Universities plan to build android of Japanese literary great Soseki Natsume

RocketNews 24:

Soseki Natsume: writer, a man long dead. We can rebuild him. We have the technology. We can make him better than he was: better, stronger, faster…

With 2016 marking the 100th anniversary of his death and next year celebrating his 150th birthday, this is perhaps an appropriate time to honor one of Japan’s greatest writers, Soseki Natsume. And what better way to pay tribute to the author of classics such as Kokoro and I Am a Cat than by making a robot of him?

That’s exactly what the Nishogakusha University Graduate School is planning. In 1881, a young Natsume was enrolled there and heavily influenced by their teachings of Chinese poetry and Confucianism. And to celebrate the institution’s 140th anniversary they are hoping for his return, only this time as “Soseki Android.”

First, a team of students at Nishogakusha will conduct in-depth research into Natsume’s life, revisiting not only his extensive written works and life story but also gathering information about his physical appearance and size for an accurate android. To help out, major newspaper Asahi Shimbun has agreed to allow them access to their large collection of photos and works of their former employee Soseki Natsume.

▼ Old-timers in Japan may remember Natsume as the guy on the 1,000 yen bill 

Once the necessary information has been gathered, a team at the Osaka University Graduate School of Engineering Science will take on the challenge of building Soseki Android with the assistance of robotics company A-Lab, who made headlines with their Asuna android last year.

The sound of Soseki Android will be extracted from samples of his grandson Fusanosuke Natsume’s voice.

When the robot is complete, they hope to program him to give lectures at universities, high schools, and junior high schools. Understandably, a robotic Soseki Natsume might be a little too intense for elementary school kids.

The aim is to breathe life into his works by allowing the students to witness Soseki Natsume reading and discussing them first-hand. It is hoped this will inspire them to read and write more, improving their language skills.

Futuristic “wearable chair” exoskeleton allows you to sit while standing

If you work a job where you’re standing all day, you’ll know how much strain you can put on your feet, hips, and joints. Depending on the line of work, you may have the opportunity to sit down and give your legs a break throughout the day, but if you’re, say, a medical surgeon, you don’t always get that option.

But what if you had a chair with you at all times? What if you could sit without actually sitting? It sounds absurd, but the archelis “wearable chair” allows for just that.

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Planned and produced by Japanese company Nitto under the supervision of Chiba University’s Frontier Medical Engineering Center, archelis simply straps onto your legs, allowing the “chair” to move along with you. By bending your knees and putting your weight on the upper sections of the unit, archelis supports your body in the same way as if you were sitting, taking the strain off your tired legs and feet.

▼ Pictured: not Portal 2‘s long-fall boots

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The device is ergonomically designed using a combination of tough metal and carbon to be both durable yet is light enough to allow for comfort and ease of movement. For surgeons who need to stay standing and focused for hours on end, this could be the welcomed relief they need.

Archelis is still in development and does not yet have a set price or release date, but any updates on production will be announced on the website. While the unit was designed with medical staff in mind, we can definitely see this being used in a number of different applications, such as allowing people who have difficulty walking or standing for long periods of time a little respite.

Japan unveils Laundroid, the world’s first laundry-folding robot

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RocketNews 24 (by Oona McGee):

If there’s a menial task that takes up a substantial amount of time, you can bet Japan is developing a robot for it. So far we’ve seen gems like the 24-fingered hair-washing robot, the floor-cleaning bot and the robot that feeds you tomatoes while you run.

Now, a new generation of self-automated robotic assistance is set to make life easier for families in the very near future, with an amazing new machine that folds your laundry.

This impressive new piece of technology, called the Laundroid, is a joint collaboration between Japan’s largest homebuilder, Daiwa HousePanasonic, and Seven Dreamers, a technical company that previously worked on the “Hayabusa” asteroid spacecraft and now wants to deliver “space quality” technology and products to people on earth.

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The sleek machine is designed to look like an ordinary cupboard. With Daiwa House involved in the project, it’s likely their package homes will include the Laundroid for homebuyers in the future.

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Attendees at the annual Combined Exhibition of Advanced Technologies (CEATEC) trade show in Japan yesterday were treated to a demonstration of the Laundroid in action, when it folded a freshly dried T-shirt using image analysis and robotics built inside the machine.

By using image analysis, the machine is able to identify the type of clothing received, which then sets off the robotic processes required to fold the garment. Currently, the machine can fold T-shirts, collared shirts, skirts, shorts, trousers and towels. Socks remain the robot’s biggest challenge, although the makers aim to have this sorted by the time the machine is released.

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▼ The robotics remain a highly guarded secret, with the folding movements heavily pixelated during the on-stage presentation.

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With no need to sort the laundry before using the machine, it’s estimated that a full load of clothes will take approximately seven hours to fold, meaning the machine can be set before bedtime or in the morning before work.

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Pre-orders for the Laundroid will begin next year, followed by a release of beta models and then folding machines for commercial use. Following that, in 2019, the creators plan to release the final product, with plans to ultimately create a full wash, dry and fold system so users can reclaim some of the estimated 18,000 hours, or 750 days, that people spend doing laundry in their lifetime.

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While we’ll have to wait to find out how much the laundry-folding bot will be, we’re thrilled to know that this invention will be coming out on the market. Until then, it’s back to the laundry basket to fold those clothes!

Haneda Airport to give their workers super-human strength with robotic exoskeletons

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RocketNews 24:

A number of developed countries around the world are experiencing declining birth rates, as people focus more on building careers and social life than on repopulating for future generations. While lower birth rates aren’t necessarily a bad thing — they tend to arise from increased education in a society — it can prove worrisome for countries like Japan, which experts predict will see a population decline of more than 20 million people by the year 2040.

With a skyrocketing number of centenarians and not enough people to support them, what’s a country to do? There is the option of recruiting more women into the workforce, or increasing the number of immigrants to fill in the gaps, but with so many elderly people on hand, why not keep them working by giving them the power to get the hard work done with robotic exoskeletons?

Haneda Airport in Tokyo has partnered up with Japanese robotics company Cyberdyne to give their workers the extra strength needed for the back-breaking task of lifting heavy luggage. The tool for the job? A robotic exoskeleton called HAL for Labor Support, HAL being short for hybrid assisted limb.

The company previously introduced a full-body robotic suit back in 2013, called HAL. This newer version is much smaller, and uses bioelectric signals from the wearer’s muscles to aid in movement, effectively allowing someone who weighs 110 lbs (around 50 kg) to easily lift up to 45 lbs (23 kg).

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The HAL apparatus itself is super lightweight and, as Cyberdyne states on its website, since “…the devices are designed so light that female or elderly workers can wear, they will encourage the participation of those various people into a society with a low birthrate and aging population.”

When you don’t have enough workers to do the backbreaking labor, why not bring in some robotically-enhanced elderly people to do the job?

While the device is meant to help people lift and move objects beyond their normal physical means, Cyberdyne CFO Shinji Uga also stated: “The main purpose of this type of robot is to prevent back pain.”

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In addition to the exoskeleton, Cyberdyne has also introduced floor robots (resembling giant Roombas) that can cart loads up to 400 lbs (181 kg) and can also clean airport terminals. Hopefully it won’t end up making any messes worse…

▼ Check them out in action

Cost efficient robots will run a Japanese hotel

 

Courtesy of mnn.com and Huis Ten Bosch.

Audrey Magazine:

When I think of robots, the word “helpful” doesn’t exactly come to mind. Sure, they could be developed to take on simple tasks like vacuum your home, but that’s about as comfortable as I get with robots. Maybe Hollywood is to blame for my negative viewpoint, but I when I think of robots, I picture man-made machines that could possibly malfunction and cause problems rather than solve them. Lucky for me, other than simple household items or toys, I haven’t seen or experienced significant robotic interactions in the United States.

However, the same can’t be said for Japan where there is continuing development and use of robots. This summer, the Henn-na Hotel in Nagasaki, will open its doors and guests will experience an ideally normal, pleasant hotel stay. The only difference? The hotel will be predominantly run by advanced robots.

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According to mnn.com, guests will probably have no interaction with human hotel workers. These robots, or “actroids” will speak Japanese, Chinese, Korean and English. Although this high-tech and high end hotel will have 90% of its operations run by robots, there will still be humans present should malfunctions in the system occur.

So why use robots when people would have to stand by anyway? It is cost efficient. Unlike human workers, robots have no salary, no sick days, no need for health insurance, etc. Ultimately, no humans, no human concerns for the company.

Technology is constantly changing in our fast-paced world and yes, technology is an essential tool for us today. Economically, I understand the Henn-na’s decision to use robots. However, doesn’t that take away from the human experience of being warmly welcomed as a guest? Wouldn’t you want an actual pleasant greeting into the hotel and the front desk telling you their opinions on what restaurants to try or what recommended attractions are close by? Lastly, can we say we trust those people that are running and controlling these robots?

 

Meet hyperreal android “Asuna”

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RocketNews 24:

Wonder Festival is a semiannual Japanese convention dedicated to model and figure-building which attracts all manner of pros, amateurs, and cosplayers from across the country. Most recently, the Winter 2015 Wonder Festival was held at the Makuhari Messe Convention Center in Chiba City on February 8.

Our reporter Meg was busy checking out the show when she spotted a cute girl standing behind robotic company A-Lab’s booth. “Aww, she looks just like an idol from AKB48!” Meg thought. But when she got closer, she was shocked to realize that the girl was actually a hyperreal-looking android! In fact, many of the people attending the exhibition were equally stunned to learn that Asuna was an android, and not a living, breathing human girl. Would you have been tricked along with them?

Asuna, the android that’s attracting attention from all over the world

People often look at humanoid robots and think “That’s creepy!” However, Asuna is so human-like that you might find yourself thinking “She’s cute!” instead. Researchers have determined that there is a human instinct to react with disgust when people see something, such as a doll or robot, that appears to be too human while still falling short of looking exactly like the real thing. That said, researchers are now investigating the possibility that extremely human-like robots such as Asuna have the ability to bypass this repulsion entirely and be viewed merely as other people instead.

According to her official profile, Asuna is a beautiful 15-year-old who was “born” in Tokyo. She is 155 cm tall (61 inches) and weighs 43 kg (95 lbs).

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Our reporter felt an instant affinity to Asuna’s lifelike movements

Sure, you’ve probably seen pictures of humanlike robots before, but the true charm behind this android lies in her movements. Meg comments that she was blown away by the sheer naturalness of Asuna’s mannerisms. From the way she blinks and squeezes her eyes shut to the shape her mouth makes as if she were about to yawn, Asuna is truly on a different level from other androids.

Take a look at Asuna’s incredibly lifelike facial movements in the following video:

What it feels like to touch one of Asuna’s ears

Meg felt like the secret behind Asuna’s lifelike appearance had something to do with her skin, so she was pleased to learn that visitors to the booth could touch a sample of one of Asuna’s ears. Expecting to touch something hard, Meg was surprised to feel something soft and squishy instead. “Hey, this actually feels kind of nice,” she thought. Apart from having no warmth, it actually felt similar to a real girl’s ear.

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A-Lab, the same company that built the “Matsukoroid”

The folks at Tokyo-based A-Lab have been involved with many projects, of which Asuna is just one. They are in fact the same company that developed the“Matsukoroid,” another android that could be a carbon copy of Matsuko Deluxe, the plus-sized Japanese TV personality known for his cross-dressing stage persona and deep voice. “Matsukoroid” will reportedly join the real Matsuko as early as this April on a new TV program appropriately called “Matsuko and Matsuko.”

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We’ll leave you now with some more photos of Asuna from Wonder Festival. Who knows, maybe a robotic idol group isn’t that far from reality!

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Singapore restaurant uses autonomous drone waiters