Friday, September 30, 2011

No. 320: A wearable robot helpful for holding and carrying an object of 30-40 kg (September 30, 2011)

Kawasaki Heavy Industries developed a wearable robot that can help a man hold and carry an object of 30-40 kg. Named Power-Assist Suit, it has a total of four small motors on the hip and knee joints. It automatically detects load and mitigate the heavy labor by dint of the countervailing rotative force. The range of motion remains unchanged where a man wears it or not. A battery and a control device are built in the back side of the hip, and two legs extend from the both side of the hip. The weight of the wearable robot is mostly absorbed by the ground. Although it is necessary to fit the leg to the physical size of the wearer, he can wear it from 30 seconds to 60 seconds. He can hardly feel the weight of the robot when he wears it. Thanks to the reactive force, he can move at a quick pace.

The new robot will be used for the jobs that the existing equipment, such as traditional robots and cranes, cannot perform. The company plans to put it into practical application in two years and use it for jobs inside the company, and it will work on reducing the price to put it on the market in the future.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

No. 319: Use your wristwatch to settle electronic payment (September 29, 2011)

You can shortly use your wristwatch to settle electronic payment of Edy. Dainippon Printing developed a wristwatch with a built-in FeliCa-based IC chip jointly with Wako that is a precision equipment maker in Saitama Prefecture. Felica is a noncontact communication technology from Sony. Wako will put the wristwatch that supports Edy on the market coming December. The two companies plan to increase the sales to 500 million yen by 2015 by expanding the consumer market and cultivating the market for institutional use. Named “Risny,” the new product incorporates an IC chip of 28 mm square. The user can authenticates him and settle his electronic payment without removing a Risny from his hand.

Because FeliCa’s communication technology is liable to be affected by mental, it has been hard to apply it to a wristwatch. The research team successfully made it applicable to a wristwatch by modifying the weight of the metal. The retail price of a Risny is scheduled to be around 7,000 yen. It will be marketed through mail order on the Internet and through department stores. The two companies plan to introduce Risny of various designs, and cultivate the market for institutional use including membership IDs, admission tickets of leisure facilities, and for authentication in the workplace.   

Monday, September 26, 2011

No. 318: Efficient power generation using heat from garbage incineration (September 27, 2011)

Experiments for efficient power generation using heat from garbage incineration will start within the year. Kawasaki HeavyIndustries and Osaka Gas will conduct the experiments in collaboration with the local government of Osaka. They plan to store part of heat from garbage incineration and transport it to office buildings and generate electricity using residual heat left unused at present. The research team wishes to increase the energy utilization efficiency by 25% over the existing method of power generation from urban waste.

A garbage incineration plant in Osaka was selected for the experiments. It has two garbage incinerations each of which has a daily incineration capacity of 300 tons, and uses the steam from the incineration (34 tons per hour) for its in-house power generation facilities that has an output of 3,000 kW. In the experiments, part of the heat from incineration will be kept in a special storage medium, and subsequently will be transported to office buildings. In addition, the research team will use about 5.5 tons of residual team for low-temperature power generation called binary cycle with the help of a special medium that boils at such a low temperature of 80 degrees centigrade. Kawasaki Heavy will work on the management of the whole project, and Osaka Gas will take charge of the experiments for the transportation of heat. The experiments are scheduled to end by March 2014. The research results will be utilized for the promotion of heat from garbage incineration for the regional energy requirements.     

Sunday, September 25, 2011

No. 317: Produce glucose from paper with the help of the characteristics of ionic liquid (September 26, 2011)

Ionic liquid exists as liquid at normal temperature, and it is used for electrolyte of lithium-ion batteries. Research activities to produce glucose from used paper and used cotton with the help of the characteristics of ionic liquid are under way. Hiroyuki Ohno, a professor of Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology, is one of the researchers. He made ionic liquid by combining various compounds in a container. One of the resulting ionic liquid compounds separated like water and oil at higher than 25 degrees centigrade but intermixed uniformly at lower than 25 degrees centigrade. It is rather unusual to have a reaction that different substances intermix by reducing temperature.

He modified cellulase that is the enzyme to resolve cellulose, the main substance of paper and cotton. He made a complex of enzyme by uniting appropriate elements with the surface of cellulase so that it is soluble in ionic liquid but insoluble in water. He tries to change cellulose to glucose using this complex enzyme. If cellulose and the complex enzyme are put in the mixed solution of water and ionic liquid at lower than 22 degrees centigrade, they intermix and facilitate the chemical reaction that cellulose revolves to become glucose.

Subsequently, heat the mixed solution to increase the temperature to higher than 25 degrees centigrade, and water and ionic enzyme separate. Because glucose is soluble in water, glucose can be produced by collecting the water layer. In addition, because the ionic liquid layer contains the enzyme complex, it can be reused for the reaction to change cellulose to glucose. It is possible to have the chemical reaction in the night when temperature is low and collect the reaction product in the morning when temperature is high. That is, the process is rather energy-saving. The professor plans a joint development with paper companies.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

No. 316: New technologies for a lighter autobody are coming (September 25, 2011)

Japanese companies are increasing the presence in the technology for a lighter autobody. Sumitomo Metal Industries developed a technology to build framework parts by processing high-strength steel pipes and successfully increased the strength 2.5 times by improving the technology of thermal treatment. Although special facilities are required to modify steel plates into high-strength steel pipes, the technology decreases iron consumption 30-50% on a weight basis and reduces production cost because neither a mold nor welding is necessary. The company built a line for trial production and started sample shipment to get orders for parts inside the door.

Carbon fiber weighs one fourth of iron, and has 10 times more strength than iron. It has a problem with the molding time that takes more than one hour. Toray reduced the molding time required to mix resin and carbon fiber to less than 10 minutes, realizing the same production cost that is required for aluminum. Teijin started sample shipment of sheet carbon fiber mixed with thermoplastic resin that hardens should it be cooled. Teijin’s product can be molded in less than one minute. DIC will build a plan to produce high-performance resins called polyphenylene sulfide (PPS) for auto parts with an investment of about 8 billion yen. The company has a share of more than 30% in the world market. Demand for PPS is growing as a lighter material that can replace metals for parts related to engine and motor. The new plant has an annual production capacity of 5,500 tons, and full production is scheduled to start in 2015. A lighter autobody is critical to better fuel consumption, and the competition is expected to grow fiercer worldwide. The Japanese government is currently working on a bill to oblige automakers to improve fuel consumption by 24.1% by 2020 as compared with the level in 2009.

Friday, September 23, 2011

No. 315: A compressed–air engine vehicle that makes a maximum speed of 129 km per hour (September 23, 2011)

Toyota Industries developed a vehicle that does not rely on an engine and electricity. Named KURIN (Clean), it employs the compressor of its car air-conditioners. Toyota Industries’ car air-conditioners enjoy the largest share in the world. It is a small and lightweight vehicle with a high output, and made a maximum speed of 129.2 km per hour in the test run early September. The company plans to apply to Guinness as a world record. The compressed-air engine vehicle was released to the public on Sept. 22.

Compressed air inside the cylinders, which is sent to the compressor for inflation, is the source of power. Young employees of this company developed this concept vehicle as one of their extracurricular activities to improve and upgrade their technological capabilities. The company does not have any plan to put it into commercial application. The vehicle is purely a handmade product. It is a one-seated three-wheeler made of carbon. It is 3.5 m long and 0.8 m wide, and weighs 100 kg. The development team is aiming at a model capable of traveling underwater as the next stage. Activities to realize a cleaner society are under way from various aspects.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

No. 314: Use a smartphone to measure the amount of radiation (September 22, 2011)

NTT DoCoMo developed the technology to measure the amount of radiation and ultraviolet using a smartphone. A sensor attached to the special case of a smartphone measures the amount of radiation and the application software installed in the smartphone confirmed the measurement data. Users can use their smartphones in a variety of ways including as a device for health management and in time of disaster by changing the cases specially designed for a smartphone.  

The company launched three kinds of cases. They are the case in time of disaster to measure the amount of radiation, the case for health management that measures body fat percentage, and the case for women that detects mouth odor and alcohol and measures ultraviolet. What a user needs to do is to boot up the application and attach the case to his smartphone. For health management, for example, he needs to hold the specific part of the case and extend his hand to get measurement results. NTT DoCoMo plans to develop the mechanism to determine the concentration of acetone when the user breathes on a miniature device connected to a smartphone.

Monday, September 19, 2011

No. 313: Calculation principle to realize a supercomputer as small as a palm (September 20, 2011)

A research team led by Professor YoshihisaYamamoto of National Institute of Informatics developed the calculation principle to realize a new and ultracompact supercomputer. The idea is a kind of the quantum computer that calculates using light. It shortens the calculation time besides opening up the road to a palm supercomputer. It can finish the calculation that the current supercomputer needs a year within a second. The research team plans to build a trial model in five years in alliance with public companies. The mechanism utilizes laser light from for the input of problems and the output of solutions. A problem is incorporated into the optical circuit, and laser light is applied. The laser light is modified to agree with the optical circuit to work out a solution.

The source and detector of laser light used in the new principle are already on the market. As the principle uses only those operable at normal temperature, cooling is not necessary. Made up of small components, it can realize an ultracompact supercomputer put on a palm. The existing supercomputers need a tremendous amount of time for calculations because they compare all possible solutions under lots of conditions provided to find the optimal solution. Accordingly, it is expected to be helpful for efficient solution of the NP-complete problem. The quantum computer is position as the next-generation computer, and basic research is accelerating worldwide.     

Sunday, September 18, 2011

No. 312: An all-optic switching memory element with less than one milliampere operating current (September 19, 2011)

Two professors of Nara Institute of ScienceTechnology successfully reduced the operating current of an all-optic switching memory element to less than one milliampere. This technology is expected to open up the road to high-speed optical routers. The semiconductor laser directly receives optical signals transmitted through the communication circuit, and inputs and outputs information as a form of polarized light that oscillates in a certain direction. They successfully reduced the current with the help of the oxide-confined structure that narrows down the passage of current inside a semiconductor laser.

If easily oxidizable layers, oxide-confined layers, are arranged near an active layer, the oxidation of the active layer starts with the surrounding area should vapor be applied to them at high temperature. Accordingly, the electric resistance of the oxidized part increases, and current pours into the central unoxidized part. This makes it possible for a small amount of current to cause efficient laser oscillation. The all-optic switching memory elements currently under development consume a large amount of current and may offset the low power consumption that features the all-optic communication system. The newly developed switching memory element will be presented in the conference of the Institute of Electronics,Information and Communication Engineers.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

No. 311: Green hydrogen made of water from water vapor electrolysis (September 17, 2011)

Green hydrogen does not emit carbon dioxide. It can open up the road to use hydrogen as fuel of the fuel cell and as a medium to store power. Toshiba developed an elementary element, which is 16 mm in diameter, to produce hydrogen without fossil fuel by dissolving vapor in the high-temperature gas furnace. The company plans to put the system into practical use toward 2020. Currently, it is widespread to produce hydrogen through the thermochemical reaction using natural gas and naphtha, but Toshiba’s system is to produce hydrogen through the electrochemical reaction using water. It adopted the water vapor electrolysis method that can produce hydrogen with 80% efficiency, two times higher efficiency of the existing methods.

The elementary element, or the electrolysis cell, for the system is a three-layer ceramic element that sandwiches the zirconia electrolyte film by two electrodes. That is, the system has almost the same structure as the power generation cell of the solid-oxide fuel cell to be utilized for household fuel cells shortly, and uses the electrolytic reaction that is the opposite direction of power generation. The company created tiny air holes in the materials to improve the electrode material and successfully achieved the world’s highest production capacity of hydrogen, 7% higher than the highest electrolytic property at present. It already verified the durability performance of the new elementary element by a continuous operation of longer than 6,000 hours. The system is scheduled to be presented in the fall convention of Japan Chemical Industry Association.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

No. 310: A satellite for safer travel in the northern sea route will be launched next year (September 16, 2011)

A very small satellite will be launched next September to monitor the sea ice of the Arctic Sea. Weather News, the world’s largest full-service weather company, will launch a 27 cm square satellite with a larger satellite from Russia next September. The company developed the new satellite jointly with Axelspace. The satellite will collect data of the northern sea route and provide collected data to ships for their safe travel. The investment is 150 million yen from the development to the launch. Currently, the northern sea route is available for navigation for only two months in summer, but it is attracting worldwide attention as a shorter and inexpensive route for cargo shipment between Europe and Asia.

The satellite goes around the earth 15 times a day and transmits the images of sea ice of the Arctic sea filmed by a build-in small camera. Weather News will dispatch data on safe travel by combining them with its own data on seawater, sea currents, weathers, and waves. The new satellite will help the company dispatch data in real time and forecast the moves of sea ice. The northern sea route shortens the travel distance to two thirds of the route through the Suez Canal and to half of the route via Cape of Good Hope. Travel time will be shortened from one month to one week, and ships will be free from the risk of pirates. The company provides weather information to 5,000 ships, which accounts for 25% of world’s ocean-going ships, affiliated with 400 companies. The northern sea route will presumably become critical for cargo shipment between Asia and Europe as an economical sea route.  

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

No. 309: Japan’s cold energy supply technology goes to the Maldives (September 15, 2011)

Hitachi Plant Technologies will build a plant to supply cold energy using deep ocean water around the Maldives within 2012 and operate it starting in 2013. The total investment will be 2-3 billion yen. Made up of equipment including pipe arrangements to dip deep ocean water and a refrigeration plant, the special plant for cold energy supply will be built in the vicinity of the Hulhumale Island of the Maldives. The cold energy will be used for the refrigerant of air-conditioners. The company plans to market the system to Southeast countries as a system with less power consumption and carbon dioxide emissions.

The system dips 38,000 cubic meter deep ocean water every day from the depth of 700 m, and water refrigerated by deep ocean water is supplied to manufacturing plants and buildings of the island as the refrigerant of air-conditioners. The temperature of ocean deep water is between 8 and 9 degrees centigrade. The system using ocean deep water can decrease power consumption by more than 60% and reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 90,000 tons annually, as compared with the traditional system. Although the initial investment is rather high, it can reduce the running cost including electricity expense considerably.  

Monday, September 12, 2011

No. 308: Use your voice to operate an air-conditioner (September 13, 2010)

An air-conditioner that can be operated by voice has been developed by Toshiba Home Appliances, one of Toshiba’s group companies. The special remote control can recognize 26 kinds of voice instructions to operate an air-conditioner. The company said this is the world’s first voice-controlled air-conditioner. It was named “Daiseikai (Very clean and comfortable).” The desk remote control with built-in microphone recognizes the voice of the user and operates the air-conditioner using infrared data communication. You need to clap your hand three times or push the button of the remote control to activate the voice recognition function. You can set the temperature by saying such phrases as “It is cold” and “It is hot.”

It will be put on the market early November, and the sales price will presumably be between 210,000 and 330,000 yen. The desk remote control can work with Toshiba’s TV sets and LED lighting fixtures. You can switch on a Toshiba’s TV set by addressing to it with a word “Television.” The monthly production is scheduled to be 20,000 units.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

No. 307: Scheduled commercial production of highly efficient solar cells (September 11, 2010)

Solar Frontier, a subsidiary of Showa ShellSekiyu, successfully increased the generation efficiency of a CIS film solar cell to 17.2% with a small panel in the joint research with NEDO. Showa Shell plans to start the commercial production of the new solar cells toward late 2012 with an annual production capacity of 900,000 tons. The real efficiency of the new solar cell module will be 13-14%, one percent higher than the prevailing efficiency of a solar cell module using CIS solar cells.

Currently, the CIS solar cell has a generation efficiency of 12.2%, 1-3% lower than the crystal silicon solar cell widespread in the market. Unlike the crystal silicon solar cell, the CIS film solar cell is not affected by the fluctuations of silicon prices and able to generate electricity even if part of the panel is covered by a shadow and even in cloudy days. The point was that it is 1-3% lower in generation capacity than the crystal silicon solar cell. In Japan, the system to purchase renewable energy at fixed prices will start with fiscal 2012, and large-scale mega solar generation plants are scheduled to be built across the country. The fierce competition with Chinese solar cell makers combined with high yen deteriorates Showa Shell’s solar cell business. The company plans to increase its share with the new solar cells and build joint production in foreign countries after the mass production gets off the ground to avoid the risk due to high yen.

No. 306: A concept electric vehicle made of carbon fiber (September 10, 2010)

Toray, the leader of the carbon fiber market, developed a concept EV made of carbon fiber in alliance with a British automaker. The development cost is about 300 million yen. It is 40% lighter than the existing EVs and strong against collision impact. Named T-Wave AR1, it is a 2-seater sports car with a maximum speed of 147 km/h and can travel 185 km per charge. The user can drive his T-Wave AR1 on the open road if he registers it with the transportation office. The body frame is made of carbon fiber mixed with resin. The 2-seater weighs 846 kg, and a 4-seater will weigh 975 kg. It is about 40% lighter than the conventional EV made mainly of steel. The material that absorbs the collision impact is also made of carbon fiber, and it has 2.5 times higher absorption capacity than steel. The company plans to translate it into practical applications toward 2015. A lighter auto body is a critical subject for the solution of the environmental regulations that grow tighter and tighter. In that sense, carbon fiber that is 10 times stronger than iron and weighs one fourth of iron will be in great demand for car application in the future. The newly-developed EV will be exhibited in the Toray Advanced Materials Symposium 2011 to be held on 14th and 15th of September in Tokyo.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

No. 305: An inexpensive plastic that shines blue responding to nuclear radiation (September 8, 2010)

A new plastic that shines blue responding to nuclear radiation will be launched by Teijin late September. The new product is an inexpensive radiation-fluorescent plastic made from PET bottles using a very simple production method. It is about one tenth of the existing products in terms of price. It is expected to stimulate the development of inexpensive radiation counters amid the growing concern about nuclear radiation after the Fukushima disaster on March 11.The existing products are very expensive because special materials and production method are required to produce them. The new product will be put on the market under the brand name of SCINTIREX that was jointly developed by Kyoto University and National Institute ofRadiological Sciences. It is clear and colorless under normal conditions, and it shines in proportion to the strength of nuclear radiation. It can be produced by such standard mass production method as injecting molding. The price will be less than 10,000 yen apiece, though it depends on sales quantities. It will be built in nuclear radiation measurement gates and personal nuclear radiation counters. Teijin plans to market the new product to measuring instrument makers and research laboratories.  

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

No. 304: An unmanned tractor capable of traveling the furrow very precisely (September 7, 2010)

An unmanned tractor loaded with a system developed by a team made up of Hitachi Zosen and Hokkaido University traveled the furrow with a marginal error of a few centimeters with the help of Japan’s first, and currently the only, quasi-zenith satellite “Michibiki (Guidance)” in Tokyo for demonstration. The traveling route was put in the program in advance, and the tractor traveled the furrow while compensating the position using the signals it received from the “Michibiki” through the antenna on its top. The existing GPS system alone creates a marginal error of 1-10 meters, but the combined use of the Michibiki and the existing GPS successfully reduce it to a few centimeters. This precision allows for efficient pesticide application targeting a specific crop and automatic harvesting besides improving the labor efficiency in farm operation. The research team also considers the application for monitoring children and as a tool to guide sightseers. Launched last September, the “Michibiki” is making rounds in the sky over Australia and Japan describing a figure of eight. Because it can cover the sky over Japan only for eight hours a day, the Japanese government plans to launch the second and third “Michibiki” in the future.      

Monday, September 5, 2011

No. 303: Watching for family members in the remote area using a tablet terminal (September 6, 2010)

NTT West will start the service that enables people to watch for their family members and friends living in the remote area using a tablet terminal. The onboard camera of a tablet terminal, which is used as an interior digital photo frame, detects the moves of people automatically and notifies the other party of their moves. To protect privacy, the image of the room will not be transmitted, and an avatar on the screen will be used instead to tell whether the family members or friends are fine. Users can communicate with the other party by TV telephone and send hand-written messages using the touch panel. This service is a product of the combination of NTT West’s next-generation network (NGN), IPv6 that is the next standards of the Internet, and the improved communication network that allows for constant and stable transmission of large amount of data. Users need to subscribe to NTT’s optical line, apply for IPv6, and a tablet terminal from NEC whose price will be decided later. The company forecasts that demand for monitoring family members in the remote area will grow because of low birthrate and longevity. NTT West is scheduled to conduct substantiative experiments from late September to next spring with a view to offering the service in 2012.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

No. 302: Experiments of the behavior detection technology using videos at nursing-care facilities (September 5, 2010)

NEC started the experiment of the system for higher security inside the nursing-care facilities through automatic detection of entrances and exits. The system is made up of NEC’s behavior detection technology and the face recognition technology. NeoFace, a face detection and checking engine, is combined with the human tracking system to verify the entrances and exits. The human tracking system outputs the behavior of a person and an object as the flow line because it can specify who the person is and where the object is in real time. Therefore, it will be possible to distinguish between people concerned and suspicious individuals. In addition, it will be possible to activate an alarm responding to invasion and reversed flow and based on the existence of an obstacle by setting a virtual region in the video. Because neither facility personnel nor residents are required to carry their IDs, there is no fair about the theft and loss of their IDs. NEC will continue the experiment in the nursing-care facilities run by Nichii Gakkan until mid-September. NEC plans to market this system for the administrative work and the detection of suspicious individuals inside plants and public infrastructure and as the tool to detect the behavior of shoppers inside the shop.

Friday, September 2, 2011

No. 301: Electric-powered unmanned helicopter developed by a university (September 3, 2010)

An unmanned helicopter powered by electric motors was developed by a research team led by Prof. Kenzo Nonami of Chiba University. It is 30 cm wide and 30 cm high, and weighs 1.5 kg. Unlike the conventional helicopter, it has six rotary wings. It can carry up to 1 kg baggage. Unlike a helicopter driven by a gasoline engine, it has a very simple structure that a motor is directly attached to each of the six rotary wings. The research team used off-the-shelf motors and the carbon framework to make the production cost as small as possible. The team said that its helicopter could be put on the market for one million yen, one tenth of the price of a helicopter powered by a gasoline engine. In addition, it is very quiet because the diameter of each rotary wing is merely 20 cm. It is possible to remote-control it using the GPS of a PC with such accuracy within less than 50 cm. The maximum speed is 20 km/h. It has a higher carrying capacity than the existing electric helicopter because the revolution of each six rotary wings can be optimized depending on the velocity and direction of the wind. It will be helpful for the research and monitoring in times of disaster. The current problems are that it can fly only for 20 minutes at the maximum and it cannot carry much baggage as a gasoline engine-driven helicopter. The research team plans to increase the loading capacity to 3-5 kg by increasing the number of rotary wings.