Saturday, March 26, 2016

No. 889: Hokkaido Shinkansen is inaugurated on March 26, 2016 (March 26, 2016)

The long-cherished Hokkaido Shinkansen (Bullet train) was inaugurated on March 26, 2016. It travels 149 km between Aomori in Honshu and Hakodate in Hokkaido in about one hour through the tunnel under the Tsugaru Straits. Now you can travel from Tokyo to Hakodate in four hours and two minutes. The Hokkaido Shinkansen is scheduled to be extended up to Sapporo, the largest and prefectural capital of Hokkaido, by the end of 2018. With the extension, you can travel from Tokyo to Sapporo in about five hours. 

 The 149 km from Hakodate to Aomori, 
in most of which the train travels under the water.

Various highly sophisticated technologies have been developed to make the Hokkaido Shinkansen a reality. For example, it uses the existing line for the first time as a Shinkansen Line. That is, a Shinkansen train and a freight train go by each other on the existing line as shown in the following video. 

A Shinkansen train and a freight train go by each other on the existing line.

Now you can visit Hokkaido aboard a Shinkansen train and enjoy wonderful cuisines in Hokkaido without being worried about flying above the ground. Japan wishes people from every part of the world to enjoy Tokyo and Hokkaido during their stay in Japan. 

Can you believe this? A bar in Tokyo has a miniature Hokkaido Shinkansen to 
entertain customers. This is typically Japanese hospitality.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

No. 888: Reducing the price of graphene to less than half (January 5, 2016)

Osaka Gas developed a technology to reduce the price of graphene to less than half. The company mixed coal-derived fluorene and water, etc. With the help of an additive, it successfully made the resulting product collide with graphite to extract graphene. Because the traditional method to extract graphene needs equipment that creates a vacuum state, it costs more than 20,000 yen to produce 1 kg of graphene. The newly-developed method increases the production efficiency by more than two times besides reducing the production cost to less than half. The company will begin full production within the year.

ADEKA is scheduled to start commercial production of graphene under license from the University of Tokyo. The company will mix graphite and special chemicals and extract graphene while radiating micro waves to graphite. The company thinks that it is possible to reduce the production cost to about 10,000 yen per kg. If the price of graphene is reduced to half of the present level, it will be mixed with resin to build stronger and lighter automotive parts, radiation material, conducting material, touch panel, electrode of smartphone. New Energy and IndustrialTechnology Development Organization (NEDO) reckons that the world market of graphene will grow from 1.3 billion yen in 2013 to 100 billion yen in 2030. 

Graphene: The future of solar energy technology

110th anniversary of Osaka Gas

Monday, December 7, 2015

No. 887: Automotive industry is making a step forward for the next 100 years (2/2) (December 7, 2015)

It is said that a vehicle loaded only with an engine cannot survive in the future. Toyota plans to decrease sales of vehicles loaded only with an engine to zero by 2050. Following Toyota, Honda will introduce fuel-cell vehicles, and preparations for mass production are under way in its plant in Tochigi Prefecture.

Future vehicles change the entire industry structure

Information technology
Artificial intelligence decides the destination.
Sensors avoid a risk
Automated driving spreads, and taxies and buses will be automatically operated.
Driver’s license will not be required for driving.
Parts and components
Progress of automotive parts will change part and component formation drastically.  
From gas station to charging and hydrogen stations
Instead of iron, resin and carbon will increase their shares.
From gasoline engine vehicles to motor-driven like EV and FCV

As the above table shows, the automotive parts industry needs to prepare for the drastic change. NipponPiston Rings, one of Japan’s leading manufacturers of piston rings, is diversifying its business by producing aluminum parts for semiconductors and dental implant. According to a survey company, economic effect created by fuel cell vehicles will amount to 4.4 trillion yen in 2030.   

Toyota i-road test driving in Tokyo

Toyota i-road test driving

Saturday, December 5, 2015

No. 886: Automotive industry is making a step forward for the next 100 years (1/2) (December 5, 2015)

ZMP, a venture company developing autonomous driving, is increasing its presence in the automotive industry quite rapidly. Because the government laid down a policy to ease the regulations on autonomous driving, it is highly likely that experiments on autonomous driving will be conducted on the public road in 2017. The company has already founded Robot Tax, which operates unattended taxies, in alliance with DeNA, to connect airports and venues by taxi by the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Under the initiative of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the Japanese government is supporting companies with the challenging spirit in their attempts to create innovations. Insurance companies are quick to respond to the move toward the experiment of autonomous driving. MitsuiSumitomo Insurance and Aioi Nissay Dowa Insurance jointly developed an insurance product that covers damage caused in the experiment of autonomous driving for the first time in Japan. 

 Toyota's intelligent driving

Nissan's intelligent driving

Saturday, November 14, 2015

No. 885: Hitachi unveils its first prototype autonomous driving vehicle (November 14, 2015)

Hitachi built its first autonomous driving vehicle as a concept car. Based on Subaru’s vehicle, Hitachi’s prototype vehicle carries such important parts as control unit and sensors that are totally made by Hitachi. They include stereo camera, sound camera to tell the situation of the four areas around the vehicle, various sensors like long distance surveillance radar, a high-precision map that can tell the lanes on the express way precisely in coordination with GPS, and inter-vehicle communication device to detect the situation ahead.

Hitachi’s strategy is to be an Intel of the autonomous driving technology, saying “Hitachi inside.” Leading automakers are developing the autonomous driving technology independently, but Hitachi wishes to sell its system to small- and medium-size automakers. The autonomous driving market is expected to grow from 300 billion yen in 2015 to more than 1 trillion yen in 2020. Hitachi plans to increase its share in the autonomous driving market from the present  5% to 20% in 2020. 

Hitachi's autonomous driving technology

Toyota's autonomous driving technology

Nissan's autonomous driving technology

Monday, November 9, 2015

No. 884: Reducing the price of an LED material to one tenth (November 10, 2015)

Rengo, Japan’s leading cardboard manufacturer, is scheduled to start mass production of an LED material, which is one tenth in price of the existing material, at the beginning of 2016. The company successfully developed a fluorescent material to make LED lighting red without using rare earths. Combined with purple LED, it can create white color close to natural light.

The new product is a fluorescent material that grows red when it absorbs ultraviolet light. An LED light bulb uses several milligrams of this new product. It is created by applying the technology to mix lots of silver with zeolite that is used to make cardboards antibacterial. Traditionally, it costs much to produce the same kind of product because rare earths are required, and the traditional product is too hard to process. Because the new material can be mass produced without rare earths, it can simplify the production process of LEDs and will be applied to create anticounterfeit ink. 

Rengo's advanced technology active in business

Rengo's advanced technology active in logistics 

Sunday, November 1, 2015

No. 883: Smart forestry is growing widespread (November 2, 2015)

Smart forestry that utilizes information technology to forestry is growing widespread. Sumitomo Forestry has decided to exert more energy in forest management consulting in alliance with Nakanihon Air Service and a data analysis firm. Laser beams are irradiates form a helicopter to know the number of trees and forest density, and data and photos are analyzed constantly. A database is constructed and submitted to local governments to help them formulate guidelines for their forest management policies. Using Geographical Information System (GIS) is also increasing popular. The University of Tokyo started to survey using GIS with Jitsuta that is a survey company in Matsuyama of Shikoku. With the help of 3D scan system, they measure the number and figure of trees with three times more operating efficiency than in the past. Kamaishi Forest Owner’s Association actually used this system and found that the data amount increased three to four times bigger than in the past. The system currently costs 180,000 yen per hectare, but the cost is expected to go down as it grows more popular.  

Japanese forest land is 25 million hectare, and the volume of wood is 4.9 billion cubic meters that is 20% bigger as compared with that of 10 years ago. The number of forest workers was about 70,000 people, about 30% smaller than in 1990. Smart forestry is expected to make up for the decrease of forest workers. Iwafuji Industrial developed a system to several trees simultaneously using wires. This system increased the transportable amount of trees from 300,000 cubic meters to 500,000 cubic meters per day.

What is smart forestry?

High school students are learning about forestry.