Posts about Japan

Top Countries for Science and Math Education: Finland, Hong Kong and Korea

The 2009 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA)* report has been released. The report examines the science of 15 year olds from 57 countries in math, science and reading. The main focus of PISA 2009 was reading. The survey also updated performance assessments in mathematics and science.

The Asian countries continue to do very well for several reason including tutoring; they have even turned tutors into rock stars earning millions of dollars. The results show that the focus on student achievement in sciences has had an impact in Asia.

The emphasis is on mastering processes, understanding concepts and functioning in various contexts within each assessment area. the PISA 2012 survey will return to mathematics as the major assessment area, PISA 2015 will focus on science.

Results for the Science portion (rank – country – mean score)(I am not listing all countries):

  • 1 – Finland – 554
  • 2 – Hong Kong – 549
  • 3 – Japan – 539
  • 4 – Korea – 538
  • 5 – New Zealand – 532
  • 6 – Canada – 529
  • 7 – Estonia – 528
  • 8 – Australia – 527
  • 9 – Netherlands – 522
  • 10 – Taiwan – 520
  • 11 – Germany – 520
  • 14 – United Kingdom – 514
  • 21 – USA – 502 (up from 489 and 29th place in 2006)
  • OECD average – 501
  • 25 – France – 498
  • 46 – Mexico – 416
  • 49 – Brazil – 405

Results for the math portion (rank – country – mean score)(I am not listing all countries):
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Honda U3-X Personal Transport

Honda and Toyota continue to develop personal transport and personal robotics assistance products. While other car companies can barely stay in business Honda and Toyota not only are doing well (even if Toyota will lose money this year) they are investing in the future and pushing strong engineering programs. I must say the personal transportation devices seem less than awesome to me though this video does make the Honda U3-X seem reasonable – better than the Toyota Winglet looked.

Honda unveiled U3-X, a compact experimental device that fits comfortably between the rider’s legs, to provide free movement in all directions – forward, backward, side-to-side, and diagonally. Honda will continue research and development of the device including experiments in a real-world environment to verify the practicality of the device.

This new personal mobility device makes it possible to adjust speed and move, turn and stop in all directions when the rider leans the upper body to shift body weight. This was achieved through application of advanced technologies including Honda’s balance control technology, which was developed through the robotics research of ASIMO, Honda’s bipedal humanoid robot, and the world’s first omni-directional driving wheel system (Honda Omni Traction Drive System, or HOT Drive System), which enables movement in all directions, including not only forward and backward, but also directly to the right and left and diagonally. In addition, this compact size and one-wheel-drive personal mobility device was designed to be friendly to the user and people around it by making it easier for the rider to reach the ground from the footrest and placing the rider on roughly the same eye level as other people or pedestrians.

Related: Honda’s Robolegs Help People WalkToyota Develops Thought-controlled WheelchairHonda has Never had Layoffs and has been Profitable Every YearToyota Engineering Development ProcessToyota Robots

Moth Controlled Robot

photo of moth controlled robotPhoto of moth controlled robot from Ryohei Kanzaki’s bio-machine page. The moth is on top of the ping pong ball in the middle of the robot.

Japanese scientists to build robot insects

Ryohei Kanzaki, a professor at Tokyo University’s Research Centre for Advanced Science and Technology, has studied insect brains for three decades and become a pioneer in the field of insect-machine hybrids.

His original and ultimate goal is to understand human brains and restore connections damaged by diseases and accidents – but to get there he has taken a very close look at insect “micro-brains”.

Insects’ tiny brains can control complex aerobatics such as catching another bug while flying, proof that they are “an excellent bundle of software” finely honed by hundreds of millions of years of evolution, Prof Kanzaki said.

In an example of ‘rewriting’ insect brain circuits, Prof Kanzaki’s team has succeeded in genetically modifying a male silkmoth so that it reacts to light instead of smell, or to the odour of a different kind of moth.

Such modifications could pave the way to creating a robo-bug which could in future sense illegal drugs several kilometres away, as well as landmines, people buried under rubble, or toxic gas, the professor said.

It is nice to be reminded of the cool research being done by professors all over the globe.

Related: Roachbot: Cockroach Controlled RobotRat Brain Cells, in a Dish, Flying a PlaneToyota Develops Thought-controlled WheelchairFlying “Insect” RobotsUnderwater Robots Collaborate

Toyota Develops Thought-controlled Wheelchair

Toyota has developed a thought-controlled wheelchair (along with Japanese government research institute, RIKEN, and Genesis Research Institute). Honda has also developed a system that allows a person to control a robot through thoughts. Both companies continue to invest in innovation and science and engineering. The story of a bad economy and bad sales for a year or two is what you read in most newspapers. The story of why Toyota and Honda will be dominant companies 20 years from now is their superior management and focus on long term success instead of short term quarterly results.

The BSI-Toyota Collaboration Center, has succeeded in developing a system which utilizes one of the fastest technologies in the world, controlling a wheelchair using brain waves in as little as 125 milliseconds (one millisecond, or ms, is equal to 1/1000 seconds.

Plans are underway to utilize this technology in a wide range of applications centered on medicine and nursing care management. R&D under consideration includes increasing the number of commands given and developing more efficient dry electrodes. So far the research has centered on brain waves related to imaginary hand and foot control. However, through further measurement and analysis it is anticipated that this system may be applied to other types of brain waves generated by various mental states and emotions.

Related: Honda’s Robolegs Help People WalkReal-time control of wheelchairs with brain wavesToyota Winglet, Personal TransportationToyota RobotsMore on Non-Auto ToyotaHonda has Never had Layoffs and has been Profitable Every Year

Friday Cat Fun #15: Curious Cat Hat

Maru, a Scottish Fold, in Japan has his own cat blog. This is a second post on Maru: Friday Cat Fun #7: Curious Cat and Boxes

Related: Friday Cat Fun #11: Ninja Cat Stair ClimbingCat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss, 1957. The Engineer That Made Your Cat a PhotographerThe Cat and a Black Bearfun postsQuantum Teleportation

Honda’s Robolegs Help People Walk

Honda’s Robolegs Help People Walk

The devices combine sensor-driven motors and weight-bearing chassis to guide strides and support body weight. Though derived from technologies pioneered during the ASIMO’s quarter-century of development, their use could be deeply human, boosting manual laborers or assisting people unable to walk without help.

The devices are still in the research stage, and Honda has not yet formalized plans to go commercial. If they do, the market could be large, and not only in Japan. The number of Americans aged 65 and older is expected to double by 2030. More than 17 million report difficulty climbing stairs or walking a quarter-mile.

Related: Honda EngineeringRobotic Prosthetic Arms for PeopleToyota Winglet – Personal TransportationHonda has Never had Layoffs and has been Profitable Every YearAnother Humanoid Robot

Personal Robots Being Developed in Japan

Robots Lend a Hand in Japan by Tony McNicol

The most numerous, and certainly the most high-profile, service robots in Japan are for entertainment. Ever since 2000 when Honda amazed the world with its walking humanoid Asimo, other Japanese companies have been fast on their heels. Notable examples include Mitsubishi’s lemon yellow home helper Wakamaru, Toyota’s trumpet-playing humanoid, and Murata Manufacturing’s bicycle-riding robot. Although such impressive PR robots are too expensive to sell, Japan also has popular home entertainment robots. The best known to date is Sony’s robot pooch Aibo, which was produced between 1999 and 2006.

Another potential role for service robots is dealing with Japan’s imminent demographic crisis. A low birthrate and unrivalled longevity mean the number of elderly Japanese will increase dramatically over the coming decades. In the absence of mass immigration (which Japan has been keen to avoid) a severe shortage of caregivers seems inevitable. Some people believe robots are the answer. Takanori Shibata, a senior research scientist at the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, says that robot caregivers can be divided into physical service and mental service robots. The former are designed to help with tasks such as washing or carrying elderly people, although given the limitations of current technology, not to mention safety concerns, they are still quite a long way from commercialization.

Mental service robots on the other hand are already here. One of the best known is Paro, an interactive robot seal designed by Shibata himself. The sophisticated robot can remember its name and change its behavior depending on how it is treated. It has been extensively tested in homes for elderly people and in hospitals. In 2002 the Guinness Book of Records named Paro as “the world’s most therapeutic robot.” The robot reminds patients of the pets or children they once cared for, says Shibata. “Paro is a kind of trigger to provoke something in the mind of the owner,” he suggests. About 1,000 of the robots, which cost about 3,000 dollars, have been produced since 2004. Overseas sales will begin shortly.

The effective use of personal robots finally seems to be fairly close at hand. Undoubtedly the initial attempts will seem limited. See Clayton Christsen’s ideas on disruptive innovation for an understanding of how I think the adoption will play out. Robots will be poor substitutes for other alternatives but as we experiment with how to make them effective we will figure out niches for which they work well. It is hard to predict what will happen but my feeling is we may finally be a the point where real uses of personal robots stat to take hold and then the growth may surprise us.

Related: Toyota Winglet – Personal TransportationA Robot to Clean Your RoomRobot Finds Lost Shoppers and Provides DirectionsThe Robotic DogToyota Partner RobotsRobotic Prosthetic Arms for People

Samsung Transparent OLED Display

The webcast shows another cool TV display. This transparent OLED display could for example be used for displaying directions and GPS information to someone driving a car.

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Toyota Software Development for Partner Robots

Toyota Discusses Software Development for Partner Robots

Yamada: What was unique about the software development for the partner robots exhibited at Aichi Expo was the fact that Toyota entirely disposed of its assets from the past.

Toyota owned some software assets because it had been developing partner robots for some time before developing the robots for the exposition. But those assets were all one-offs. No one but the developers themselves could comprehend their architectures.

As Toyota was developing more than one partner robot for the exposition, the number of developers involved increased. Considering that we can never complete any development if we use the past assets that rely on an individual developer’s skill, we made everything, including the platform, from scratch again.

Toyota developed the platform focusing on promoting design review by visualizing the control logic. Therefore, the company thoroughly separated control sequences and algorithms. To be more specific, it used state transition diagrams.

Each algorithm is stored in a different block in a state transition diagram. With such diagrams, developers can easily comprehend the flow of the control and review the design even if they do not understand each algorithm. The company employed this method because each algorithm such as a bipedal walking algorithm is too complicated for anyone but their developers to understand it.

Related: Toyota Partner Robots (2006)Toyota Cultivating Engineering TalentToyota iUnit

How to Develop Products like Toyota

How to Develop Products like Toyota

Sobek also says Toyota tends to stay as flexible as possible until relatively late in the development stage. He cites as an example Toyota’s practice of leaving manufacturing tolerances to be set by die makers rather than by design engineers creating the prints. Die makers make die dimensions as close as practical to those in the CAD database, but have the flexibility to modify them so body parts fit together well. Manufacturing engineers then set tolerances around manufacturing capabilities.

“Test first, then design. First run simulations and understand where the boundaries of solutions lie. Once you understand the alternate spaces between competing choices, you narrow the options in what are called integrating events.”

Integrating events are an opportunity to eliminate weak opportunities. It is only after these events are complete that detailed design commences. “The point is that you don’t get to detailed design until everything works,” says Kennedy. “That is the reason Toyota focuses so intently up front on understanding trade-offs.”

This is very similar to agile software development practices. Though due to different processes, software versus car manufacture the two process are not identical.

Though Toyota is adept at developing products, it may be a mistake to adopt its practices wholesale, no matter how good they are. “Much of the lean community tries to crow-bar Toyota’s approach into their own very different business model,”

This is always true. Copying what others do does not work. You can learn from others by understanding the benefits of their process and then adapting the ideas to your organization.

Toyota has several tools that help its engineers organize the tasks at hand. One of the most well known is called the A3 document, named for the size of the paper its information is written on. An A3 holds a distillation of project goals and customer wants. During development, it can serve as a crib sheet for engineers as they set priorities and make trade-offs. “A3s enforce the plan-do-check- act methods of quality,” explains Kennedy. “The A3 becomes the basis for Toyota’s entire review process.”

On my management improvement blog I discuss the Toyota Production System often, you can follow those posts if you are interested.

Related: Toyota Engineering Development ProcessToyota Winglet, Personal Transportation12 stocks for 10 yearsToyota Robots

Engineers Rule at Honda

Engineers Rule, 2006

Of all the bizarre subsidiaries that big companies can find themselves with, Harmony Agricultural Products, founded and owned by Honda Motor, is one of the strangest. This small company near Marysville, Ohio produces soybeans for tofu. Soybeans? Honda couldn’t brook the sight of the shipping containers that brought parts from Japan to its nearby auto factories returning empty. So Harmony now ships 33,000 pounds of soybeans to Japan.

Longtime auto analyst John Casesa, who now runs a consulting company, says, “There’s not a company on earth that better understands the culture of engineering.” The strategy has worked thus far. Honda has never had an unprofitable year. It has never had to lay off employees.

I checked and Honda was also profitable in 2007 and 2008 fiscal year (ending in September).

Related: Honda EngineeringAsimo Robot: Running and Climbing StairsThe Google Way: Give Engineers RoomGoogle’s Ten Golden Rules