Saturday, November 30, 2013

No. 814: Fiber made of carbon nanotube is developed by Kuraray's subsidiary (November 29, 2013)

Kurarayliving, one of the subsidiaries of Kuraray, developed fiber made of carbon nanotube. Because carbon nanotube has 10 times higher heat conductivity than copper, it can increase the temperature of a 70 cm-square cloth instantly using 100 volt electricity. In addition, the new fiber decreases power consumption by more than 20%. In the initial stage, the company plan to apply it to heating appliances like electric carpet as well as to snow melting equipment.

Polyester fiber is emerged in a liquid in which molecules of carbon nanotube are dispersed evenly for coating. In the past, it was rather hard to put in molecules in the same density when powder carbon nanotube is dissolved in a liquid, but Kurarayliving developed a special solvent that allows molecules to line in the same density for the first time in the world. The company plans to market the new fiber to electric appliance manufacturers starting December. It will be sold for 10,000 yen per square meter, and mass production is expected to halve the price in the future. 

 Kuraray corporate profile

Friday, November 29, 2013

No. 813: An unmanned flight robot for the inspection of infrastructures (November 28, 2013)

An unmanned flight robot

Prof. Kenzo Nonami of Chiba University developed an unmanned flight robot with six propellers. Equipped with a camera and the GPS, it can fly 3 km around freely to take pictures. It can fly through between bridge beams and windmill vanes and stand still in air, and go up to 500 m above the ground fast like a rocket if necessary.   

The robot returns to the base automatically when the battery runs out. The operator can fly it again after he replaces the battery with a new one. Prof. Nonami is now developing a technology to allow the robot to go down to the ground with the help of a parachute when it goes out of control while flying. It is designed to inspect the deterioration of such infrastructures as solar panels of photovoltaic generation, windmills of wind generation, bridge beams, and piping of iron works. It will be put on the market next spring.  

 Demonstration video of the unnmanned flight robot

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

No. 812: Successful development of the world’s thinnest and lightest car windshield (November 27, 2013)

Nippon Sheet Glass developed the world’s thinnest and lightest car windshield. The new windshield is 3.75 kg, 1 kg lighter than the existing car windshield of the same size. It has been adopted by Toyota’s three-wheel two-seater electric vehicle “i-ROAD” that has a 90 cm high and 50 cm wide windshield.  

The company reviewed the heating process of glass production, and developed 1 mm thick glass and glued it with another 2 mm thick glass to build a 3.75 mm thick windshield. Traditionally, two 2 mm thick glass sheets are glued together to build a windshield. If the new windshield glass is adopted by a four-wheel vehicle, the size of the windshield will be doubled. However, a vehicle that adopts the new windshield will be several kilograms lighter than the vehicle equipped with existing windshield of the same size. Nippon Sheet Glass plans to market the new windshield as a product that helps reduce fuel consumption. Nippon Steel Glass has about 25% share in the world’s car windshield market. 

Toyota's i-ROAD travels in Europe

Toyota's i-ROAD in the Tokyo Motor Show

No. 811: A cooling unit for a liner motor car that reduces helium gas consumption to 1/1000 (November 26, 2013)

Air Water developed a cooling unit for the next-generation linear motor car in collaboration with Railway Technical Research Institute. Because the new unit utilizes compression and inflation of helium gas, it can reduce helium consumption to less than 1/1000 of the helium consumption of the existing cooling unit. 

The new cooling unit sends compressed helium gas into the closed stainless tube in a uniform rhythm, and cools down semiconducting coils by repeating compression and inflation of helium gas. It can cool a semiconducting coil down to minus 223 degrees centigrade. It will be installed in the body of liner motor car, and four units will be enough to cover one car. The Liner Chuo Shinkansen is scheduled to be inaugurated in 2027, and it is decided to use liquid helium of minus 269 degrees centigrade for the cooling unit of semiconducting coils.   

  A five-car Linear Chuo Shinkansen 
travels at 500km/h in a test

Friday, November 22, 2013

No. 810: Plant-derived tire is developed by a Japanese tire manufacturer (November 22, 2013)

Sumitomo Rubber will put an oil-free tire on the market on Nov. 22 for the first time in the world. The oil-free tire is made of plant-derived materials including corn and field mustard. Oil-derived materials usually account for 60% of the existing tire. 

 The newly-developed oil-free tire (righjt) and 
a replica of the first tire produced in Japan (left)
The new time will be sold under the brand name Enasave (saving energy in Japanese) 100. It is 1.2 times stronger against wear than the existing tire. The suggested retail price of this new tire (195 mm wide) is 21,105 yen. The company plans to sell a tire whose rolling resistance coefficient is 50% lower than the existing tire in 2014, showing their determination to place the highest importance on developing products characterized by energy-saving and low-fuel consumption. The following two web pages explain Sumitomo's Enasave more in detail (in Japanese). 

Sumitomo's Enasave vs. Bridgestone's Regno

Thursday, November 21, 2013

No. 809: Successful development of a new LED chip capable of reducing blue light by 95% (November 21, 2013)

Showa Denko developed an LED chip that reduces blue light coming out from PC and smartphone screens by 95%. LED illuminations and liquid crystal displays use a blue LED as the main light source. A blue LED is said to be liable to make eyes dry and keep a man from falling asleep. The company successfully reproduced light almost the same as the light source of a blue LED by combining three colors of LED chips: purplish red, yellow, and blue green. The existing purplish red LED does not have enough brightness to be used as the light source of illumination, but the company successfully increased its brightness.

Because the newly developed LED chip does not use a blue LED, it can reduce blue light by 95%. Showa Denko wishes to commercialize the new LED chip and put it on the LC display and LED lighting market toward 2014. The new LED chip will be 2-3 times higher in price than a blue LED, but the price increase of lighting and LC display that incorporate the new LEC chip will be between 20% and 30%. It is estimated that 10 billion blue LED chips are produced monthly worldwide, and the company estimates the potential demand for replacement will be about 5% of the world production. 

Blue LED chips are flushing to reduce
traffic accidents at a tunnel exit in Tokyo

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

No. 808: A new approach to the prediction of torrential rainfall (November 20, 2013)

A Doppler radar
A research team led by Director Hiromu Seko of Meteorological Research Institute developed a new approach to increase the prediction accuracy of regional torrential rainfall. The new approach determines the increase and decrease trend of water vapor content with the help of radio waves that reflect off obstacles like transmission line tower and return to the observation radar of Japan Meteorological Agency, and take them into consideration for the calculation of precipitation and the region subject to rainfall. 

Because the Doppler radar cannot get data without raindrops, it cannot measure water vapor content before it rains. The research team calculated the refractive index of air using the conditions of radio waves returning from transmission line towers and confirmed that the increase and decrease trend can be determined from the time change the refractive index. They put the trend together with such data as temperature and wind in the calculation model and reproduced the lightening storm that hit the Tokyo Metropolitan area on August 4, 2008 and found that the experimental data agreed with the actual rainfall. The research results are scheduled to be presented in the autumn meeting of Meteorological Society of Japan on November 21. 

The torrential rainfall that hit Tochigi Prefecture
in the Kanto district on July 27, 2013

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

No. 807: Controlling power transmission and distribution on the second time scale (November 19, 2013)

Increased power supply increases frequency, while decreased power supply decreases frequency. Hence, electric power companies control output to keep frequency of their power transmission networks stable because failure to stabilize the frequency leads to power outage. NEC developed a technology to control power transmission and distribution by seconds. The new technology measures frequency and monitors overs and shorts of power using equipment installed in a lithium-ion battery. At the request of electric power companies managing power transmission networks, it controls storage and discharge of electricity automatically. It can control more than one million storage batteries. Repetition of discharge and charge is supposed to shorten the life of a lithium-ion battery, but the fluctuation of life can be ignored as long as remaining amount is kept around 50%.   

A company that manages power supply of multiple buildings is called aggregator. Electric power companies can reduce investment on equipment for the adjustment of power supply and demand using the service offered by aggregator. Aggregators have great presence in the U.S., but they are not widespread in Japan. NEC wishes to open up the road of the aggregation business with this new technology. In addition, the technology to manage a large number of batteries by remote control can be applied to the smart city concept. In Japan, electricity retailing will be liberalized in 2016. Because the output by photovoltaic and wind generation largely depends on weather, NEC’s new technology to control and adjust power supply on the second time scale will be of great help to the spread of renewable energy.  

Various efforts are being made to establish
stable power supply (Tokyo Station at night)

Monday, November 18, 2013

No. 806: Printing an electronic circuit directly on the body of a smartphone (November 18, 2013)

Toppan Forms developed a technology to print an electronic circuit directly on the body of a smartphone. The technology prints an electronic circuit by spraying an ink-like conductive metal. Because it can decrease the number of parts to be incorporated in a smartphone, a smartphone can be smaller and thinner. At the same time, because it allows for building an electronic circuit on an uneven area and curved area, it can be utilized to develop a wearable terminal like wrist watch and glasses. The company plans to put the technology into practical use in 2015.

The printing technology developed by Toppan Forms will 
allow a wearable terminal to be more sophisticated.

The company applied the printed wiring technology to develop this technology. The allowable temperature limit of polycarbonate resin that covers the smartphone body is 80 degrees centigrade. Toppan Forms successfully formed an electronic circuit without exceeding 80 degrees centigrade. The new technology prints antenna parts used to transmit and receive several radio waves on the smartphone body. Because a smartphone incorporates 7-8 antenna parts at present, it will decrease the number of parts and increase open area inside to increase the design freedom.   

Sunday, November 17, 2013

No. 805: Successful development of stable algae culture for biofuel (November 17, 2013)

IHI successfully developed a technology for stable culture of algae expected highly to be the next-generation biofuel for aircraft. The company confirmed that improved algae proliferated while maintaining the high concentration and reduced the estimates production cost per liter from 1,000 yen to 500 yen. IHI wishes to reduce the production cost further to 100 yen per liter to compete successfully with the existing aircraft fuel by 2020. 

 Successful stable mass cluture of 
Botryococcus outdoors

The most critical problem with alga fuel is mass production because it is necessary to realize mass culture even in the condition susceptible to contamination. IHI NeoG Algae, one of IHI’s subsidiaries, succeeded in stable culture of Botryococcus outdoors for more than half a year, opening up the road to mass production. The company plans to increase the culture scale by 20 times and conduct the substantiative experiment in a test plant of several thousand square meters. In Japan, IHI, Denso, and JX Nippon Oil and Energy are competing in the development of algae to be used for jet fuel for aircraft toward 2020.  

Research is in progress to develop algaes for fuel

Friday, November 15, 2013

No. 804: Using a fuel-cell bus as an emergency power source (November 15, 2013)

Supplying power from a fuel-cell bus
Toyota showed a demonstration experiment of supplying power to home electric appliances from a fuel-cell bus to the public. This is the world’s first experiment of this kind. The power supply was enough to operate electric appliances used in a standard household for about 40 days. The large-scale fuel cell installed on the bus generates electricity by reacting hydrogen and oxygen. The company plans to use this system for the evacuation area at the time of disaster. The fuel-cell bus is loaded with about 20 kg of hydrogen and capable of supplying 4-5 times more power than a standard fuel-cell vehicle. It can be used as a shuttle bus under normal conditions and as an emergency power supply when a disaster occurs. 

 This fuel-cell bus was developed jointly by Toyota and Hino Motor. It has a maximum output of 9.8 kW. The two companies are planning to increase the supply capacity to allow continuous power supply for 50 hours by improving generation efficiency and decreasing production cost. The bus is scheduled to be put on the market in 2016. Toyota Industries and Denso jointly developed an apparatus to convert direct current generated by the bus to alternative current.   

Enjoy a ride on the fuel-cell bus jointly 
developed by Toyota and Hino

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

No. 803: Using big data to improve fuel economy of domestic vessels (November 13, 2013)

Idemitsu Kosan and Ube-Mitsubishi Cement are scheduled to introduce a system that analyzes big data for better fuel efficiency to their domestic vessels next autumn. They will conduct a demonstration experiment using a system developed by National Maritime Research Institute. A total of 40 vessels including oil tankers and cement carriers will participate in the demonstration experiment. The base on land gets information on wind, wave, and ocean current in real time and transmits information on the optimal route to the terminals installed in the vessels. The system also instructs them to slow down to economize fuel. It is customary for a domestic vessel to navigate at full speed in the shortest possible route and lay at anchor off the port should it reach earlier than scheduled. Following the route instructed by the system is expected to reduce fuel consumption by 10%. 

 Analyzing big data will help a domestic vessel 
reduce fuel consumption

The demonstration experiment will also test a system developed by National Maritime Research Institute to prevent empty load. The system makes it possible to draw a plan on the vessel to use, cargoes to load, and port of landing with information on port of shipment, kinds and amounts of cargoes, and delivery time. Idemitsu, for example, has four refineries in Japan and ships various kinds of oil products to 18 bases nationwide. That is, there are numerous numbers of combinations in drawing a transportation plan. The system is expected to decrease the number of empty cargoes and reduce fuel consumption by 6%. Mitsubishi Heavy and NEC agreed to develop an energy-saving system jointly. Using NEC’s big data analysis technology, the system will estimate fuel consumption with a high degree of accuracy. It utilizes such information as past records of fuel consumption, weather, and time, and controls the number of engines to operate. Mitsubishi Heavy is scheduled to market the system by the end of 2014.

C heavy oil is now about 73,000 yen per kiloliter, three times higher than 10 years ago. Fuel cost accounts for 30-40% of the operation cost of a domestic vessel. Domestic vessels are estimated to have consumed 2.4 million kiloliters for 200 billion yen in 2012. Reducing fuel consumption by 15% will save 30 billion yen.    

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

No. 802: Lamborghini collaborates with a Japanese university to develop carbon fiber (November 12, 2013)

Business trend:
Lamborghini, an Italian automaker, agreed with Nagoya Institute of Technology to collaborate in the development of carbon fiber. The company established a laboratory in the university to address seriously business-academic collaboration to establish a low-cost and faster mass production technology of advanced composite materials. Famous for the birthplace of Toyota, the Chubu district is growing very fast today as a cluster of advanced technologies and industries.

Lamborghini Aventador that has an autobody
made of carbon fiber

In the press conference, the first laboratory director told that his laboratory will develop carbon fiber not only for exterior parts but also for interior parts including engine and market research results to automakers and aircraft makers. His laboratory will conduct joint research with Uchida, a carbon fiber processing company, and Mitsubishi Rayon. Carbon fiber is 10 times stronger than iron and weighs one fourth of iron. It is widely applied to aircraft, but is applied only to luxurious supercars like Lexus LFA and Italian supercars. 

Some day, you can drive a Lexus LFA

Sunday, November 10, 2013

No. 801: Japanese prime minister experiences the automated driving system (November 10, 2013)

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe got in the passenger seat of the demonstration cars and experienced the state-of-the-art automated driving systems. Toyota, Nissan, and Honda conducted a demonstration experiment of their automated driving cars on the public road for the first time on November 9. 

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in the passenger seat

The demonstration cars traveled near the Diet building and the three drivers explained their cars to the prime minister in the passenger seat. The prime minister experienced a lane change and a sharp curve, and truly got excited with the advanced technologies developed by the three automakers.   

 Prime Minister Shinzo Abe experiences the 
Japanese automated driving systems 

Saturday, November 9, 2013

No. 800: Sheet-like sensor to detect the moves of people inside a room (November 9, 2013)

NEC developed a technology to detect the moves of people using a sheet-like sensor spread on the hallway or room. Detecting slight changes of electric wave caused by the moves of a person, the sensor can tell the position of the foot and direction of plural persons in real time. The company plans to put the technology into practical use in 2015. 

The system to detect the moves of people
 using a sheet-like sensor 

The sheet is less than 1 cm thick, and it is made up of the layer in which wiring to emit electric waves is set and the one that detects the electric waves. Imperceptible electric waves are emitted from the sheet-like sensor anytime, and the system detects the changes that occur when a man passes on the sheet. The system can distinguish between the right foot and the left foot, and can tell the direction and move with an error less than 1 cm. In the experiment, the system can tell the moves of wheelchair, guide dog, and walking stick.

The sheet-like sensor will be useful for hospitals and welfare facilities where monitor cameras are hard to install due to the consideration for privacy. At the same time, it will be helpful in the place where monitor cameras are affected by the amount of sunlight. The installation cost of the sheet-like sensor will be a few percent of the cost required to install an infrared sensor. NEC plans to sell the system that includes analysis software for a 20 m long and 2 m wide hallway for less than 2 million yen.   

 Wireless power feeding 
using a sheet-like communication medium 

Monday, November 4, 2013

No. 799: Technology of person recognition in poor weather conditions (November 5, 2013)

NTT plans to put a high performance electric wave camera capable of giving distant views even in poor weather conditions, such ass rain and dense fog, into practical use in five years. The new camera receives electromagnetic wave called millimeter wave that is not absorbed by moisture in the air as easily as infrared light. Focusing attention on millimeter wave, the company has been conducting joint research with Nissan since 2009. NTT has been developing lens and antenna that receive milimeter waves besides circuit design, while Nissan has been working on processing of electric signals.   

Image of the system
At the experimental stage, the milimeter wave camera successfully detected a person walking 40 m ahead in the snowy condition. It is now necessary to increase the sensitivity of the system and downsize the equipment. In the first stage of practicalization, NTT Group will install the new cameras on the roadsides to monitor the traffic situation. The images taken by the monitor will be transmitted to the car navigation system or the smartphone of the following vehicles to help their drivers know the traffic situation. The technology involved in the milimeter wave camera is rather promising as the basic technology to improve the automated driving system in which every automaker has a fierce competition.

Person detection software to avoid an impact accident

The person recognition technology recommends
a drink suitable to you, like it or not.

No. 798: Japanese technology increases its presence in urban transit in Southeast Asia (November 4, 2013)

Business trend:
Urban transit in Tokyo
JR Eastgot an order for urban transit from Thailand with Marubeni and Toshiba for 40 billion yen. The project is for the 23 km new line to be constructed in Bangkok. The order is a so-called packaged order that includes 63 rolling stock cars, overhead wiring, signaling systems, facilities and equipment of 16 stations, rail yards, and maintenance of all equipment. JR East will dispatch about 20 staff members to Thailand to develop human resources locally. JR East’s subsidiary will build rolling stock cars, Toshiba procure equipment, and Marubeni manage the project. 

Hitachi got an order for rolling stock cars and signaling systems from Vietnam for the urban transit of Ho Chi Minh. Sumitomo Corp. and Mitsubishi Heavy secured an order for information systems for the operation management of the urban transit in Indonesia. Marubeni obtained an order for rolling stocks and signaling systems from the Philippines for the urban transit in Manila. JR Central provided technology assistance to the Taiwanese bullet train system, while Tokyo Metro is helping Vietnam with its management of the subway to be constructed in Hanoi. The world railway infrastructure market is estimated to increase 20% over the present level to 22,000 billion yen in 2020.    

 JR East tries very hard to observe 
the train schedule even in a snowy day