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Taking technology too far

There were two stories about Japanese technology in the news yesterday. One was about a remote control toilet. Yes, really. The Lixil Satis has a Bluetooth interface that can be accessed by installing an Android app on your smartphone. This allows you to control all sorts of functions, including opening/closing the lid, flushing the toilet, and operating the “wash/dry” system that seems to be a standard feature on Japanese toilets these days. But yesterday a security advisory for this contraption was published online. It turns out that its designers had cut corners by making it unnecessary to enter a four-digit PIN when pairing an Android device with the toilet. (More precisely, they hard-coded the PIN to ‘0000’.) This means that anyone with an Android smartphone can control your toilet remotely, simply by downloading the free app. Oops. The other story was that of Kirobo (キロボ), the talking robot that was dispatched to the International Space Station, supposedly to act as a companion to astronaut Koichi Wakata (若田 光一) who will be joining the ISS in November. I expect Kirobo will [More…]

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Air hockey robot

Researchers led by Professor Akio Namiki at Chiba University’s Namiki Lab have developed an air-hockey robot that can hold its own against human players. Although it’s not the first robot to play this game, it has the ability to change its strategy based on the playing style of its opponent. (Previously)

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Big Brother is… oh wait, never mind

The Daily Mail got the nation’s teacups rattling yesterday by reporting on a new CCTV camera that can supposedly scan 36 million faces per second. Although the rest of their article gets the facts a little bit straighter, their headline is totally misleading. How on earth would any camera be able to take a picture of 36 million people in one second, let alone recognise every single one of them? That’s more than the population of Canada. Here’s the original video from which the Mail published (uncredited) screenshots: First of all, they got the name of the company behind this technology wrong. It’s Hitachi Kokusai Electric (日立国際電気), not Hitachi Hokusai Electric. For the record, Kokusai (国際) means “international”. Hokusai (北斎) is the name of a Japanese artist who died in 1849. His most famous work was probably The Great Wave. What Hitachi have actually developed is a system that looks for and analyses human faces in the video pictures it receives, and then stores the resulting biometric records along with the CCTV footage. Operators can then search for a particular [More…]

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Son et lumière

Here’s a cool idea from NEC Lighting — a ceiling light with a built-in Bluetooth speaker that can be operated via an Android app. They’re not on sale yet, but should be available later this year (in Japan, at least).

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Cat’s ears

The latest invention from Japan is a headset that monitors the wearer’s brain activity and moves a pair of furry cat’s ears to reflect what the wearer is thinking. The product is called necomimi, which translates directly as “cat’s ears” (猫耳; ねこみみ). Its developers hope to have it on sale by the end of this year. Their website has all the latest news. I have to admit I thought this was all a hoax when I first heard about it, but a recent news article on the BBC website has another video that shows the product being tried out by ordinary members of the public.

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Exeter Japan Earthquake & Tsunami Appeal

I recently set up a new website for the Exeter Japan Earthquake & Tsunami Appeal, which is a fund-raising effort that will form part of this year’s Exeter Respect festival in Belmont Park over the weekend of 4th-5th June 2011. Preparations are still under way, but there should be something for everyone, including plenty of Japanese food. There will also be a performance by Kagemusha Taiko (Saturday 6:15 – 7 pm). Please come along if you are able. Entry to the park is completely free. Here’s the link: http://aid4japan.wordpress.com/

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Totnes Japan Day

Are you looking for something to do on Easter Saturday (April 23rd)? If you’re anywhere near Devon at the time, you might like to drop in at the Totnes Civic Hall, where a Japan Day has been organized to raise money for people affected by the earthquake and tsunami. The event runs from 10 am until 4 pm, and will include authentic Japanese food, workshops, tester therapy sessions and music. More details are available at the Creative Community Devon website. Here’s a map:

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Header image: Maple leaves and bamboo stems in autumn at Tenryū-ji garden (天龍寺庭園) in Kyoto. Photo: Frank Gualtieri.

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