.”

An industrial-style home designed by Atelier Tekuto, Wafers makes use of reinforced concrete, steel and highly reflective windows.

7. Hide Storage

“People tend to accumulate a lot of things over time. I want it all to be hidden away, out of sight, so I build a lot of invisible storage inside the house. If you keep the area wide open and uncluttered, then it’s hard for people to really comprehend the size of the space.”

The uncluttered space feels spacious and large, an effect that’s accentuated by floor-to-ceiling windows.


The owner of Cell Bricks, also a designer, requested an “out of the norm” home and Atelier Tekuto delivered. The house has lots of natural storage thanks to the stacked steel-box design, making it functional as well as visually engaging.

8. Stay close to home

“In the 20th century, architecture was meant for the masses, for the general public. Designs and buildings were constructed quickly and economically — all with the same materials and same appearance. We were in an era of globalization and everyone wanted the same thing.

But now, people are looking to their own regions, their own local traditions for inspiration. That’s where design is moving — closer to home.”

Using natural materials such as cedar wood and terrazzo floors, Atelier Tekuto created a nature-inspired abode for a Japanese family.


9. Invent new solutions

“I spend a lot of time developing new materials from what other people consider to be ‘waste.’ I’m like a garbage man. If I find materials that are not commonly used or have been discarded, then I get really excited.

If I can’t find the materials that go along with the structure, then I invent a new one. For example, I was unhappy with the cement used for homes in Japan, so I worked with Tokyo University to develop a new type. Our recyclable Shirasu Cement is made from volcanic ash deposits.”

Two chemists own R Torso C and they specifically requested a concrete design with an eco-friendly approach. Atelier Tekuto set out out to develop a new type of environmentally friendly cement, called Shirashu.

10. Personalize your home

“A few factors affect my designs — the specificities of the land, the way the light hits the property, the neighborhood, and the client’s personal requests. A home is very personal. In ‘Reflection of Mineral,’ the clients wanted a strong, sharp-looking design. From there, I choose materials based on the design, depending on what would be best for the space.”

Atelier Tekuto approached Reflection of Mineral with an open mind. The clients requested a strong design that would be a memorable piece of architecture while providing the maximum amount of livable space.

home 16

Also an architect, the owner of Layers requested a home that could accommodate multiple generations, as well as feature outdoor courtyards and connecting staircases. By using a mix of materials, Atelier Tekuto achieved a unique yet functional design.

http://www.cnn.com/2016/08/22/architecture/japan-micro-homes/index.html