Toyota Takes Aim at Flying Taxis

By Talicia Marie Stewart

Akihabara News (Tokyo) — Toyota President and CEO Akio Toyoda has announced an investment of US$394 million into Joby Aviation and shared his company’s expertise in order to develop a flying taxi service.

Joby Aviation, a relatively unknown company, was founded ten years ago in 2009, but already they are making big promises to the aviation industry. They made huge leaps over the past ten years toward producing their envisioned “air taxi service” with hundreds of full-scale tests occurring between 2014 and 2017. In recent years, Joby Aviation has been working on testing their polished production prototypes, ready for “certification, production, and operation.”

Joby Aviation has been working on their electric vertical take-off and landing machines (eVTOL). Their aim is the develop it for commercial use, and their new partner, Toyota, saw an opportunity in this scheme.

Over US$590 million of investment has now been put into venture capital funding for the concept. Joby Aviation has recently shared some details about the aircraft. Taking off like a helicopter and then shifting into forward flight using its tilt rotors, this all-electric aircraft can carry five people, including the pilot.

Toyota is eager to get the ball rolling on aircraft services, and Joby Aviation believes their partnership will help them produce “fast, quiet and affordable air transportation services” quicker than other companies. Toyota plans to share its expertise “in manufacturing, quality, and cost controls” to push forward production.

Through this, both firms hope to achieve something that will help “alleviate persistent mobility challenges.” Being able to fly when ground traffic gets too congested would make for a much easier rush hour. And with some commuters in the air, commuters on the ground would also have an easier time.

Joby Aviation believes the tests they have done so far “prove the design is reliable, quiet, efficient and well-suited to the air taxi mission.”

With job positions like “Flight Test Technician” and “Senior Flight Test Engineer” posted on their website, it may seem that the dream is close at hand. But don’t get too excited: Joby Aviation and Toyota alike have said that it is “a long-term goal” and won’t be available anytime soon.

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Honda and Isuzu’s Hydrogen Society

By Talicia Marie Stewart

Akihabara News (Tokyo) — Honda and Isuzu have signed an agreement to conduct joint research on fuel cell-powered heavy-duty trucks. With companies like Toyota and Hyundai already successfully producing vehicles powered by fuel cells, it only makes sense for Honda and Isuzu to apply these technologies to larger, heavy-duty trucks.

Compared to other technologies, hydrogen fuel cells (FC) allow for a cleaner and more efficient energy conversion solution. Unlike the fossil fuels we use to power our cars, our motor bikes, our houses etc. (the typical vehicle producing 4.6 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year), hydrogen fuel cells do not emit any CO2. Instead, they emit only water, excess heat and electricity.

By using fuel cells, vehicle manufacturers like Honda and Isuzu hope to “address the on-going global challenge of reducing humanity’s environmental footprint” and work towards a more “sustainable energy.”

Isuzu has been working on developments for a clean diesel engine, engines for natural gas vehicles (NGVs), and electric vehicle (EV) powertrains. All of which work to reduce carbon emissions. While Isuzu aims to promote low-carbon usage and clean renewable energy, it also hopes these developments will accommodate to a broad range of customer needs. Similarly, Honda has been working towards the idea of a “carbon-free society.”

For the past thirty years, Honda has been researching and developing fuel cell vehicles (FCVs), which they describe as “the ultimate environmental technology.” In addition, Honda has also been developing and producing hybrid and battery electric vehicles since 1999. With Honda’s strengths in the FC development, and Isuzu’s strengths in the development of heavy-duty trucks, the two companies hope to establish the foundation for basic technologies, such as FC powertrain and vehicle control technologies. The aim for their two-year deal is to test Honda’s fuel cell powertrain, originally designed for passenger cars, in Isuzu’s commercial trucks. This, the companies say, may pave the way for FC use in a wider range of vehicles.

Specifically applying FC to large trucks, school buses and other large vehicles that travel great distances will greatly reduce carbon emissions. As a by-product, FCVs will generate their own electricity using hydrogen stored in onboard tanks, allowing for longer trips. This means the time it takes to refuel is also considerably less.

It isn’t the first time we’ve seen two companies join to create FC powered trucks. Earlier in 2019, Hyundai and H2 Energy announced the establishment of a joint venture, with plans to bring 1,600 fuel cell electric heavy-duty trucks into Europe by 2025.

In other parts of the world, the focus has been more sharply on electric cars (EC). Tesla sold 367,500 electric cars in 2019, and Elon Musk has even said that FCVs are “mind-bogglingly stupid.”

In China alone, it is estimated that there were 2.6 million electric cars sold last year. In the United States, that number was half, but still a very considerable amount.

Global FCV stock only reached 11,200 units at the end of 2018. Even though that was an 80% increase from the previous year, the market for FCVs is simply not big enough to warrant other manufacturers to produce them.

That is why it is notable that, out of the eight successful FCVs that have been put to market, six of them were made by Japanese companies; that is, Hyundai, Honda, and Toyota. With more plans to produce newer models of FCVs, like that of the heavy-duty truck, it seems that Japanese companies have no plans on slowing down while the rest of the world catches up.

Isuzu and Honda not only plan to produce the clean, low-noise, low-vibration heavy-duty trucks that their customers are waiting for, but to also encourage the debate that FC trucks and hydrogen energy can contribute to future prosperity.

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Tokyo Olympics Pushes Forward Robotics

By Talicia Marie Stewart

Akihabara News (Tokyo) — With the Tokyo 2020 Robot Project sending big companies like Toyota and Panasonic into a manufacturing frenzy, there are a lot of innovative ideas to look out for at the Olympics this year. The Tokyo vision is ambitious to say the least, but Japan promises that this year’s games will be the most technologically advanced the world has ever seen.

To start with, Panasonic has successfully created, what they call power-assist suits, created for the purpose of helping workers carry heavy objects at airports, factories, construction, and agricultural sites with a decreased risk of injury.

Panasonic introduced power-assist suits in 2017 at the Paralympics in the powerlifting events. It is estimated that the spotters/loaders handled more than 8,650 kilograms collectively, while helping the 180 powerlifters. In order to reduce the risk of injury and make the job a little easier, the spotters/loaders wore the suits and noted that “even 25 kilograms felt lighter than usual”. The suit only weighs 4.5 kilograms and allows for a 40% weight reduction when lifting items.

Toyota, on the other hand, has developed the new mascots for the games. First made by the Japanese artist Ryo Taniguchi, whose design was won in a competition of more than two thousand candidates, Toyota quickly went onto developing and produce Miraitowa and Someity. These two mascot-type Robots will be implemented to greet athletes and customers to the games. They will offer a variety of facial expressions and “human-like movements” such as waving and bowing. They can shake your hand when prompted and even dance when asked. As well as welcoming athletes and guests to the games, Miraitowa and Someity also offer a new way to make the events more enjoyable for children.

For everyone to fully enjoy the games, Toyota has also developed human and delivery support robots. Though not as cute as the mascots, these little guys were designed to assist guests, providing “mobility solutions” for people with disabilities. For a portion of the accessible seating, they will show people to their seats, bring food, water, and even sell souvenirs. Although Toyota made these robots with the aim of exhibiting them into the Olympics, they also hope they will be available to the general public by 2030.

As well as the human support, Toyota (at it again) has developed field-support robots. Equipped with autonomous functions, these special-use robots work at the throwing events (i.e. javelin). They determine the optimal route that is without obstacles and follow operating staff to retrieve and convey throwing event items. By using these little fellers, the aim is to reduce the amount of time needed in retrieving items as well as minimizing the amount of staff labor. But that’s not it for Toyota.

Telepresence robots are not a new thing (they date back to 1993), but Toyota Research Institute in America has specifically designed their remote location communication for people who are unable to attend the Olympics. The screen is way bigger than any we’ve seen before and allows for full (sitting) body view. By projecting an image of the user onto the screen it will help them feel more connected and present in the games, even if they aren’t there in person. It will give physically unable people a chance to attend virtually “with an on-screen facility allowing conversations between the two locations.”

Finally, moving away from the innovations of Toyota, a study done by Ovum for Amdocs reveals that 63% of the world’s largest network operators’ plan to use Augmented Reality (AR), Virtual Reality (VR), or a hybrid of both, to view the games. These technologies will be supported by 5G to offer richer viewing experiences to fans. It offers a more interactive way to view the games like; audience members could watch “instant replays and 360-degree streams” or “look up player stats via AR and VR technology” bringing them closer to the action. 5G promises speeds ten times faster than 4G with even lower latency. You should expect to see the first of these services in conjunction with the 2020 Games.

Mitsubishi Electric is still trying to manufacture the replicate holograms. These systems would project large, free-floating holograms into the air and replay events in empty stadia around the country for those that could not attend the games. Panasonic also plans to showcase a cooling system that is water mist based. Supposedly, it would not settle on glass, paper or make-up. They are also rushing to perfect a device that guides wear around their necks, it would translate Japanese into any of ten languages. But the most exciting thing that we have yet to see, something people have been talking about for years… flying cars.

Back at Toyota, a team of engineers “hopes to build a flying car in time to light the Olympic flame.” But from recent reports it doesn’t look like it’s going to be as grand as might be hoped. It is also looking to be the world’s smallest electric vehicle. But progress is still progress and a flying car is a flying car.

There is still time for development on these projects, but with only a few months left the finishing touches should start being applied quickly. Japan seems on track to keep it’s promise; these will be the most technologically advanced Olympics so far.

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Game Arcades in Akihabara

By Talicia Marie Stewart

Akihabara News (Tokyo) — There are many sights to see in Japan, but none so renowned for its anime souvenirs as Akihabara. With dozens of five story shopping complexes, with items from manga, anime, toys, electronics and more, it is quite impossible to look in them all. But some are not simply pleased with just buying souvenirs; some get their excitement from winning them.

Arcade shops are everywhere in Akihabara, and they offer several different things. There are prize machines that allow you to pay for you luck and (maybe) win some cute plush toys. Then, usually on the upper levels, there are arcade games, from old style pinball to futuristic shooters that make you feel like you are inside the game. This is a list of the best ones within easy walking distance from Akihabara Station.

Tokyo Leisure Land

First place was a hard one to pick, but Tokyo Leisure Land, simply put, has the largest variety of prizes, machines, and games. It is also very appealing to look at.

As soon as you come upon it, you know what it is. But unlike all of the others, there is no loud anime theme songs blaring on repeat that you can hear from three streets down. Its colorful front is what draws you in. It is probably the most appealing one to look at because of its faded retro look, the entrance is big and spacious, and it doesn’t give you a claustrophobic feeling when you look at it.

There are five big stories in Leisure Land, the first floor is prize machines that offer varying prizes. This floor is bright and colorful much like the entrance. The prizes here are cute and the atmosphere is very light-hearted. They’re roughly the same type of prizes you’d find in the other stores: plushes, figurines, key chains etc. But the thing that struck me the most, the thing that was unique; you could win energy drinks, big boxes of potato chips, and even instant ramen (which I think is the best prize of all).

The second floor is mainly full of more prize machines, but near the back are arcade machines. This floor has a general theme of anime. There are figurines for different characters and the arcades games are all similar anime battles or Final Fantasy royals. The music here can get a little overwhelming when heaps of people are playing the games – overlapping theme songs and battle noises quickly led me away from that section and up to the next floor.

On the third floor the lighting is dulled down. There are Street Fighter-esque games, old-style arcade joysticks reminiscent of childhood. This floor seems themed to the classic style of arcades. Even just wandering around it is easy to get lost in all the games. Most of them are quiet too; only some have loud sounds emitting from them as you play.

The next floor has a real casino vibe. There is low lighting, a yellow hue, and the smell of smoke. This entire zone is a smoking area. It has games of luck and skill and generally a bit of everything. If you’re not one for the smell of smoke, though, I would steer clear of this floor. With that being said, this is the only arcade that I could find in Akihabara that had a smoking section, there were even ashtrays built into the machines for your convenience. So, if you want to play some battle royale, but don’t want to have to be without a smoke, this is definitely the place for you.

The last floor was probably my favorite. Just in front of the escalator there is another small smoking area that you could tell no one really uses. This floor has a very relaxing atmosphere, low lighting once again, and is generally quiet. Here there are many one, two, and even three-player games. A lot of them are sports related, or rhythm games. There was Footista machines, Soccer machines and there was even darts; not as in ‘dart machines,’ but actual darts. It had a very relaxing ‘chill with your friends’ feeling to it.

Hey

With an entrance that is considerably smaller than Tokyo Leisure Land, Hey is a place you could easily walk past if you weren’t paying attention. Luckily, I kept my eye out for it. Though the entry starts small and quite narrow, the subsequent levels are considerably large; the second floor most notably so. Hey is a very close second, but it is not as themed as Tokyo Leisure Land and has less variety of prizes and machines (but more than the rest on this list).

The first two levels are full of both prize machines and anime battle machines. Especially on the second floor, the noise these things make can drive you a tad insane. But if you can get over that, there is a variety of anime style games to pick from. My real enjoyment came form the third and fourth levels.

The third level has old-style arcade games; Street Fighter, Tekken, and those janky racing games that are always at movie theaters but are never quite synced right, so you constantly end up crashing into walls and losing… Yeah, this level has a truly nostalgic feel to it, and I love it. The lighting is dimmed way down and, honestly, it wouldn’t be that hard to believe that you could fall asleep playing one of these games. It’s a great way to relax and relieve stress.

As soon as you exit the escalator to the fourth and last floor, you instantly see three anime-covered cubicles with books and pencils chained to them. You can sit down here and write or draw in these books about your favorite characters or series. And people have; these books are full of drawings of characters and letters to strangers, conversations back and forth about their favorites things about an anime. Even when the drawings aren’t particularly good you can see notes from random people encouraging others, giving positive feedback and replying with their own drawings. It truly is such a nice sight to see.

On this last floor also, there are a lot of futuristic games: Huge machines where you can shoot it down and the chair moves you up, down, and side to side. There are a lot of dancing and rhythm games here, the ones that really get you moving and grooving. This level is less for relaxing and more for games you know will get your heart racing.

Sega

I am still a little undecided about the Sega arcades. In Akihabara there are four separate stores each with five floors for each. Tokyo Leisure Land only has two separate stores (one of which I couldn’t find) and the rest on this list have only one. Because of the number of separate stores, Sega arcades almost certainly will have something for you. But their downfall comes with the brand. They pretty much exclusively do Sega-related prizes and games. In the two Sega arcades I went into, the prizes and games were very similar. There were a few unique ones for each store, so going to more than one Sega arcade wouldn’t be a complete waste of time, but if you don’t like Sega products… yeah this isn’t the place for you.

The first and second story are filled with your classic claw machines; grab and drop. There aren’t many other ways to win prizes here, no unique games or machines, just your regular movie theater grab and drop.

The following levels, however, offer a wide and extensive range of Sega games. From SegaSonic the Hedgehog to Enduro Racer, to Tekken. There are anime-style games once again, music and rhythm games and dance battles. The downfall here is the music. My word, the music is loud! Songs form different machines overlap with each other to create a creature that is not of this world. The sounds and words all blur together to create this cacophony that is not dissimilar to an obnoxious beehive or swamp of flies. It’s pretty bad, but not the worst on this list however, which is probably the saddest thing.

Adores

As opposed to the behemoth that is Sega, Adores only has two stories of claw machines. The rest of the floors are full karaoke. The machines here are relatively unique; that is, more so that Sega games. Here, the prizes feel more achievable and you can see the progress you make. Personally, I liked the different prizes here. It was small, sure, but it had range. It was one of the only places I cared to give a go at winning a prize. It’s presentation really tricks you into thinking you can actually win something.

The downfall to Adores was definitely its lack of variety. It didn’t have any machines that weren’t prize games. There may have been a few hidden ones at the back, out of view but none that I could see. If your aim is to win a cute prize then this is the place for you, but if you want to play some Street Fighter, look somewhere else.

Taito Station

Deceptively, Taito Station is not a station at all, but rather a five story arcade. It has a few unique prize machines, and prizes that are a lot bigger than the others on this list (I’m talking, the biggest shark plush you ever did see) and a wide variety of games. The levels are a bit confusing though, with levels one and two set as prize floors, levels three and five as arcade and level four as video games.

The games on level four and really retro looking, even if the games are not. It’s got a good atmosphere and (again with the music), it isn’t too loud. And then I went to the fifth floor.

As soon as the elevator doors shut and I started moving slowly to that last level, I could tell my ear drums would be popped. Honestly, beware, for as soon as those doors open you will experience sounds like you never have before. As if a tidal wave of music had crashed into me, extremely loud and obnoxious music blared. Which is too bad because the games in there looked really awesome. There were interactive dance games, shooting games, racing games, you name it. Big machines that really wrap around you and make you feel part of that world. But, by gods, that music. I walked out of that elevator, took a collective two pictures, and walked straight back in.

Asobox

This little hole-in-the-wall really doesn’t offer much. The claw machines and arcade games here are either anime-related or rhythm games. The ground floor is very narrow and wouldn’t allow for more than a dozen people. But that being said, this is a great place to go if you don’t want to experience the big crowds you’d find in Sega or Adores. There were only a few people in here and they all seemed completely and utterly enthralled with what they were doing.

The music isn’t so loud that you would be turned away, it can get a little annoying but it’s not as bad as some of the others. It consists of only two small stories; the ground floor and the basement, the latter being only little bit bigger than the former. In terms of prizes and games, it has a theme and it’s sticking with it, but if you’re not all that into anime or music, maybe skip this one.

Yugijo

Ahh yes, the final entry on this list. Now, it may be because I am a bit directionally challenged, but it took me quite a while to find this arcade. And when I did, I felt like it wasn’t really worth it.

Honestly, when I first saw Yugijo I felt a little sad for them. The store is just a few claw machines in this small little room. It definitely wasn’t something to marvel at, but I really felt like this tiny little store was trying so hard to make it big in Akihabara. It is a bit further away than all the other stores and for so little in the way of variety, it is hard to see why someone would go all the way for this shop.

Want to learn more about Akihabara? The best way we know to get started is to take the three-hour Akihabara Anime & Gaming Adventure Tour. With an experienced guide and priced at only ¥7,600, this is the ideal means to begin your exploration!

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All the Right Parts: Nikon D780

By Talicia Marie Stewart

Akihabara News (Tokyo) — Nikon’s new full-frame DSLR D780, set to release on January 23, offers a new and improved replacement for the D750. But at double the price, you can see why some may be hesitant to buy. In terms of specs, improvements and new features, the D780 shows promise in allowing enthusiasts and semi-professional photographers to experiment with a wide range of new features not seen in a DLSR before.

To start, its battery life is insane. The D780s predecessor, the D750, was formerly the longest-lasting Nikon camera in terms of battery life, allowing for roughly 1230 shots per charge. But the D780 is said to surpass that by almost double. Users can expect to shoot roughly 2020 shots on just one charge, perfect for long photoshoots and travel photography. Also exceeding the D750, the D780 has two SD card slots installed. Typically, with both Canon and Nikon cameras, two slots would be available; one for an SD card and one for a CF or faster card slot. But two SD cards slots allows for multiple storage locations, shooting RAW images to one card and JPEGs to another or using one for backup in case the other gets lost.

In terms of new features, there is a lot to talk about. The D780 effectively implements the same sensor and chip phase detection as the Nikon Z6 mirrorless camera. This means that when focussing via the optical viewfinder, users get the same 51-point autofocus with 15 cross-type points as the D750 and when in Live view, users get 273-point phase-detection autofocus. This is the first time Nikon has used their AF system for Live View, from one of their mirrorless models, on a DSLR.

The thing that most people can’t seem to get enough of is the prolonged shutter speed. With the ability to extend the exposure to 900 seconds you can believe astrophotographers will be out all-night shooting stars. This means that you could potentially take a photo exposed for fifteen minutes long. The previous D750 could only go as long as 30 seconds and as quick as 1/4000s. On the other end, the D780 can photograph images at 1/8000s of a second, allowing the capture of subjects at incredible speeds whilst still retaining high quality.

The new and improved hybrid AF system “supports Eye-detection AF, which automatically detects human eyes with still photography, greatly increasing flexibility with portrait photography.” It is also the first Nikon DSLR to utilize focal-plane phase-detection AF. This changes the game for video capture. One reviewer even commented that “this is, so far, the best focusing Nikon DSLR in live view that has ever been made.”

Because it has those focusing sensors on the imaging sensors itself, the performance in live view is going to be drastically improved. This is something Nikon has never done with its DSLR’s before. Tracking, facial tracking, and eye detection are all included in this camera and will be better than ever.

In silent live view mode, the FPS can go up to 12 frames per second with auto-focus and full auto-exposure, as opposed to the D750 which can only manage 6.5. It is now capable of 4K recording at 30FPS using the full width of the sensor. In Full HD it can shoot up to 120FPS which is great for people that want to experiment with slow-motion shooting.

The ISO is also something to admire. It has a ridiculous range (equivalent to) ISO 50 to ISO 204800, the latter allowing for incredibly low light shooting. While, in other cheaper cameras, such a high ISO would render the image blurry and incredibly pixilated, the D780 is equipped with focal-plane phase-detection auto-focus (AF) pixels. When this is utilised with the EXPEED 6 image-processing engine, “even at higher sensitivity settings, noise is effectively reduced to preserve sharp and clear images.”

The D780 is a DSLR with all the right parts of a mirrorless camera. It borrows Z series mirrorless tech and turns in into a new kind of DLSR that has never been seen before. There are parts of it that are familiar to the D750 and the Z6, and there are parts that are completely new. Do not be mistaken, this camera is aimed at photographers that want to buy a DSLR and are enthusiastic enough to try all is new features. But if you can spare the bucks, it’s definitely worth looking into when it arrives.

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Panasonic Develops World’s First HDR Capable VR Eyeglasses

Panasonic (Osaka) — Panasonic Corporation today announced that it has developed the world’s first High Dynamic Range (HDR) capable ultra high definition (UHD) virtual reality (VR) eyeglasses which boasts a comfortable fit that makes users feel as if they were wearing eyeglasses.

With anticipation of the forthcoming full-fledged commercial services of the fifth generation (5G) mobile communications system, a number of new services using VR glasses are expected to be offered, including for VR sports viewing and engaging virtualtravel experiences. While conventional VR glasses with high-quality images and high sound quality provide users with highly immersive simulated experiences, these glasses tend to be big in size and require users to strap them to their head with a headband, which could cause wearer discomfort.

For the new VR glasses, Panasonic has developed a high performance display device in cooperation with Kopin Corporation, which is a leading manufacturer of display devices for VR glasses. In addition, Panasonic’s audio and visual technologies have been incorporated into this new device, including signal processing technologies cultivated through the development of video equipment such as TVs and Blu-ray Disc players, acoustic technologies of Technics audio products, and optical technologies used in Lumix digital cameras. These technologies enabled Panasonic to achieve compact and lightweight VR glasses offering high-quality images and optimal sound that deliver realistic sensations drawing the user into the images projected before their eyes, while in the comfort of wearing eyeglasses.

Gearing up for the forthcoming full-scale commercial 5G services, Panasonic will continue to further develop the new VR glasses so that they can be used in a variety of applications, thereby creating new customer value.

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Toyota to Build Prototype City of the Future

Toyota (Las Vegas) — Toyota has revealed plans to build a prototype “city” of the future on a 175-acre site at the base of Mt. Fuji in Japan.

Called the Woven City, it will be a fully connected ecosystem powered by hydrogen fuel cells.

Envisioned as a “living laboratory,” the Woven City will serve as a home to full-time residents and researchers who will be able to test and develop technologies such as autonomy, robotics, personal mobility, smart homes and artificial intelligence in a real-world environment.

“Building a complete city from the ground up, even on a small scale like this, is a unique opportunity to develop future technologies, including a digital operating system for the city’s infrastructure. With people, buildings and vehicles all connected and communicating with each other through data and sensors, we will be able to test connected AI technology… in both the virtual and the physical realms… maximizing its potential,” said Akio Toyoda, president, Toyota Motor Corporation.

Toyota will extend an open invitation to collaborate with other commercial and academic partners and invite interested scientists and researchers from around the world to come work on their own projects in this one-of-a-kind, real-world incubator.

“We welcome all those inspired to improve the way we live in the future, to take advantage of this unique research ecosystem and join us in our quest to create an ever-better way of life and mobility for all,” said Toyoda.

For the design of Woven City, Toyota has commissioned Danish architect, Bjarke Ingels, Founder and Creative Director, Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG). His team at BIG have designed many high-profile projects: from 2 World Trade Center in New York and Lego House in Denmark, to Google’s Mountain View and London headquarters.

“A swarm of different technologies are beginning to radically change how we inhabit and navigate our cities. Connected, autonomous, emission-free and shared mobility solutions are bound to unleash a world of opportunities for new forms of urban life. With the breadth of technologies and industries that we have been able to access and collaborate with from the Toyota ecosystem of companies, we believe we have a unique opportunity to explore new forms of urbanity with the Woven City that could pave new paths for other cities to explore.” Bjarke Ingels, Founder and Creative Director, BIG.

Design of the City

The masterplan of the city includes the designations for street usage into three types: for faster vehicles only, for a mix of lower speed, personal mobility and pedestrians, and for a park-like promenade for pedestrians only. These three street types weave together to form an organic grid pattern to help accelerate the testing of autonomy.

The city is planned to be fully sustainable, with buildings made mostly of wood to minimize the carbon footprint, using traditional Japanese wood joinery, combined with robotic production methods. The rooftops will be covered in photo-voltaic panels to generate solar power in addition to power generated by hydrogen fuel cells. Toyota plans to weave in the outdoors throughout the city, with native vegetation and hydroponics.

Residences will be equipped with the latest in human support technologies, such as in-home robotics to assist with daily living. The homes will use sensor-based AI to check occupants’ health, take care of basic needs and enhance daily life, creating an opportunity to deploy connected technology with integrity and trust, securely and positively.

To move residents through the city, only fully-autonomous, zero-emission vehicles will be allowed on the main thoroughfares. In and throughout Woven City, autonomous Toyota e-Palettes will be used for transportation and deliveries ,as well as for changeable mobile retail.

Both neighborhood parks and a large central park for recreation, as well as a central plaza for social gatherings, are designed to bring the community together. Toyota believes that encouraging human connection will be an equally important aspect of this experience.

Toyota plans to populate Woven City with Toyota Motor Corporation employees and their families, retired couples, retailers, visiting scientists, and industry partners. The plan is for 2000 people to start, adding more as the project evolves.

The groundbreaking for the site is planned for early 2021.

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KDDI-Lawson Partnership on Mobile Payments

KDDI (Tokyo) — KDDI Corporation, Loyalty Marketing, Inc., and Lawson, Inc. agreed to a new initiative designed to create new consumption experiences that merge the online and offline worlds.

In recent years, the number of contact points with customers through the Internet is increasing due to the penetration of digital technologies, and the structure of the consumption society is significantly changing. Amidst such changes, KDDI, LM, and Lawson shared a common desire to adapt to the changing consumption society and sustainably provide value to customers.

Starting from May 2020, KDDI and LM will integrate the point systems of both companies into the common Ponta service operated by LM and promote the linking of their respective IDs. The result will create Japan’s largest class member base of over 100 million people and further integration with settlement services will lead to over 22 million mobile accounts and annual points awarded of over 200 billion yen. Moreover, KDDI and LM will strive to cooperate in regard to deeper data marketing utilizing the member base and the creation of new businesses.

The companies will provide new consumption experiences through Online Merges with Offline (OMO) utilizing a member base of over 100 million people and advanced technologies (“5G” fifth-generation mobile communication system and robotics) at the real-world points of contact in Lawson’s roughly 14,600 stores.

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Honda

Foundation: 1946

Headquarters: Minato Ward, Tokyo

President: Takahiro Hachigo

Honda is a Japanese public multinational conglomerate corporation primarily known as a manufacturer of automobiles, motorcycles, and power equipment. Its annual income is in the range of US$130 billion.

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SoftBank to Establish “Beyond AI Institute”

SoftBank (Tokyo) — The University of Tokyo and SoftBank Corp. today announced an agreement to establish the Beyond AI Institute, a new research facility that will gather the world’s best minds and launch programs to develop businesses with research results.

The Beyond AI Institute aims to be an advanced artificial intelligence (AI) research organization that brings together top-level researchers from the University of Tokyo and leading universities abroad. The institute will conduct fundamental research for key AI technology and for incorporating research from other academic fields. Using these fundamental research results, applied research will be conducted for the purpose of utilizing AI to address issues facing society and industry. Along with linking fundamental research areas to applied research domains, for business development the Beyond AI Institute will actively utilize the Collaborative Innovation Partnership (CIP) system that was newly formulated by Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), which enables universities and companies to rapidly set up joint ventures.

Through the Beyond AI Institute, the University of Tokyo and SoftBank Corp. will contribute to Japan’s AI research and AI-related businesses to lead Japan’s AI revolution.

Specific Initiatives

(1) Advanced AI research conducted by top level researchers from the University of Tokyo and universities abroad. To forge new AI-related fundamental research areas such as the radical evolution of AI enabled by quantum physics and the combination of AI and biofunctions, researchers at the University of Tokyo involved in physics and medical fields—areas that the university excels in—will be assigned to the institute to realize AI integration. In conjunction with this, researchers at top universities abroad will be brought on board to create a world-class team that conducts advanced AI fundamental research.

(2) Commercialization of research results using new joint venture system. Promising results from fundamental research will be passed on to applied research for application to fields such as “Health and Medical,” “Public Works and Social Infrastructure” and “Manufacturing.” Furthermore, the CIP system, which makes it possible to rapidly set up joint ventures between universities and companies, will be utilized to commercialize research. Using this system will create an ecosystem where it will be possible to quickly envision commercialization through joint ventures at the research stage and invest returns from business ventures into future research activities. This will in turn contribute to the nurturing of next-generation AI experts and educational activities (The Beyond AI Institute will also collaborate with Deepcore Inc., Innovation Platform for The University of Tokyo Inc. and related venture capital companies in forming ventures).

(3) Research facilities to be located at University of Tokyo’s Hongo Campus and the future SoftBank headquarters in Takeshiba. The research facility dedicated to fundamental research will be located in the University of Tokyo’s Hongo Campus and the research facility for applied research will be established at the future SoftBank headquarters in Takeshiba, which is expected to open during the fiscal year ended March 31, 2021. These two locations will be linked by the Science and Information Network (SINET) that is run by the National Institute of Informatics (NII) to build a structure that enables seamless transitions from research to commercialization.

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The Quiet Charm of Satake Shopping Arcade

Akihabara News (Tokyo) — A ten-minute stroll from Akihabara’s central Chuo-dori lay one of Tokyo’s oldest and most charming shopping arcades.

The Satake Shopping Arcade, which resides in neighboring Taito Ward, has a unique history. From the end of the 17th century the entire area was part of the feudal residence of the Satake family, head of the Kubota Clan in what is now Akita Prefecture.

With the dawn of the Meiji Era in 1868, such feudal residences in Tokyo were abandoned, and so this area of land also became open to new forms of development.

The origins of the Satake Shopping Arcade reach back to about 1884 when private residences and shops began to be built here. Decade by decade, this shopping street became more energetic and prosperous along with the general economic advance of Meiji times.

However, the area was entirely devastated in the Great Kanto Earthquake of September 1, 1923, with the entire town burned to the ground.

The surviving local people rebuilt the area, and by 1936 a census counted 116 shops on the street. Like today, clothing and grocery stores were the most prominent.

Satake shopping street in 1930

Tragedy struck again in late 1944 and early 1945, when the shopping street was again entirely burnt to the ground by US bombing raids.

But, again, after the war the locals rebuilt it.

Satake shopping street in 1957

The version of the Satake Shopping Arcade that exists today was completed in 1977 with the addition of its colored pavement. Now looking rundown and partially abandoned, like many shopping streets in the rural cities, this is something of a living relic of Showa Era Japan, and well worth a gentle stroll.

On occasion, Satake Shopping Arcade still holds exchanges with Akita Prefecture, from where it gets its name and traces its origins.

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Satake Shopping Arcade in December 2019

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Robot Lawn Mower Unleashed on Tokyo

Honda (Tokyo) — Honda Motor Co., Ltd. today announced that it has begun demonstration testing of Miimo HRM520 (Miimo), Honda’s robotic lawn mower, jointly with the Tokyo Metropolitan Park Association (Park Association). The purpose of the test program is to verify the usability and aptitude of Miimo for large-sized parks as well as the feasibility of using Miimo for dry riverbeds where there is no existing power supply facility.

At the end of last month (November 2019), Honda and the Park Association began conducting demonstration testing of Miimo, a robotic lawn mower developed for home use, at Hibiya Park (the First Flower Garden area) to verify its usability for a large-sized park during daytime hours, as well as its aptitude for park management operations. Through this demonstration testing, Honda expects to expand the potential of robotic lawn mowers for park management operations, while contributing to the improvement and expansion of areas with expansive lawns.

Moreover, since October 1, 2019, Honda and Park Association have been conducting demonstration testing using Miimo together with LiB-AID E500 (E500), Honda’s portable power source, at the Shinnakagawa Temporary Mooring located at the dry riverbed of Shinnakagawa River, to verify the feasibility of using Miimo in an environment where there is no permanent installation of power supply facility. Through this testing, Honda hopes to contribute to expanding the potential for unattended environmental improvement operations in areas where a permanent power supply facility is not available.

Both of these tests will be carried out jointly with Park Associations which will use Miimo and the E500 at two testing locations, namely Hibiya Park and Shinnakagawa Temporary Mooring. Honda will collect data on both use cases.

Miimo’s ability to mow a lawn and recharge itself automatically makes lawn management easy and convenient. Miimo has become popular due to the fact that it can foster a dense and beautiful lawn by taking advantage of the nature of grass that is mowed constantly. By slowing growth, the number of sprouts increases and the lawn becomes denser. The E500 is a portable power source that stores electricity and enables the user to use electrical appliances in various situations.

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Nintendo

Foundation: 1889

Headquarters: Kyoto

President: Shuntaro Furukawa

Nintendo is a Japanese multinational consumer electronics and video game company headquartered in Kyoto. Originating as a card company and eventually evolving from toys to video games, Nintendo is one of the world’s largest video game companies, creating some of the best-known and top-selling video game franchises. Its annual income is in the range of US$11 billion.

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Pokemon Sword and Shield Slashes Record Books

Akihabara News (Tokyo) — Pokemon Sword and Shield sold around 1.37 million copies in Japan within the first three days of release, according to Shukan Famitsu magazine, which is a new record for any title developed for Nintendo’s Switch console.

These sales figures edge out 2018’s Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, the previous record holder.

The worldwide figure for the launch weekend was in the neighborhood of 6 million units sold in the launch weekend.

Nick Chavez, Nintendo of America’s senior vice-president of sales and marketing, commented, “With such a momentous launch, Pokemon Sword and Pokemon Shield have proven to be two of the must-have games this holiday season.”

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Sony Jumps into Artificial Intelligence

Sony (Tokyo) – Sony Corporation today announced the establishment of Sony AI. This new organization, with offices globally in Japan, Europe, and the United States, will advance fundamental research and development of AI (artificial intelligence).

Sony’s Purpose is to “Fill the world with emotion, through the power of creativity and technology.” Recognizing that AI will play a vital role in the fulfillment of this purpose, Sony AI is being established with the mission to “unleash human imagination and creativity with AI.”

Sony AI will combine world class fundamental research and development with Sony’s unique technical assets, especially in imaging & sensing solutions, robotics and entertainment (games, music and movies), driving transformation across all existing business domains and contributing to the creation of new business domains. In addition, one of Sony AI’s long-term goals is to contribute to the resolution of shared global issues extending beyond Sony’s business domains.

Sony AI will drive the research and development of AI in both physical and virtual space through multiple world-class flagship projects as well as other explorative research projects, including AI ethics.

Initially, Sony AI will launch three flagship projects in the areas of gaming, imaging & sensing, and gastronomy. The adoption of new AI technologies developed through these flagship projects will be critical to further enhancing the value of Sony’s gaming and sensor businesses in coming years. This research will be pursued in close collaboration with the relevant Sony Group business units.

In order to drive these projects and achieve truly innovative research, Sony is eager to work with top global AI talent with an aim to attract world-class AI researchers and engineers. Sony believes that extraordinary innovation requires diversity of both talent and approaches, and this will be reflected in the composition and operation of Sony AI. Recognizing the power and influence of AI technologies, Sony AI will contribute to society through the development of AI that is fair, transparent, and accountable.

Sony AI will be headed globally by Hiroaki Kitano (President and CEO, Sony Computer Science Laboratories, Inc.; Corporate Executive, Sony Corporation), and the American site will be headed by Peter Stone.

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Line Merger with Yahoo Japan Aims at Artificial Intelligence

Akihabara News (Tokyo) — The merger of online firms Line and Yahoo Japan is aimed squarely at the Artificial Intelligence (AI) industry, hoping to give the combined holding company, Line and Z Holdings, the financial heft it needs to compete against the tech giants.

The merger statement explained, “Social and industrial conditions surrounding us are changing drastically and daily on a global basis. Particularly in the Internet market, overseas companies, especially those based in the United States and China, are overwhelmingly dominant, and even when comparing the size of operations, there is currently a big difference between such overseas companies and those in Japan and other Asian countries, other than China.”

It continued, “Furthermore, in Japan, which is working to increase the declining productivity that comes along with a shrinking workforce and to respond rapidly to natural disasters, the use of artificial intelligence and technology in these fields has great potential.”

The combined firm will target “growth in the areas of AI, commerce, Fintech, advertising and O2O and other new business areas.”

Currently, Line Corporation, owned by the South Korean firm Naver, has a user base of about 82 million people in Japan, and Yahoo Japan, owned by SoftBank Corporation through its subsidiary Z Holdings Corporation, has a user base of about 50 million Japanese.

The full merger is expected to be completed within a year.

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Google Becomes a Gaming Company

Akihabara News (Tokyo) — With the launch of the Stadia cloud service this week, Google becomes a heavyweight gaming company taking on the established Sony PlayStation Now and the incipient Microsoft Project xCloud.

Stadia games will be playable using televisions, desktop Google Chrome web browsers, or Google-made Pixel smartphones. In a later stage it is expected to be integrated with YouTube.

At the time of launch, 22 games will be available in the Stadia lineup. These are Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, Attack on Titan: Final Battle 2, Destiny 2: The Collection, Farming Simulator 2019, Final Fantasy XV, Football Manager 2020, Grid 2019, Gylt, Just Dance 2020, Kine, Metro Exodus, Mortal Kombat 11, NBA 2K20, Rage 2, Rise of the Tomb Raider, Red Dead Redemption 2, Samurai Shodown, Shadow of the Tomb Raider, Thumper, Tomb Raider 2013, Trials Rising, and Wolfenstein: Youngblood.

Initially, Stadia is launching in fourteen countries in North America and Europe, but is not available in Japan or any other Asian country.

Google originally announced the coming of its Stadia game service in March, and by June began accepting preorders for the US$130 Founder’s Edition controllers.

The global video game industry is worth an estimated US$135 billion.

Stadia introduction video (October 2019)

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Fujifilm Ends Takeover Battle with Xerox

Akihabara News (Tokyo) — Fujifilm has put an end to both its two-year takeover battle with Xerox Holdings as well as its 57-year partnership with the US firm.

In January 2018, Fujifilm launched a US$6.1 billion bid to gain a majority stake in its erstwhile US partner, but the deal foundered under the opposition of activist shareholders Carl Icahn and Darwin Deason. Fujifilm persisted by launching a US$1 billion lawsuit against Xerox in June 2018.

In an announcement yesterday, Fujifilm put an end to all that. The lawsuit has been dropped and instead Fujifilm will buy out all of Xerox’s 25% stake in their joint venture firm, Fuji Xerox. In this US$2.3 billion deal, Fuji Xerox will become a wholly-owned subsidiary of Fujifilm.

In other words, Fujifilm and Xerox have made a clean break from one another and will now go their separate ways.

Shigetaka Komori, chairman and chief executive officer of Fujifilm, commented, “Full ownership of Fuji Xerox will facilitate faster decision making in a rapidly changing business environment. At the same time, Fuji Xerox will be able to further strengthen its business by capturing new original equipment manufacturer opportunities in the global market, leveraging our world-leading product development and manufacturing capabilities.”

Founded in 1962, the joint venture Fuji Xerox has been a leading document solutions company with revenues growing to above 1 trillion yen (about US$9.2 billion). It had also been regarded as one of the most successful joint ventures between a Japanese and a non-Japanese company.

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Mazda

Foundation: 1920

Headquarters: Fuchu, Hiroshima

President: Akira Marumoto

Mazda Motor Corporation is a Japanese multinational automaker, which for several decades had a partnership with the Ford Motor Company of the United States. Its annual income is in the range of US$32 billion.

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Nissan

Foundation: 1933

Headquarters: Yokohama

President: Yasuhiro Yamauchi

Nissan Motor Company is one of Japan’s leading automotive firms and part of an international alliance that includes Renault of France and Mitsubishi Motors of Japan. Nissan has been a pioneer in the development of electric vehicles. Its annual income is in the range of US$110 billion.

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