Posts Tagged ‘technology’


Does an Actroid really need mosquito repellent?

August 18, 2013

Kincho Actroid

Every summer, Kincho (an Osaka-based bug repellent-maker) comes up with a new crop of ads as customers once again look for ways to keep mosquitoes at bay. This summer, they’re re-using one of their ads from a few years back (I believe it first aired in 2011), featuring an Actroid robot demonstrating one of their anti-mosquito skin lotions. While it’s eye-catching, I’m not sure how much need an android has for insect repellent, or whether they need to be worried about skin lotions.

While waving her arms around semi-naturally, she says “Insect repellent PreShower is gentle on your skin” twice before asking “Is that all I say?” and then going right back to her prepared line before her companion can respond.


Fujitsu’s New Technology lets Smartphone Users Download Data from TV

November 14, 2012

Fujitsu has recently introduced a new technology that could allow smartphone users to download data directly from TV screens, in a way that uses only their current hardware, and doesn’t block non-users from viewing the show.

via Diginfo TV link

At October’s Ceatec Japan 2012, held at the Makuhari Messe Convention Center in Chiba, Fujitsu demonstrated their new data transmission technology, which lets viewers access program or advertiser information using the cameras in their smartphones. The message information is encoded as variations in image brightness that are too faint for the naked eye to see, but which digital cameras can detect. These messages then act like QR codes,  directing the smartphone to a related website or advertising offer, but without any symbols taking up screen space.

The as-yet-unnamed technology allows data to be transmitted at a rate of 16 bits/second, fast enough that users can access the links within two or three seconds. An additional advantage is that the message can be received from further away than with QR codes, and that the TV screen can be at an angle to the user. The technology requires that smartphones be equipped with special software capable of reading the messages, but this can be downloaded as an app and requires no hardware upgrades. Fujitsu aims to have the technology ready for practical application by 2013.


Just speculating, this could be an interesting gimmick for TV programs. Pointing a smartphone at the screen at specific moments during the show could direct viewers to ‘secret’ online content or grant access to exclusive promotions. I’m sure a creative game designer could also come up with some cool augmented reality applications for this technology.


Panasonic Unveils Their New Head-Massage Robot

October 30, 2012

At Japan Robot Week 2012, Panasonic presented their new head-therapy massager robot, using recently developed robotic hand technology.

The device scans the user’s head to create a 3-D image, which is used to position the robot’s arms and 24 fingers, ensuring a comfortable fit. Panasonic intends to offer the head therapy unit together with its massage chairs, which have been on sale for several years already, as a ‘whole body care’ system.


Although the unit on exhibit here was being presented mainly as a massage product, Panasonic had already put it through field trials this past spring in a hair salon in Hyogo Prefecture, where it shampooed, conditioned, rinsed and dried customers’ hair, in addition to providing scalp massages. Sensors built into the unit were designed to detect differences in head shape and hair volume, and adjust performance accordingly. The video below includes English captions and narration.


Panasonic had earlier presented the robot in its hair-washing version at the 2010 Home Care and Rehabilitation Exhibition:



A Look at Japan’s New Military Hover-orb

June 14, 2011

Science fiction films have frequently made use of robots that float down hallways or waft through the sky as they chase down the heroes. Aside from the fact that it’s simply easier for the FX team to hang a metal ball on a piece of fishing line, there’s something undeniably fascinating about a machine moving in a way that common sense tells us is impossible.

So it’s with pleasure that I introduce the newest addition to Japan Self-Defense Force’s aerial squadrons:

At just 42cm wide and weighing 350 grams (less than a pound), the orb can hover, maneuver in any direction, and reach speeds of up to 60kph, giving it great potential as a reconnaissance and surveillance tool. What’s more, it’s built entirely from off-the-shelf parts available to hobbyists in Akihabara for an estimated price tag of $1,300.

TV Tokyo recently featured the device and its developers on their “Trend Tamago” show, highlighting it’s maneuverability and unique design.

The “Top Gun” music was a nice touch.

As you can see, its small size and hovering capability allow it to handle tight spaces, such as avoiding telephone lines, flying through windows and going up staircases. The advantage of its spherical shape (According to the developers, the compact flier is the the only one of its kind to use such a design) becomes evident at the 1:10 mark: rather than requiring a careful approach over flat ground for landings, the flier can simply come in low and roll to a stop.

The propeller can also be used to roll the bot along the ground

The flier has already been fitted with a camera, making it useful for police or soldiers scouting out buildings or urban areas, rescue workers looking for survivors in wide areas of rubble (such as after a tsunami) or, as seen in the Trend Tamago report, chasing women through hallways.

One of the downsides is that its flight duration is currently only about 8 minutes. It’s also not all that inconspicuous or stealthy. It’s also not yet capable of self-controlled flight, instead relying on a human to pilot it via remote control, so it’s not technically a robot or drone as many have been calling it (guilty!). Still, it’s an interesting new design for a refreshing low price tag, and and should act as a springboard for a lot of other innovators.

Just so long as I don’t catch one hanging outside my window.


JR Tokai Chooses Station Sites for Future Maglev Line

June 9, 2011

JR Tokai (Central Japan Rail), which manages train lines more-or-less between Shizuoka and Aichi prefectures (as well as the shinkansen from Tokyo to Osaka), recently announced station sites for their planned high-speed magnetic levitation (maglev) line.

JR Maglev on its test track in Yamanashi

Photo via JR Tokai

The line will begin in Shinagawa in south downtown Tokyo (where there is already a shinkansen station), head to Sagamihara in Kanagawa prefecture (a fair bit north of Yokohama), then to Kofu in Yamanashi prefecture and Nakatsugawa in Gifu prefecture before arriving near Nagoya. Running at speeds of up to 500kph, the new line is projected to cover the 286km route in as little as 40 minutes (current shinkansen take about 90 minutes to go from Tokyo to Nagoya, and standard local trains take roughly 6+ hours).

The environmental assessment of the proposed route is expected to take about three years, after which construction is scheduled to start in 2014. The route will use the 48km test track already built in Yamanashi prefecture, and JR Tokai projects the total cost will be about 5.1 trillion yen, or about US$60 billion (although confidence in predicting the cost of a 300-km, decade-long construction project seems laughable. My guess: take that figure and triple it).

I’m torn on this. On the one hand, ultra-high-speed levitating trains are quite possibly the coolest thing I could hope to see in my lifetime. On the other, this is a hell of a lot money to be spending on a massive project that provides only an incremental benefit over the (also extremely expensive to build) system already in place. Plus, the current plan only connects two cites. I’ve been to Sagamihara and Kofu; they are not bustling metropoli by any stretch of the imagination (while Sagamihara could be called close to Yokohama, the fastest train connecting them takes 35 minutes, longer than the maglev trip from Sagamihara to Nagoya). Some sources have estimated that simply converting the existing Tokaido shinkansen, linking Tokyo to Nagoya along the coast, would cost only one-tenth as much.

While I would love to zoom through the mountains at over 500kph, I can’t help thinking there are better uses for the money. Developing low-speed (~100kph) maglev for mass inter- and intra-city use would be a good start, as their lack of moving parts translates to lower maintenance costs, and they produce far less noise or pollution. This has already been achieved with the Linimo line near Nagoya, although because the line doesn’t connect major population centers (it was built for the 2005 World Expo and links the park with outer Nagoya), current ridership is low. Still, going this route could turn an incredibly expensive prestige project that few would use on a regular basis into an actual money-maker with wide-spread support.