Category Archives: SCI-TECH

Japan’s space defence policy charts its own course

(R to L) Makoto Yoshikawa , a Hayabusa2 project team mission manager of Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), Yuichi Tsuda , a Hayabusa2 project manager and Tomohiro Usui, the Institute of Space and Astronautical Science (ISAS), Department of Solar System Sciences Professor pose for photo after attending a press conference at JAXA's facility in Sagamihara, Kanagawa Prefecture on 6 December 2020. The capsule, believed to contain samples of sand and stone from the asteroid Ryugu that is located about 220,000 kilometers from Earth and separated from the probe Hayabusa 2, arrived at the facility on the same day (Photo: Reuters/The Yomiuri Shimbun).

Author: Saadia M Pekkanen, University of Washington

If history is a guide, conflict in space may well be inevitable. The ‘New Space Race’ both reflects and affects the present era of great power competition. Today space is a militarised and increasingly weaponised landscape.

Present trends indicate that the world’s leading space powers possess kinetic and non-kinetic anti-satellite capabilities. China demonstrated this in 2007, the United States in 2008, India in 2019, and Russia in 2020.

The rise of dedicated military space units is one response by governments to protect space assets that underpin their commercial and military standings. At stake is unfettered access and freedom to operate in outer space, now widely seen as a warfighting domain in a larger geopolitical contest. This is why leading powers such as the United States and China draw widespread attention when they move to establish military space forces, equip and train troops, preserve hardware or upgrade technologies.

But their less visible attempts to shape formal and informal alliances also deserve scrutiny. On one side are the United States, its commercial enterprises and its allies like NATO, Japan and Australia. On the other are China and its associates in the Asia Pacific Space Cooperation Organization (APSCO), its infrastructure investment partners from the Belt and Road Initiative that extends into space and its potential civil–military space partnership with Russia. The influence of these two contending leaders — …continue reading

    

Embrace the literary and the historical with traditional Japanese artwork as your Zoom background

Gorgeous visuals from some of Japan’s most revered art pieces now available for download.

The National Institute of Japanese Literature is Japan’s premier archive of historical documents and strives for their preservation as well as their analysis. These historical documents include a wide gamut of items, from scrolls embroidered in golden decal to 600-year-old bound compilations of delicately curated drawings. And now thanks to the generosity of this museum, folks can download and use beautiful traditional artwork as digital backgrounds for their video calls.

Ten pieces total will be provided by the National Institute of Japanese Literature, whether you need something to cover up your messy room or if you desire a more elegant look in a virtual conference setting. Spanning from the Heian Period (794 ~ 1185) to the advent of the Meiji Period (1868), the collection sources artwork spotlighting a variety of themes.

Some chosen scenes are infused with a supernatural spirit, such as this snapshot from a scroll titled Night Parade of One Hundred Demons, which features a motley troupe of yokai, or supernatural beings, on a romp to scare the local citizenry.

Other scenes captured cultural practices particular to the transitional time period between the Edo Period and the Meiji Period. The background below is a lavish account of an ee ja nai ka, or a dancing festivity where local citizens aired grievances towards the government.

▼ The phrase “Ee ja nai ka” itself, translated loosely to “Who cares?” in English, reflects the ribald and volatile nature of these gatherings where many participants are recorded to have been cavorting in the nude or even engaging in mob violence.

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We take a trip to Japan’s Lovot robot cafe, cuddle with a bot and learn how to love

Japan’s personal loneliness-busting robots have their own cafe, so naturally, we ran right over.

Have you heard of Lovot? Think Furby, but with all the dials turned up to eleven; a tiny, ambulatory robot covered in plush material that tootles after you around the house and even greets you when you get home.

▼ Its tagline is “Lovot may not be a living creature, but it will warm your heart.”

Unlike most robots, which are specifically developed in order to make our lives easier and assist us with tasks, a Lovot is designed to be helpless and dependent upon you, to tug at your heartstrings and help you feel less lonely. Despite a base price of 299,800 yen (US$2889) before tax, plus a monthly support fee of at least 8,980 yen, the little robots have clearly found their market — they’re so popular that ordering right now means you’d be lucky to receive your Lovot in late March, and various coverings and fashion items are already sold out.

If you’d rather test-drive a Lovot before committing to the hefty price tag, there’s a dedicated Lovot Cafe in Kawasaki (Tokyo’s neighbor to the south) that lets you book a 70-minute slot wherein you can socialize with a Lovot and boop its little nose all you like. Our Japanese-language reporter Ayaka Idate leaped at the chance and managed to secure herself one of its coveted time-slot reservations.

▼ The cafe from the outside.

Upon entering the cafe she was asked for her order. Ayaka eagerly placed an order for the 2,600-yen Lovot Avocado Burger Set (every meal set comes with a drink included; individual drinks cannot be ordered). While that’s on the pricy side for a burger set, there’s no …continue reading

    

Tokyo Olympic Committee trains 220 “hackers” to protect games

The real global competition might be going on behind the scenes.

As the world lumbers through a pandemic-ridden New Year where people have to weigh the risks of going to see a movie, Tokyo appears confident that its postponed 2020 Summer Games will still go ahead this July.

In fact, as an example of just how ready they are, the Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee revealed on 4 January that it had trained 220 white-hat hackers – which they awkwardly refer to simply as “white hackers” – to ensure cyber-security during the international sporting event.

▼ “Hi! I’m Chase, the white hacker you ordered.”

Fears of a cyber-attack during the games are warranted as the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang were heavily disrupted by a network breach and its official website was shut down. The 2012 Olympics in London also reportedly dealt with a “cyber-onslaught” according to a security consultant.

Japan’s own ability to withstand such attacks was called into question two years ago when the Minister in charger of the games admitted to having never touched a computer in his life. However, with him having stepped down from the position and this new team of eleven-score hackers revealed, things might be okay after all.

There is also the fear that this elite team was trained by a government that only a few months ago announced it would phase out the use of fax machines and wooden stamps. The good news here is that each member was plucked from existing IT companies with existing expertise and employment.

This is an important detail with the still-realistic possibility that the games get scrapped and we suddenly have over 200 disgruntled and unemployed white hackers on our hands.

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Lack of otaku blood from cancelled Comiket contributing to donation shortage in Japan

In a normal year, right now anime fans wouldn’t just be emptying their wallets, they’d be filling up blood vials too.

Twice a year, massive crowds gather at Tokyo’s Big Sight convention center for Comiket, Japan’s largest gathering of dojinshi comic creators. Otaku are so eager to be first in line to drop wads of cash on their favorite artists’ newest works that their mad dash from the station gates to the doors of Big Sight has become an event in itself.

At least, that’s what happens in a normal year. The coronavirus pandemic caused the planned May 2020 Comiket to be cancelled outright, and the customary December iteration to be pushed back until May of 2021. That means there was no Comiket flow of otaku cash this year, and also no flow of Comiket otaku blood.

See, for the past several years, the Japanese Red Cross Society has held a blood drive at Comiket, and the otaku community has been remarkably generous with its hemoglobin. The Red Cross usually sweetens the deal by giving donors an exclusive anime character poster for their cooperation, and the response has been so positive that about 1,500 otaku make a standard-size 400-mililiter (13.5-ounce) donation each Comiket, with organizers dispatching some 30 mobile blood donation buses to Big Sight.

▼ A Japanese blood donation bus

But no Comiket means no Comiket blood drive, and that’s especially unfortunate since right now Japan needs blood donations. In a normal year, blood donation buses and other blood drives are actually a pretty common sight in downtown Tokyo, often with signs posted letting passersby know what blood types medical facilities are especially in need of. However, when the pandemic …continue reading

    

社会的課題の解決に取り組む組織をサポート

2020 年はすべての人にとって試練の年でした。新型コロナウイルス感染症拡大との戦いが続く中でも、自然災害や社会的な不平等といった問題は厳然として存在しています。Google では、慈善事業部門である Google.org を通じ、様々な組織・団体を支援しています。今回、2020 年に日本で支援させていただいた 3 つのプロジェクトをご紹介します。

新型コロナウイルス感染症のモニタリングと予測

新型コロナウイルス感染症自体を解明し、私たちの生活やコミュニティへの影響を理解するために、多数の大学や研究機関、非営利団体等が研究活動に尽力されています。これらの活動を支援するために、Google.org は本年 9 月 10 日に新型コロナウイルス感染症対策に AI とデータ分析を活用しているプロジェクトに対し、総額 850 万米ドル以上の寄付を行いました。この対象には世界 31 の NGO と学術機関が含まれており、日本からは慶應義塾大学に支援を提供しています。

慶應義塾大学の研究チームは、自治体が実施する SNS を用いた新型コロナ対策パーソナルサポートを通じ、これに寄せられた自己申告モニタリングデータの精度評価を目指しています。精度評価は、感染拡大モニタリングと予測において、このような低コストで実施可能な調査の有用性を把握する上で重要なマイルストーンです。SNS モニタリングデータと国内で利用可能なその他のデータソースとを比較し、SNS モニタリング結果の正確性を評価します。本取り組みが、新型コロナウイルス感染症との戦いにおいて、技術活用に関する重要なインサイトを与えてくれることを期待しています。

洪水被害地域での取り組みに AI を活用

世界中で最も多くの人々に影響を及ぼしている自然災害は洪水だと言われています。2008 年から 2017 年にかけて洪水による被害を受けた人の数は、実に世界で 7 億 3000 万人以上にのぼります。このような災害対策支援の一環として、Google.org は今年、マサチューセッツ工科大学(MIT)に 50 万ドルを寄付しました。MIT は、非営利組織 Mercy Corps筑波大学と共同で、リアルタイムデータをより適切に解釈し、洪水の発生地域で災害対応に従事する管理者が、より迅速かつ正確な情報を取得できるように支援する AI テクノロジーツールを開発します。このツールは、行政による効率的かつ効果的な住民支援を可能にするべく、災害発生後の初期評価の準備に必要な時間を 50% 削減し、データ収集に必要な人員や時間を大幅に削減することを目的としています。

LGBTQ+ コミュニティにおける婚姻の平等を支援

世界中の LGBTQ+ 組織は、日々コミュニティに向けて重要なサービスを提供しています。しかし、新型コロナウイルス感染症の発生後、このような組織の多くは活動の一時的に停止するか、もしくはアドボカシーの取り組みを継続するための新たな手段を探さなくてはなりませんでした。Google では、今年、LGBTQ+ への意識を高め、コミュニティを継続的に支援できるよう、結婚の自由を推進、提唱する非営利団体「一般社団法人 Marriage For All Japan – 結婚の自由をすべての人に」への支援を提供しました。提供された資金は、 LGBTQ+ の従業員にとって平等かつ包括的な環境を構築する必要性を理解し、企業が真にグローバルな競争力を得ることができるように、関連情報を提供する Web サイトの立ち上げに活用されています。

上記でご紹介した 3 つのプロジェクトは、変化を推進する組織・団体を支援する Google の取り組みの一部です。Google では、社会的な課題の解決を目指す様々な組織と協力し、支援を通じて有意義な変化が社会にもたらされることを期待しています。

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今年はマスクをつけたサンタさんがやってくる!Google と一緒に追いかけよう!

明日はクリスマス。今夜、サンタさんは 9 頭のトナカイたちと一緒に毎年恒例の世界ツアーに出発します!


今夜は「サンタを追いかけよう」にアクセスして世界中の子どもたちにプレゼントを渡すサンタさんを、リアルタイムで追いかけましょう。 Google で「サンタ」や「クリスマス」と検索すると、検索結果ページに見慣れた赤い帽子が表示されます。帽子をクリックすると、あっという間にサンタ村に到着! さっそく今夜の出発に向けて旅の準備を進めるサンタさんや妖精たちのお手伝いをしましょう。

サンタ村では、プレゼントを煙突に落とすプレゼント ドロップなどのゲームを用意しました。家族やお友達と、どちらが多くプレゼントを届けられるか競争してみましょう。さらに妖精メーカーでは、あなたのオリジナルの妖精をデザインできますよ。今年は妖精たちもマスクをつけて、プレゼントの準備をするサンタさんを手伝います。皆さんもソーシャルディスタンスを保ちながら、サンタさんをお手伝いしましょう。


Google Arts & Culture では、塗り絵が楽しめる「Art Coloring Book – クリスマス版」を用意しました。サンタさんを待つ間、クラシックなクリスマスのアートワークからお気に入りの図柄を選んで、あなただけのオリジナル作品を作りましょう。

サンタ村でのお手伝いの後は、ミルクとクッキーを用意して、Google トレンドの特設ページ(英語)も覗いてみて下さい。世界でどんなクリスマス関連の言葉が検索されているかが分かります。去年に比べて、今年は世界的にクリスマスツリーやサンタさんに関する検索が増えているようです。トナカイ 対 妖精の検索量対決もチェックしてみてくださいね。

今年は本当に、本当に大変な年でした。そんな中でも、大人たちや子どもたちが皆お互いに思いやりを持って接していたことに、サンタさんは大きな感銘を受けたそうです。様々な工夫をしたり、デジタルツールを活用したりしながらソーシャルディスタンスを保ち、新しい挑戦に立ち向かいましたね。その様子を、サンタさんはちゃんと見ていましたよ。だって、サンタさんの Nice List(良い子リスト)は、今年、最長記録を更新したのですから!

今夜は風邪を引かないように暖かくしてサンタさんの旅路を一緒に見守りましょう。あなたのもとにも素敵なプレゼントが届きますように。

メリークリスマス!


Posted by サンタ村の妖精

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Mt Fuji looks unusual, sparks fears of possible eruption

Puzzled locals fear the sleeping giant may be coming to life.

Mt Fuji has long been praised as a national symbol of beauty, with its near-symmetrical silhouette gracing everything from bread to ice and even erasers. This peaceful imagery, however, makes it easy to forget that it’s actually an active volcano with the power to decimate its surrounding areas in seconds.

Those who live in the vicinity of the volcano are always mindful of the earth-shattering potential of the giant in their midst, so when they sense something unusual with the mountain, they definitely take note of it. That’s what’s been happening this week, when the mountain took on a very unusual look for December, appearing without snow, despite cold temperatures in the area.

これ·····今日の富士山ですよ············12月の富士山ですよ········?なんで雪ないねん······!?おかしい··········· pic.twitter.com/m8pME0suNm

— にやると (@unananan) December 20, 2020

The image above, taken today on 21 December, was accompanied with the following message:

“This is Mt Fuji today…Mt Fuji in December…? Why isn’t it snowing…!?? Strange………”

This lack of snow on the mountain prompted a number of commenters to jump to the conclusion that it might be a sign that the volcano is heating up, as it would during an impending explosion.

“Mt Fuji seriously looks like it’s about to explode.”
“Don’t erupt, Mt Fuji!”
“There’s no snow on one side of the mountain, despite being cold. Will it erupt? On New Year…”
“No no no no no no no — what kind of phenomenon is this?”
“It’s snowing a lot in the northeastern part of Kanto, and the temperature is low, so this is scary. Why is there no snow?”

It’s been over 300 years since Mt Fuji last erupted in 1707, and with experts recording heightened activity at the site since the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, many people are on edge over the possibility …continue reading

    

Bluetooth tombstones are here to help you mourn loved ones without breaking the bank

Just when we thought Japan had run out of things to make high-tech.

Japan is constantly coming up with new ways to make our lives more convenient via the latest technology, sometimes even inventing solutions to problems we didn’t know we had.

And now, continuing that tradition, you can buy tombstones with bluetooth technology.

At the Yachiyo Yukyu no Sato Cemetery in Chiba Prefecture, tombstones called Hikari have an electronic screen, allowing mourners to bring a special talisman with them when they visit, which activates the tombstone’s BLE (Bluetooth Low Energy) technology.

▼ Approaching the tombstone displays their loved one’s name, date of death, and so on.
After leaving, the screen reverts back to the default setting.

▼ The default screen on the tombstone displays the kanji for “light” (hikari).

Some of you may be wondering, “Why do tombstones even need bluetooth?” After all, it’s not like you’ll be using it as a makeshift speaker to blast some tunes, or to play a bit of Taiko no Tatsujin — at least, we hope not.

The reasoning behind this new invention is much more practical. Due to the aging population, the increase in popularity of individual tombstones, and the price of tombstones themselves which can cost up to seven million yen (US$68,000), communal tombstones have increased in popularity.

For those who pass away with no family members nearby, or those who can’t afford to buy a plot of land to make their own family tombstones, these cheaper, communal tombstones are used by many people from different families. And while this is cost effective and saves a lot of space in an already jam-packed country, for those wishing …continue reading

    

“AI, drones and 4K cameras: New tech boosts security systems in Japan”

Photo and story from The Japan Times, 12/20/2020.

An increasing variety of technologies such as artificial intelligence, drones and high-quality 4K video cameras is being introduced in the field of security amid a serious shortage of personnel in the field.

A virtual “AI guard” developed by major Japanese security firm Secom Co. was tested at Ogikubo Hospital in Tokyo in late October. An animated character displayed on an electric panel at the hospital entrance takes visitors’ temperatures and then welcomes those without fevers into the facility.

The character has been programmed to respond verbally to basic inquiries and can tell visitors where the bathrooms are located and what time their buses will arrive. It is also able to make eye contact with visitors and lean down when approached by children or people in wheelchairs.

A human guard is on standby at a separate location to monitor footage sent by the system’s camera and rush to the scene to respond to any trouble.

The hospital stations two to three employees at the facility’s entrance to conduct mandatory temperature checks and ensure visitors are wearing masks to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.

After observing the system in action, the hospital’s administrative director, Hayato Kawamura, said, “We may be able to move at least one employee to take care of other work.”

Another major security firm, Sohgo Security Services Co., known as Alsok, has been considering adopting an AI system to identify potential shoplifters by analyzing suspicious behavior in security camera footage.

The system can also be used to notify security guards of potential health emergencies by alerting them if someone falls over. Guards can then rush to the scene with an automated external defibrillator (AED).

The security firm has also been setting up high-quality 4K cameras at places …continue reading