Tiny Robot to take a Giant Step

From The Japan Times, online edition:

Japanese robot: ISS mission one ‘big stride’ for androids


Jun 27, 2013

A talking robot that will accompany a Japanese astronaut in space this summer says the cosmic tour will be one giant leap for androids everywhere.

In a scene straight out of “Star Wars,” the pint-sized Kirobo fielded questions from curious journalists who asked what it was going to do in space.

“This may look (like) a small step, but it will be a big stride as a robot,” the black-and-white humanoid robot outfitted with bright red boots told a press briefing in Tokyo.

Its creators said they were sending the robot into space to act as a chatting partner for astronaut Koichi Wakata, who is set to arrive at the International Space Station later this year.

Kirobo is to arrive in August in what its handlers say is the first visit for a robot at the space station. Wakata will also be the first Japanese astronaut to command the ISS.

“Kirobo will remember Mr. Wakata’s face so it can recognize him when they reunite up in space,” said creator Tomotaka Takahashi. “He will be the first robot to visit the space station.”

Standing at just 34 cm tall and weighing about 1 kg, the little android is programmed to communicate in Japanese and keep records of its conversations with Wakata.

The robot, which has a wide range of physical motions, will also play a role in some missions, relaying messages from the control room to the astronaut, Takahashi said.

Back on Earth, twin robot Mirata will be on the lookout for any problems encountered by its electronic counterpart.

Takahashi, who said he was inspired by legendary animation character Astro Boy, said he now wants to create a miniaturized robot that owners could carry in their pocket like a smartphone.

“By bringing a robot into space, the development of a symbiotic robot is expected to move along much faster,” Takahashi said, referring to efforts at making robots even more humanlike.

The project’s website can be found at: ⤢kibo-robo.jp


Tokyo as an Olympic City

Tokyo gets high marks in Olympic evaluation report; Inose pleased

Kyodo, Staff Report

Jun 26, 2013

The International Olympic Committee has released its Evaluation Commission report for cities vying to host the 2020 Summer Olympics, giving Tokyo high marks for its proposal for a compact games in which 85 percent of the competition venues would be within an 8-km radius.

Tokyo, which was also lauded for its fluid transportation network and financial soundness, is bidding against Istanbul and Madrid for the 2020 Summer Olympics. The winning city will be announced at the IOC’s general assembly in Buenos Aires on Sept. 7.


A Microcosm

The Tokyo municipal elections are over and various analyses have been made. One commonly held opinion is that the "Abe-nomics" program is working well enough for the LDP to maintain its status as the #1 party. Another often-repeated observation is that the Japan Communist Party did better than it has in years, rising to the level of the #3 party. Before anyone calls this a resurgence, though, they should look at the results from one formerly communist-dominated city: Hino City, in western Tokyo.

In its 50 years of existence as a city, Hino has had only 2 mayors. The first mayor, originally elected through multi-party support, flew the communist colors for most of his very long tenure in office. His successor, a three-term non-communist, had his work cut out for him bailing Hino City out of a sea of red ink, and he succeeded. Hold that thought.

Meanwhile, on the national scene, Japan did not fare well during the years when the Democratic Party of Japan (Minshuto) was the dominant party. If a voter did not care for the "Abe-nomics" program, he probably would not choose to shoot the economy in the foot by voting Minshuto. So where would the protest vote go?

It couldn't in good conscience go to the other major party in the race because of that party's leader's verbal shenanigans. That leaves the Communist Party.

But wait...

What happened in Hino?

Hino gets two representatives in the municipal council. One of the winners was the LDP candidate, a long-serving and popular council member whose votes seem welded to him. The other winner should have been the communist candidate, given Hino's history of communist support.

But it wasn't.

Hino voters, with long experience of seeing their taxes frittered away by communists who make lovely speeches but haven't a clue how to govern, voted Minshuto.

When it comes to real consequences versus symbolic protests, Hino chose practical reality.

Those who would like to think that the Japan Communist Party is getting its second wind should think again.


What I saw (2)

What I saw was a young mother with an incredulous look on her face. She'd just come out of the train station, past a campaigner (Ishin no Kai) who was ranting at passersby.

"Why was he thundering at us, as if we were naughty children?" she asked.

Good question.

Do people on their way home from work enjoy being yelled at by strangers? I don't think so.

What's more, do young mothers on their way to pick up their kids from nursery school-- who will then go home and make dinner, supervise homework, put in an hour of miscellaneous housework, and ruminate about how to pay the rent, buy food, keep up their insurance payments, and save for the kids' education (this is the short list of bills) -- want to hear an old man from three generations ago roaring about saving taxpayers' money by eliminating daycare?

Who does this wannabe-leader think the taxpayers are?

A lot of them are working mothers.


What I saw (1)

It is pouring rain. A typhoon is in the offing. The wind is blowing hard. I am walking to the bus stop.
What did I see along the way?

A campaign truck making the rounds for the party sponsored by the guy who made the remark about what Okinawa really needs is prostitutes to keep the US soldiers from attacking normal citizens, speeding through the puddles, splashing the passerbys, asking for votes for the upcoming Tokyo municipal election.

OK, freedom of speech and all that...

What else did I see?

Pedaling for all she was worth, trying to keep up with the campaign truck, tires barely gripping the slick asphalt, rain and spray in her face is-- who? A young woman running for election to Tokyo's municipal council from that party. (Isshin no Kai)

Maybe I was supposed to see high spirits, but what I actually saw was sheer stupidity. If I were choosing a candidate to vote for, I'd pick one with the sense to come in out of the rain, wouldn't you?

This scene also raised a few questions:

Why are the men inside the truck?
Why is the woman chasing AFTER the truck?
Is this what leadership looks like?


Uncle Sam: Leadership or Run-Away-and Hider-ship?

No need to shoot your messengers, Uncle Sam, since they are already dying of cancer.

Former Okinawa military base workers whose claims for health care have been repeatedly denied have opened the rusty barrel and let the truth leak out: the US imported and used Agent Orange in Okinawa. It is still there.

While it is apparently OK to ask young people to lay down their lives for Uncle Sam, it is apparently not OK for US military brass to admit they did a wrong thing and try to make it right.

Read the whole story (with photos) at this link.


See a portion here:

As evidence of Agent Orange in Okinawa stacks up, U.S. sticks with blanket denial

No bases visited, no vets interviewed for Pentagon probe into dioxin in Okinawa

by Jon Mitchell

Jun 4, 2013

In April 2011, these Community pages published the first accounts of sick U.S. veterans who believe their illnesses were caused by exposure to Agent Orange on Okinawa during the Vietnam War era.

Since that initial article, The Japan Times has published a further dozen stories in which retired service members alleged toxic herbicides were stored and sprayed on the island — as well as buried in large volumes on Futenma air station and in what is now a popular tourist area in Chatan Town. Japanese former base workers have corroborated veterans’ accounts and photographs seem to show barrels of these herbicides on Okinawa. U.S. military documents cite the presence of Agent Orange there during the 1960s and ’70s.

Suggestions that these poisonous substances were widely used on their island have worried Okinawa residents, and politicians including Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima have demanded that the U.S. government come clean on the issue.