US engineers build self-folding origami robot

August 15, 2014

A group of engineers from Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have succeeded in creating a self-assembling robot.

The robot’s assembly process relies upon origami, a traditional Japanese paper-folding craft.

Made from a composite sheet of paper, polystyrene and a circuit board, the machine can fold itself up from a flat sheet into a four-legged beetle-like form, and crawl away autonomously. The design also includes two motors, two batteries and a microcontroller. Hinges were programmed to fold at specific angles. Each hinge contained embedded circuits that produce heat on command from the microcontroller. The heat triggers the composite to self-fold in a series of steps.

When the hinges cool after about four minutes, the polystyrene hardens – making the robot stiff – and the microcontroller then signals the robot to crawl away at a speed of about one-tenth of a mile per hour.

“We were originally inspired by making robots as quickly and cheaply as possible,” says Sam Felton, doctoral student at Harvard and lead author of the paper described in Science. “The long-term plan is printable manufacturing; the short-term plan is building robots that can go into places where people can’t go.”

The robot is controlled by a timer which means that 10 seconds after the battery is inserted it will begin assembly.

Felton came upon the final design after testing around 40 prototypes. He fabricated the sheet using a solid ink printer, a laser machine, and his hands. Assembly took around 2 hours.

As the pre-stretched polystyrene hardens after assembly, the robot cannot yet unfold itself and return to a flat sheet form.

‘There is a great deal that we can improve based on this foundational step,’ said Felton. He plans to experiment with different kinds of shape memory polymers, including those that are stronger and require less heat to activate.

The potential applications of this type of machine are wide-ranging, stretching beyond the cheap manufacturing of robots.

‘Imagine a ream of dozens of robotic satellites sandwiched together so that they could be sent up to space and then assemble themselves remotely once they get there – they could take images, collect data, and more,’  said Felton.

Source: The Engineer; Bloomberg Businessweek 

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A robot with a heart: Japanese company unveils newest creation

June 6, 2014

Japanese company Softbank has unveiled its newest design: a robot able to respond to human emotions. Using a cloud-based artificial intelligence system and an “emotional engine”, the robot, known as “Pepper”, is able to to interpret human voice tones, expressions and gestures, and perform various tasks.

In the past several different robotics companies have claimed to have created robots that read or mimic human emotions, but Softbank CEO Masayoshi Son told a press conference it is the first time in history a robot has been given a heart.

The firm said people can communicate with Pepper “just like they would with friends and family” and believes it could become a household aid to the elderly, especially in countries like Japan with rapidly ageing populations.

“Even if one can pre-programme such robots to carry out specific tasks based on certain commands or gestures, it could go long way in helping improve elderly care,” said Rhenu Bhuller, senior vice president healthcare at consulting firm Frost & Sullivan.

Softbank is a majority stakeholder in French company, Aldebaran Robotics. The two firms developed Pepper in collaboration. Bruno Maisonnier, founder and chief executive of Aldebaran said: “The emotional robot will create a new dimension in our lives and new ways of interacting with technology.”

Japan has one of the world’s largest robotics markets, which was estimated to be worth around 860 billion yen (approx £5 billion) in 2012.  The country employs more than 250,000 industrial robot workers. According to a trade ministry report last year, the Japanese robotics market is expected to have more than tripled in value to 2.85 trillion yen (£16.5 billion) by the year 2020.

Pepper will go on sale to the public next year for 198,000 yen ($1,930; £1,150). According to the company, it will be available at stores nationwide.

A prototype version of the robot will also serve customers in Softbank’s mobile phone stores.
Sources: BBC News; The Telegraph
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TJC offers an extensive global network of professional & experienced multilingual translators, proof-readers and interpreters. We also have academic researchers, specialists and speakers, who are all native speakers of over 100 languages. Our expert translators and interpreters are based all over the globe and can assist you with projects of all kinds.

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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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Air-powered Lego car driven through suburban Melbourne

January 6, 2014

What do you get if you cross a Romanian technologist, an Australian entrepreneur, 40 investors and 500,000 plastic bricks? A real car made entirely of Lego of course! 

Running on 4 air-powered Lego engines, 256 Lego pistons, only the wheels and a couple of gauges are not constructed from Lego. The car, dubbed the Super Awesome Micro project, is the brain-child of Romanian “teenager” Raul Oaida and Australian technology enthusiast Steve Sammartino, who met on the internet and came up with the idea. Knowing they lacked the necessary funds to complete the project, Sammartino sent out the following tweet. “Anyone interested in investing $500 – $1,000 in a project which is awesome and a world first tweet me. Need about 20 participants.” 40 Australians willingly contributed cash to the project (which ended up costing $60,000 in Lego bricks alone!)

The pair built the car in Romania over 18 months and shipped it to Australia. After reassembling some of the major components once there, the pair drove it, at up to 20km/hr through the streets of suburban Melbourne – all the while a little anxious about a potential Lego explosion. None came, however, and the car has since attracted a lot of attention from Lego-lovers the world over.

“This can’t have been an easy thing to make, let alone to make move. The engine in particular must have required some innovative thinking,” said Matt Saunders, deputy road test editor of Autocar magazine.

This invention is perhaps the technological equivalent of art for art’s sake: not very useful but a sheer wonder to behold!

Why not have a look at the car in action?

Sources Include: BBC News; YouTube

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Could your smartphone save your life? App designed to give earthquake warning.

December 3, 2013

A minute may not seem like a long time but when an earthquake is about to hit, a few seconds advance warning can be the difference between life and death…

A smartphone app which alerts users of an impending earthquake between one minute and a few seconds in advance of impact could be ready as early as next year, say scientists at the World Science Forum in Rio de Janiero.

The app, presented by researchers from UC Berkeley Seismological Laboratory, adapts smartphone functions such as the GPS system and accelerometer (which determines the speed at which the phone is moving) to detect P-wave tremors, their direction and the time they are likely to reach the phone’s location. It also uses algorithms and information from seismic networks to determine the location, strength of the earthquake and time it is likely to reach its zenith – using this information to issue alerts to residents in potentially affected areas.

Those located at the epicenter of the quake will not able to receive the warning via their mobile phones, however data will be transmitted in a chain to other receivers so those at a distance of a few kilometers will be able to glean more information on what is happening where and what is likely to happen next.

“All we need is a telephone at the epicenter of the quake which detects it and sends the information (saying) ‘I felt a jolt, I am in this place’ to a server,” explained Richard Allen, head of the research team at Berkeley University, California.

“There are many phones simultaneously doing this to enable the server to determine the site and magnitude of the quake to send people further away a warning. These warnings include (information on) how much time to the start of the tremor and also its intensity.”

This is precious time for people to find shelter and switch off vehicles or halt production, resulting in safer conditions when the earthquake hits and reducing the risk at large.

Currently smartphones are able to detect magnitude 5 earthquakes up to 10km away, however Allen believes it will not be long before accelerometers are improved enough to detect quakes with a 3 magnitude up to 100km away.

Information on the intensity of the quake also allows communities to make informed decisions about what action they need to take to reduce devastation. 

With 1 billion smartphones in use across the globe, it seems this technology really could save lives.

Sources include: Japan Today, The Nation, SciDev.net

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Equipped with the broad range of skills which our network provides,TJC Global has been able to deliver a focused and dedicated service to our diverse range of clients for more than 20 years. This is why we have obtained the trust of our clientele and enjoy a reputation of being a global leader in our field.  You can also visit our sister site for professional Japanese translation and interpretation services.

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Tokyo Skytree: The Opening of the Tallest Free-Standing Tower in the World

June 15, 2012

Thousands of visitors flocked to the opening of Tokyo’s new landmark on Tuesday 22nd May, as the world’s tallest tower, the Tokyo Skytree (東京スカイツリー Tōkyō Sukaitsurī), was opened to the general public for the first time.

Although Dubai’s 829m (2720 ft) Burj Khalifa remains the tallest building in the world, the Skytree is still able to lay its claims to being the tallest tower on the planet, thanks to a recognised distinction between a building and a tower.

After four years in construction (including special measures to ensure earthquake-resistance) and at a cost of 65 billion yen (£517m) Skytree now stands as the tallest tower on the planer, at a height of 634m (2080 ft), nearly twice that of the Eiffel Tower. Skytree will function as a broadcasting tower, with its unprecedented height allowing for the clear transmission of television and radio signals. The broadcasting of such signals had, until now, been becoming increasingly difficult, with the rise of multi-storey buildings in Tokyo. Skytree will now be used by six different television stations in Japan for transmission.

Of 200,000 visitors to the Skytree on opening day, around 8000 had reserved first-day admissions passes, with some reportedly having waited in line for more than a week to secure the coveted tickets. Unfortunately,  the panoramic view was limited somewhat by cloudy weather, but this did not stop visitors climbing to the tower’s two observation decks, at 350 m (1150 ft) and 450 m (1480 ft). A vertigo-inducing glass floor on the first observation deck allows visitors to look straight down to the earth, 350m below. This floor also features the ‘Sky restaurant’.

The Skytree is expected to boost tourism in surrounding areas, particularly the nearby city Nikko, in the Tochigi prefecture, which has seen a sharp decline in both foreign and domestic tourists since the 2011 earthquake. The city suffered considerable damage from the earthquake, its epicentre being located around 250km away and shocks were reportedly felt for two solid minutes. It is hoped that the Skytree, which can be reached in less than two hours by express train from Nikko, will revive the city’s tourist industry, with around 2.5 million visitors to the Tochigi Prefecture now expected each year.

Over 32 million people are expected to visit the Skytree in its first year. Foreign visitors who do not speak any Japanese can download a free app to help them navigate the surrounding area. The app, Shitamachi Sora Sampo (“downtown sky stroll”), has been developed for smartphones running iOS or Android systems and details, in English, over 20 sightseeing routes around the towering landmark. Tickets for the Skytree itself will need to be booked well in advance, as access to the tower’s observation decks is already sold-out until mid-July. Interested tourists can purchase Skytree tickets via http://www.tokyo-skytree.jp/en – although they will require a credit card registered in Japan to do so.

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Engineering solutions to international medical issues

September 16, 2011

In London this week, the Institute of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) hosted an exciting discussion about the future of medical technology in developing countries. The mood at the one-day conference was divided between disappointment and optimism: according to World Health Organisation estimates, approximately three-quarters of medical equipment currently donated from the developed world to poorer countries in Africa goes unused; however, a new generation of devices specifically designed for the environments in which they will be employed is having greater success.

The main problem at present is that technology is sent to developing nations that do not have the infrastructure to adequately maintain it – no means of accessing spare parts, no reliable power supply, and no allowance in the design for harsh conditions or difficult transportation. Participants in the conference agreed that improvements will come via accurate assessment of the specific needs of local medical teams, and designs that utilise the technology that is available whilst circumventing that which is not.

The good news is that innovative work has already begun, and the IMechE was keen to showcase ideas which have already proved their efficacy. One notable example was a device to measure heart rate remotely, developed through international collaboration between Professor Bongani Mayosi and Dr Thomas Brennan, of the universities of Capetown and Oxford respectively. Requiring only that the patient has a mobile phone, a piece of technology that has become ever more common across Africa, Mayosi and Brennan’s creation was praised for both meeting local medical needs and addressing local challenges. It enables advance monitoring for the warning signs of tuberculosis pericarditis – a dangerous complication of the TB which is endemic to some sub-Saharan regions – whilst bypassing the difficulties of regularly reaching patients in remote areas.

Engineers and scientists, development workers and donors all contributed to discussion at the conference, exemplifying the importance of effective communication between specialists when tackling large-scale global problems. Any future projects to supply developing countries with equipment tailored to their needs will require much discussion about medical needs, technical specifications, the local environment and economic factors. TJC Global has an extensive network of specialist interpreters and translators in the fields of engineering and science, and an impressive track record in technical, medical and scientific translation and interpreting. For further information about what we can offer your organisation, please visit our website at www.tj-oxford.com or contact us at info@tjc-global.com.


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