If dogs could fly: ANA considering letting dogs on planes

August 24, 2016

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Dogs may soon be allowed to accompany their owners on flights with Japan‘s All-Nippon Airways, according to an article in the Japan Times.

This announcement follows a successful trial package tour conducted by ANA in late May of this year.

On that occasion, 87 passengers with between them 44 dogs were flown from Narita Airport to Kushiro in Hokkaido for a two-night stay.

According to the Japan Times, the basic package for two adults and one dog cost around ¥220,000 ($2,195 or €1,940).

What ANA’s trial flight demonstrated is that there is ample demand for services like this. Within just two days of going on sale, the tickets had already sold out.

Airlines usually require pets to travel in the cargo hold for domestic flights. For many pet owners this is a cause for serious concern, as they worry about the temperatures in the cargo hold.

This issue has also been acknowledged by some airlines.

The Japan Times article notes that ANA, for example, will not allow short-nosed dogs like bulldogs and chins to travel in the cargo area during the hot summer months, as these dogs are particularly prone to heat stroke and respiratory issues. 

On the ANA trial flight, however, dogs travelled in the cabin together with human passengers, albeit in cages strapped to the window seats.

There was also a veterinarian on hand in case any issues arose.

This is not the first time ANA has allowed animals to travel alongside human passengers. Prior to 2005, pets were allowed in the cabin on the airline’s international flights.

The service was discontinued, however, following complaints from passengers who suffered from allergies, or who generally felt uneasy in this environment.

The airline discovered an additional issue after the May trial. Specifically, that some passengers were reluctant to ride in an aircraft that had previously accommodated animals.

In response to this, ANA officials made clear that if the company does launch regular pet flights, it will do much more to inform customers about the way the cabin is cleaned after each flight. 

Despite this concerns, there are those in the tourism industry who expect great success if tours with pets do take off.

Professor of international tourism at Toyo University, Katsuhiko Shoji, who also happens to head a nationwide association promoting tours with pets, goes so far as to say that, “If long-distance travel becomes easier for them, Japan’s tourism industry will be revitalised.”

At the same time, Prof Shoji highlighted the need for cooperation from other actors in the leisure industry, such as hotels.

“Enabling pets to board the airplane is not the end goal. The cooperation of entities at the destination is also necessary,” he said.

 

Sources include: Japan Times

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Nissan launches electric cars in China

September 12, 2014

Nissan Motor Co. has launched an electric car known as the Venucia on to the Chinese market. In doing so, it becomes the first Japanese automobile company to sell such an eco-friendly car in China – the largest vehicle market in the world.

Nissan collaborated with Chinese automaker Dongfeng Motor Co. to develop the Venucia e30.

‘With Nissan Global’s advanced technology, sales experience and know-how of electric vehicle, the Venucia e30 has been locally developed through our careful studies about market situations and consumer needs in China‘ said Jun Seki, President of Dongfeng Motor Co.

The Venucia is closely based on the Leaf electric car launched in Japan in 2010, and functions in a similar manner, despite having undergone some styling alterations. The Venucia can be fully charged in 4 hours via a household socket and is thought to be 7 times more economical than petrol models in the country. After a full-charge, the car can travel up to 175km. 

Nissan will manufacture the vehicle at a factory in Guangzhou and hopes to sell 50,000 of the models in 2018. By this time, the company also aims to have taken a 20% share of the Chinese market for electric vehicles.

The Venucia will retail at around 267,800 yuan, or around ¥4.7 million (GBP 27,000), for the cheapest model, and will be eligible for the Chinese government’s tax exemption for electric cars –  introduced to help reduce air pollution in the country.

‘I am looking forward to seeing the Venucia e30 lead China’s electric-vehicle market into the future and also to more development of new energy vehicles and the wide adoption of electric vehicles in China.’ said Seki.

Sources: The Japan Times; EV Fleet World

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Hydrogen cars have the edge on Electric

June 5, 2014

Toyota Motor Corp will next year launch a hydrogen-powered car in the United States, Japan and Europe. For now, people at Toyota are calling it the 2015 FC car, for fuel-cell.

Hydrogen fuel-cell cars will cost significantly more than conventional cars and there are currently few refuelling stations. But Toyota believes that when they are compared to the other zero-emissions alternative, battery-powered electric vehicles, or EVs, fuel cells suddenly don’t look so bad.

Fuel-cell cars use a “stack” of cells that electro-chemically combine hydrogen with oxygen to generate electricity that helps propel the car. Their only emission, apart from heat, is water vapor, they can run five times longer than battery electric cars, and it takes just minutes to fill the tank with hydrogen – far quicker than even the most rapid charger can recharge a battery electric car.

“With the 2015 FC car we think we’ve achieved a degree of dominance over our rivals,” Satoshi Ogiso, a Toyota managing director, said in a recent interview at the group’s global headquarters. “With the car, we make a first giant step” toward making fuel-cell vehicles practical for everyday use.

What’s more, executives and engineers say Toyota is willing to sell the car at a loss for a long while to popularize the new technology – just as it did with the Prius, which, with other hybrids, now accounts for 14 percent of Toyota’s annual sales, excluding group companies, of around 9 million vehicles.

As a result, drivers in key “green” markets such as California may be able to buy the car for a little more than $30,000-$40,000, after government subsidies – if management approves a pricing strategy put forward by a group of managers and engineers. General Motors Co’s Chevrolet Volt, a near-all-electric plug-in hybrid, for comparison, starts at around $35,000 in the United States.

“It really provides all the benefits of a plug-in EV without the range anxiety and without the time it takes to recharge it,” says Bill Fay, group vice president of the Toyota division, in a interview at the Chicago Auto Show.

Since most battery-powered cars are limited to about 100 miles per charge, the term “range anxiety” has come to mean the worries that owners face about running out of juice before they can limp home or to a public charging station. Hydrogen cars can go hundreds of miles on a fillup, and the fillup only takes about five minutes, Fay points out.

Takeshi Uchiyamada, the 67-year-old “father of the Prius” whose success catapulted him from mid-level engineer to Toyota board chairman, says technology inefficiencies will make the battery electric car little more than an “errands car” – a small run-around for shopping, dropping the kids at school and other short-haul chores.

As with battery electric cars, a major challenge for fuel-cell automakers is a lack of infrastructure, with few hydrogen fuel stations in the world. Estimates vary, but it costs about $2 million to build a single hydrogen fuel station in the United States, according to Toyota executives.

At present, California, the state that once had planned a “hydrogen highway” of stations, has nine. But the state has plans to vastly increase the network, says Bob Carter, a senior vice president for Toyota.

Studies have shown, he says, that fewer stations than might be expected can support the needs of a lot of drivers. As few as 68 is enough to meet the needs of drivers of 10,000 cars.

Hydrogen fuel cell cars, Carter says, will “fundamentally change” how America thinks about alternative fuel vehicles.

However, many automobile manufacturers are staking their future on battery electric cars including Nissan Motor Co, Tesla Motors Inc, Bayerische Motoren Werke AG,GM, Ford Motor Co and Chinese automakers backed by the country’s industrial policymakers. China offers generous purchase incentives for those buying battery electric cars and aims to have 5 million “new energy” vehicles – mostly all-electric and near all-electric plug-in hybrids – on the road by 2020.

Tesla chief Elon Musk has said hydrogen is an unsuitable fuel for cars. In a videotaped speech last year to employees and others at a new Tesla service center in Germany, Musk said: “Fuel-cell is so bullshit. Hydrogen is a quite dangerous gas. It’s suitable for the upper-stage rocket, but not for cars.”

Even Toyota only expects tens of thousands of fuel-cell cars to be sold each year a decade from now as the new technology will need time to gain traction. Ogiso says Toyota has cut the platinum use per car by more than two-thirds through nanotechnology and stack-design improvements, and he expects to trim that further. Engineer Hitoshi Nomasa said a hydrogen-powered Toyota SUV now uses around 30 grams of platinum in the fuel-cell, down from 100 grams previously. Platinum currently costs $1,437 an ounce (28 grams) on world markets.

Toyota has also borrowed spare parts from the Prius and other gasoline-electric hybrids it sells around the world. While the fuel-cell car uses hydrogen as fuel, it otherwise resembles the hybrid models as both use electricity to power their motors.

While costs have come down significantly, Toyota says a hydrogen car’s fuel-cell propulsion system alone still costs it close to $50,000 to produce. That’s partly why some Toyota money managers want a more conservative pricing strategy – of $50,000-$100,000 – said one individual on the 2015 FC car launch team.

“It might be tough to price it below $50,000,” Ogiso said. “But anything is possible at this point.”

 

Sources: USA Today, Business Insider, Toyota Co.

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Formula 1 know how speeds up clinical drug tests and toothpaste manufacturing

April 30, 2014

During each of the 19 F1 Grand Prix races held in cities worldwide each year, McLaren engineers use continuous telemetry, or wireless telecommunication systems, to monitor cars streaking around tracks at speeds up to 220 mph in all kinds of weather. They gather information on everything from aerodynamics, fuel consumption, road conditions and tyre life. Those pieces of data are then streamed to McLaren’s servers back in Woking, suburban London, and fed into an algorithmic model that can instantly run thousands of possible scenarios and spit out predictive intelligence that its trackside crew uses to make super-fast decisions—when to schedule a pit stop, for instance—in races where milliseconds rule.

The main focus of the McLaren Applied Technologies (MAT) division is selling this ability to capture vast amounts of data in real time, feed it into models and run simulations that can be used to solve problems, aid decision making, design products and increase efficiency, all at blinding speed. McLaren’s expansion into applied technologies was instigated five years ago by Ron Dennis, McLaren’s chairman and CEO. In the decades since it was founded in 1968, McLaren has amassed technical expertise in the many areas required to keep complex race cars running as efficiently and safely as possible. Dennis wondered, Why not market that trackside-honed know-how to other industries? So McLaren is now applying its technological expertise—in areas that include exotic materials, aerodynamics and electronics—in sectors far removed from motor sports, ranging from health care and public transportation to data centers and oil-and-gas exploration.

This type of real-time data monitoring and response could have a tremendous impact on one of the biggest choke points in the drug development processes: testing efficiency. Patients in clinical trials for new drugs usually have their vital signs checked every few weeks or so, when they visit their doctor. Data collected at checkups are used by manufacturers to determine the efficacy of the drugs. It’s an inherently slow process: Many months are needed to gather enough patient data to be useful. It’s also a big reason why it usually takes 10 long and costly years to bring a drug to market after it’s discovered.

But that doesn’t mean the process can’t be improved. Last year, consultants McKinsey & Co. urged U.S. drugmakers to make better use of big data—for instance, to improve clinical trials or to model biological processes—claiming it “could generate up to $100 billion in value annually across the U.S. health care system.”

McLaren and the British multinational pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) are attempting to answer this call with a big-data experiment using a technology called “biotelemetry.” McLaren has customized the telemetrics technology that studies the “health” of its race cars to measure 24/7 the vital signs and mobility of patients involved in drug trials—in this case for arthritis and stroke-recovery therapies—so researchers can determine more quickly if a drug is or isn’t working, or is causing troubling side effects. If a trial needs to be stopped or altered, the faster that’s known, the more it saves time and money—and the more it can help patients. “Speed is a real imperative for [patients],” says Steve Mayhew, GSK’s head of research and development strategy, since some new drugs, like cancer therapies, might prolong lives by months and years.

Moreover, says Geoff McGrath, vice president in charge of MAT at McLaren, data streamed from patients in real time are a much richer source of intelligence than vital stats taken every few weeks at a doctor’s office. “When [a patient] goes to a clinic, it’s not really a real-world test.”

Now imagine applying the consistent efficiency of an F1 pit crew to a team of workers that runs a toothpaste manufacturing line. As improbable as that sounds, that’s what happened when GSK also began working with the McLaren Group to help it cut production times at its Sensodyne toothpaste plant in Maidenhead, England.

Formula One race cars barrel into the pit lane, decelerating rapidly from around 200 mph in the track to 50 mph in the lane, just before stopping in front of a 20-man team standing and squatting at the ready. Instantly, the team springs into its well-rehearsed and elaborately choreographed routine, and in just about 2.3 seconds, it’s done: four tires removed and replaced, the car ready to streak back onto the track. Sneeze and you miss it. To carry out this complex choreography with the speed and precision of an atomic clock clearly requires some serious planning.  After each stop, the team holds a debriefing session, going over what went right and what could have been improved.

McLaren engineers applied their pit stop processes initially to one production line. They grabbed data from the line’s machines, fed it into a model and ran simulations. They discovered that one of the biggest bottlenecks was changeover time—stopping the line to make a product change, say, to a different flavor—which took around 39 minutes. The line’s workers were then tutored in the kinds of time-saving procedures developed by McLaren pit crews. And they worked. The line’s downtime was halved, enabling it to boost production by nearly 7 million additional tubes a year.That’s why, this year, GSK will roll out McLaren-derived efficiency procedures at its consumer product manufacturing plants worldwide, beginning in three of its eight global regions: the U.S., U.K. and Spain.

 Source: News Week

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First whaling fleet leaves Japan since International Court ruling

April 29, 2014

Japanese fishing fleets have launched their first whaling hunt since UN courts called an end to the killing of whales in the Antarctic.

Four whaling ships set forth from the fishing town of Aykawa in Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, north-eastern Japan on Saturday morning. Despite the International Court of Justice’s recent order for Japan to cease all research whaling activities in the Antarctic Ocean, this whaling mission has gone ahead, towards the Sanriku coast, which is not covered by the International Court’s ruling.

Such ‘research whaling’ missions such as this one are intended to prove that the whale population is large enough to justify and sustain commercial hunting, hence its exclusion from the court ruling. However, some activists have suggested that the spring ‘research’ is nothing more than a way of continuing whaling through a loophole in the law.

The organizers of the whaling mission deliberated for some time over the specifics of the spring whaling event, eventually deciding  to proceed with research whaling this spring by cutting back on the number of mink whales to be caught by ten, from 61 to 51, due to the controversy surrounding the program.

The fleet’s departure marks the start of the country’s spring coastal whaling program, which has divided opinion across media across the world, attracting large amounts of criticism from anti-whaling countries such as Australia.

The scenes at the Ayukawa port, however, were far from hostile. In stark contrast to the departure of the wintertime Arctic hunt, which regularly sees violent protests from activists chasing down the fleet in an attempt to end the hunt, this weekend’s springtime departure was peaceful, with no protesters to be seen.

Japanese response to the International Court’s ruling was strongly mixed, falling ultimately in favour of the whaling fleets. Some Japanese governmental members dismissed the court’s ruling as nothing more than an example of cultural imperialism by the West, while local residents in Ayukawa expressed fears that the decision could ultimately ruin their livelihoods. Whaling forms a significant part of Japanese cultural heritage and economy, and is for many citizens a crucial source of income. Ayukawa was badly struck by the 2011 tsunami and earthquake, and has been recovering ever since: many locals say that without whaling, the community’s entire existence would be put at risk.

“No matter what the (ICJ) court ruling was, all we can do is let everyone see that we’re still hanging in there,” said Koji Kato, a 22-year-old whaling crew member. “People from outside are saying a lot of things, but we want them to understand our perspective as much as possible. For me, whaling is more attractive than any other job.”

Tokyo has called off its next Antarctic hunt, scheduled for late 2014, and has said that it will be modifying the specifics of the mission in order to make it more scientific. But vessels would still go to the icy waters to carry out “nonlethal research,” raising the possibility that harpoon ships might return to the Antarctic the following year.

Sources include: Japan Times, Asahi Shinbun

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Japan to increase number of foreign and female construction workers

April 4, 2014

The Japanese government has decided to allow more foreign workers to work in the construction industry following the growing demand for manpower in Japan, reported Kyodo News Network.

The building of facilities for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and planned reconstruction of areas hit by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami disaster, are drivers behind the ever increasing demand for workers in this sector, officials said.

The country has experienced a general labour shortage since spending on public projects was increased under President Shinzo Abe. 

Measures to create a new resident status, allowing apprentices from emerging economies working in the construction industry to remain in Japan longer than the current period of three years, will be introduced in April 2015. These measures will also permit previous trainees in Japan to return to the country.

The news comes at the same time as plans by The Japan Federation of Construction Contractors to double the number of skilled female construction workers in Japan to some 180,000 within the next five years to help ease the industry’s labor shortage.

“I hope more and more young people and women will enter the industry to help it remain attractive,” Mitsuyoshi Nakamura, chairman of the federation, said in February.

Sources include: Kyodo News Network; The Japan Times

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UK flooding and extreme weather linked to climate change

February 11, 2014

With the water level of the Thames at a record high, villages underwater and even more rain to come, the UK is searching for someone to blame, but is the real culprit climate change?…

With more than 130 severe flood warnings, which indicate a danger to life, issued in the UK since December 2013 compared with a mere 12 of the same for the whole of 2012, the storms battering the UK may not be unprecedented but are nothing short of exceptional said Dame Julia Slingo, chief scientist of the Met Office.

The extreme weather has caused flooding to over 5,000 homes over the past two months and thousands more are still at risk as the UK faces another period of rainfall with “no end in sight”.

14 severe warnings are currently in place in the Thames Valley area, while 2 remain in Somerset. The Somerset levels, a South Westerly region of the country, has been dealing with extensive flooding since the beginning of the year.

The Thames river, which runs through the South Eastern counties of Berkshire and Surrey, burst its banks yesterday, exceeding any water level reached since gauges were installed in th2 1980s, meaning many homes are now being evacuated. Train services have been disrupted between Hampshire and Berkshire and Somerset and Wales. Oxfordshire and Essex have also been affected.

While the UK government and the Environment Agency does its best to alleviate the crisis, debates continue as to who is to blame for the lack of preparedness. Some believe rivers should have been dredged (to remove excess silt build-up) and the Environment Agency has been heavily criticised for its poor handling of the crisis. People affected by the flooding have said they felt abandoned by the agency and the chairman, Lord Smith, now faces calls for his dismissal. Others believe government cuts have left funds for aid and flood defences lacking.

Whichever man-made solutions should or should not have been implemented, nature is at the heart of the problem. Evidence now suggests that the cause of what has been called “the most exceptional period of rainfall in 248 years”, may be climate change.

Speaking ahead of a Met Office report produced by the Centre of Ecology and Hydrology, Dame Slingo  said: “while there is no definitive answer for the current weather patterns that we have seen, all the evidence suggests that climate change has a role to play in it.”

The report itself suggests that the recent Polar Vortex in America and the storms hitting the UK are linked. Both caused by “perturbations” in the North Atlantic and Pacific jet streams, partly emanating from changing weather patterns in South East Asia and “associated with higher than normal ocean temperatures in that region”

Dame Slingo said of the connection: “The air that enters this storm system comes from that part of the Atlantic where it is obviously going to be warmer and carrying more moisture.”

“We also now have strong evidence that extreme daily rainfall rates are becoming more intense”

She warned that Britons should be prepared to face more regular extreme weather in the future and that sea levels were expected to rise by a foot over time. “That might not sound a lot, but when you are looking at storm surges, when you are looking at moving water from the Somerset Levels out to sea, it does matter.” she added. 

“The attribution of these changes to anthropogenic global warming requires climate models of sufficient resolution to capture storms and their associated rainfall,” the report said.

Such models are now becoming available and should be deployed as soon as possible to provide a solid evidence base for future investments in flood and coastal defences.”

For now however, there is no end in sight. The jet stream is not yet moving further north to resume its normal position and Sky News reports that groundwater levels are so high that the risk of flooding could remain until May – particularly in low-lying areas such as the Somerset levels.

“Andy McKenzie, a groundwater scientist at the British Geological Survey, told Sky News that even if the rain stopped today, so much water is soaking through the soil that levels are likely to keep rising for another two months.” (Sky News)

For live updates on the floods and the areas affected, see Sky News.

Sources include: BBC News; The Telegraph; The Financial Times; Sky News

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