Wednesday, October 31, 2012

No. 634: Nissan’s new technology to avoid a possible collision (November 1, 2012)

Nissan developed a system to turn a steering wheel automatically when a car comes across with a possible collision caused by a person suddenly rushing out in front of the car. The system automatically applies the brake and turns a steering wheel when it perceives a possible collision. A radar and a camera are installed on the front and a radar is installed on the both sides of the rear, and the system analyzes information in every 0.1 second to detect the existence of an obstacle. It is designed to help a car driver avoid a rear-end car collision in a traffic jam.

The new system is named the “Emergency Steering Avoidance System.” The margin that allows a car to avoid a possible collision is 150 m to the front, 20 m to the both sides, and 70 m to the rear. The new system is scheduled to be preinstalled in Nissan’s new cars beginning in 2015. Nissan also developed a technology to convert the intention of the driver to electronic signals and transmit them to the tires for the first time in the world. Toyota is reportedly developing a system that allows a car to return to the original lane if it swerves from a lane. Fuji Heavy already introduced new cars with a system to avoid a collision using a camera installed on the front of the car. 

 Nissan’s system to avoid a possible collision

Subaru’s system to avoid a possible collision

No. 633: Toshiba builds a system to store surplus power with the help of hydrogen (October 31, 2012)

Toshiba is building a system to store surplus power generated by renewable energy with special equipment in alliance with about 10 companies including Cable and Wireless Worldwide of Great Britain. The special equipment extracts hydrogen by electrolyzing water using surplus power. It will be possible to get electricity by operating a fuel cell using hydrogen as needed and supply hydrogen to fuel cell electric vehicles. The company will start an experiment in the Isle of Wight with the partner companies for three years beginning this November. The new system is scheduled to start operation in 2014.

Currently, a storage battery is the major player to absorb the output fluctuations of renewable energy. The storage battery will inevitably grow bigger in size as the introduction of renewable energy develops, and the storage cost will accordingly grow higher. The new system is based on a rather simple principle, and it can be disseminated at a low cost. Toshiba works on the design of the network between the power network and hydrogen storage facilities and the management of the energy management system. Cable and Wireless Worldwide addresses the system to collect data from fuel cell electric vehicles. Demand for hydrogen is expected to grow rapidly in the near future because Japanese automakers, Toyota, Nissan, and Honda, are scheduled to launch fuel cell electric vehicles in 2015. In addition, 100 hydrogen stations will also be ready for use inside Japan by 2015.   

 A hydrogen energy system using sunlight, water, and hydrogen

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

No. 632: NTT DoCoMo’s agriculture support system (October 30, 2012)

NTT DoCoMo is developing a system to estimate shipments and sales of vegetables in alliance with Hitachi East Japan Solutions. The system is designed to allow farmers to judge the most suitable shipping date using information on the growing condition of agricultural products and sales forecast made by retailers. They have already started the substantiative experiment in the Tohoku district with the cooperation from local farmers. They provided about 15 farmers with tablet PCs, and the farmers enter the growing conditions of vegetables like spinach.

Cloud computing is used to manage the information entered by the farmers. The wholesale market analyzes yields and sales trends of retailers including supermarkets, and the analysis is transmitted to the farmers to help them work out shipping plans in accordance with change of the demand. In the Shikoku district, NTT DoCoMo has already started to operate a system that farmers can get orders for their agricultural products via their smartphones and tablet PCs in alliance with a local third-sector company. A research company predicts that the IT-supported agriculture market will grow from 6 billion yen in 2010 to 60 billion yen in 2020. 

The concept of NTT DoCoMo’s agriculture support system

Sunday, October 28, 2012

No. 631: Japanese desalination technology goes to Ghana (October 29, 2012)

Business trend:
Sojitz, one of Japan’s leading trading companies, will construct and operate a seawater desalination plant in Ghana in alliance with a Spanish company. The construction cost is estimated at about 10 billion yen. Sojitz invests 44%, the Spanish company 51%, and the local company 5%. The project is scheduled to provide daily life water in Ghana’s capital Accra beginning in 2014. The contract period is 25 years. When the contract period terminates, the water business will be transferred to the Ghana’s water corporation.

The construction will start coming November. The plant will have a daily treatment capacity of 60,000 tons per day that is 7.5% of the current water demand, or for 500,000 people, in Ghana. The project will employ Japanese reverse osmosis membrane for desalination. Because Japanese companies have excellent technology in reverse osmosis membrane technology, this project is expected to cultivate the desalination market for Japanese companies in the Sub-Sahara Africa. 

Small seawater desalination equipment

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

No. 630: A new photocatalyst generating 1,000 times more hydrogen than the existing photocatalyst (October 25, 2012)

A research team led by Hisashi Hagiwara and Tatsumi Ishihara of Kyushu University developed a photocatalyst that generates 1,000 times more hydrogen from water than the existing photocatalyst. The research members improved the surface of the material to utilize the optical wavelength that accounts for 50% of sunlight. A photocatalyst resolves water into hydrogen and oxygen. It is usually made of an oxide of titanium or tantalum. They covered the surface of fine particles of tantalum oxide with an organic dye that absorbs optical wavelength similar to the dye used for the photosynthesis of a plant. That is, the dye absorbs optical wavelength and the oxide absorbs ultraviolet that passes the dye.

In the experiment, they put fine particles of several hundred nanometers in diameter each into water and radiated experimental light about 10 times stronger than sunlight. While the existing fine particles generated about 0.05 ml of hydrogen gas per hour, the new technology successfully generated about 50 ml of hydrogen gas per hour that is 1,000 times more than the existing fine particles. In addition, they confirmed that the surface of the new type fine particles is hard to deteriorate, though an organic substance is generally liable to be destroyed when ultraviolet light is radiated on it. Mathematically, it is possible to generate about 30 liters of hydrogen a day if one kilogram of the new photocatalyst is put into a water tank installed outside. The research team plans to increase the amount of hydrogen generated daily from 30 liters to 600 liters to make the new technology applicable to a fuel cell in alliance with private companies. 

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

No. 629: A new technology for effective recycling of platinum (October 24, 2012)

Increasing the recycling rate of platinum is an urgent issue. Only a small number of countries including Russia and South Africa produce platinum despite increasing applications to such purposes as fuel cells and catalyst of exhaust gas treatment. World consumption of platinum is 220 tons annually, and the recycling rate of platinum is still about 20%. A research team led by Toru Okabe of TokyoUniversity developed a new technology for effective recycling of platinum. The new technology eliminates the necessity of a large plant for waste disposal and shortens the recycling time from several hours to only 15 minutes.

The research members first created a magnesium alloy by reacting platinum in scrap with gas. Subsequently, they put the magnesium alloy into hydrochloric acid and found that almost all platinum dissolves for easily recovery. The new technology supposedly creates small clearances inside platinum, and the enlarged surface area to make platinum dissolvable in hydrochloric acid. Currently, a special oxidant is necessary to dissolve platinum. Accordingly, waste contains poison fumes and heavy metals, and a large special facility is required to treat the waste. This prevents recycling of platinum from spreading. The new technology allows a small facility to recycle platinum effectively. The research team plans to put it into practical use at an early date in alliance with private companies.   

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

No. 628: Japanese railway cars go to Venezuela (October 10, 2012)

Business trend:
Marubeni got an order for 52 railway cars for about 12 billion yen from Venezuela in alliance with Toshiba and Nippon Sharyo. They will be for the existing lines in the suburbs of it capital Caracas. Toshiba will be responsible for electric control, and Nippon Sharyo takes care of cars. All the 52 cars will be shipped from Japan toward mid-2015.

Marubeni got an order for the renovation of the 42-km line between Caracas and neighboring cities in alliance with Italian and Venezuelan companies in 1992 and 2004. Venezuela National Railway has been considering purchasing new railway cars to mitigate the congestion. In Venezuela, traffic jam is growing serious with the inflow of people to such big cities as Caracas. The government is in the middle of the project to improve a total of 13,000 km railway networks. Traditionally, France is dominant in the railways business in Venezuela, but Japanese companies successfully secured an order for the 52 railway cars.   

An image of the railway car to be shipped to Venezuela

Venezuela National Railways

Monday, October 8, 2012

No. 627: A new technology to increase the distance per charge of a lithium-ion battery by 30% (October 9, 2012)

NEC developed a technology to increase the distance per charge of a lithium-ion battery by 30%. Currently, the maximum distance of a lithium-ion battery is 200 km, and NEC successfully increased the distance to 260 km. The company plans to put the new technology into practical use in less than two years.

Increasing a storage capacity of a lithium-ion battery by increasing power voltage generates gases inside the battery and shortens its life. NEC successfully developed a new electrode material and new electrolyte, each of which does not allow gases to generate easily even in high power voltage. The new technology can increase a storage capacity without using such rare materials as cobalt for the electrode. Accordingly, the life and production cost of the new lithium-ion battery are the same as the lithium-ion battery loaded onto Nissan’s Leaf. NEC will release the new technology to other battery manufacturers.   

 Nissan’s EV Leaf: NEC developed a technology to 
increase the distance per charge of a lithium-ion battery by 30%

Sunday, October 7, 2012

No. 626: An optical disc capable of storing 100 times more data than a Blu-ray disc (October 7, 2012)

Fujifilm developed a technology to build an optical disc that has a memory capacity of 15 terabytes, 100 times more memory capacity than a Blu-ray disc. Using a resin that swells a little by absorbing a laser beam, the new technology made it possible to pile up to 100 memory layers. An off-the-shelf Blue-ray disc has the maximum memory capacity of 100 gigabytes with three memory layers on one side. At present, the new technology achieved 500 gigabytes (0.5 terabytes) with 20 memory layers on one side. The company wishes to achieve 7.5 terabytes with 100 memory layers on one side, making the total memory capacity 15 terabytes in the future.  

The new optical disc is recordable that allows for one time writing. Its memory layer is made of a standard resin and a pigment that absorbs laser beam efficiently. Although it shares the same wevelength of light with a Blue-ray disc, but the company moved its focus slightly so that light can be irradiated continuously. The company plans to launch the new optical disc with a memory capacity of 1 terabyte for 1,000 yen apiece in three years. It reckons that a data center can reduce the cost to one third by replacing the hard discs with the new optical discs.  

 Image of Fujifilm’s new optical disc capable of 
storing 100 times more data than a Blue-ray disc

Friday, October 5, 2012

No. 625: A new system that uses radio waves to watch an elderly person living alone (October 5, 2012)

Oki Electric developed a technology to keep an eye on an elderly person living alone. The new technology makes it possible to get detailed information on his conditions with the help of radio waves. Unlike the technology that uses infrared rays, it allows the system administrator to watch an elderly person and recognize a sudden falling and rapid changes of his aspiration. The device used by this technology is palm-sized, and it emits radio waves of 24 MHz. It can be put on the wall of living room and bathroom, and the system analyzes the radio waves that emit from the body of an elderly person.

Because radio waves that bounce from the body vary with human behavior, the system can detect even a small move like aspiration. The system does not violate the privacy of an elderly person because it does not need a camera. The company did an experiment of this system in a detached house and confirmed that it recognized the behavior of an elderly person with such high accuracy of 90%. When an emergency occurs, the system informs the hospital and family members of the emergency immediately.  

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

No. 624: Nissan’s concept car sets you free from maneuvering for parking (October 2, 2012)

Nissan unveiled its concept car that can park by itself. That is, you do not have to maneuver your car when you wish to park it because it automatically parks alone with the help of information it gets from the four cameras installed on its body. Based on Nissan’s e-vehicle Leaf, it is named Nissan Smart Car 2015 (NSC-2015) and intended to show Nissan’s advanced technology to integrate information technology and future vehicle technology.

It has four cameras installed on front, rear, and two sides of the body, and image data coming from the four cameras are processed by the in-car device. Because NSC-2015 does not used the GPS, its system clearly recognizes information on the surrounding area even the area has a poor reception. It can be connected to a smartphone. Thus, NSC-2015 parks by itself following your instructions you give it through your smartphone. You can also set your smartphone to let you know that a suspicious person is coming close to your car in addition to giving him a warning beep. Nissan plans to put the new technology into practical use in a few years. 

Nissan’s Smart Car 2015 (NSC-2105)