Saturday, October 22, 2011

New Japanese Technology in the News...

Tokyo tech fair opens with clapping robot

Story and photo above from Japan Today, 10/21/11.

From robotic hand-clapping arms to a device that could show tsunami alerts in the sky, Japanese technology researchers showcased their latest inventions in Tokyo Thursday.

Two pairs of artificial arms welcomed visitors as the Digital Content Expo opened for a three-day run, producing a realistic clapping sound due to the soft palms of the hands.

The arms, named Ondz, are made of white skin-like urethan “flesh” and aluminum “bone.” They create what the developer calls the “organic” sound of human hand clapping by the patting of soft palms.

“I want the the audience to enjoy the creepy and surreal feelings this product gives as entertainment,” said Masato Takahashi, researcher at the graduate school of media design at Keio University, who molded the design on his own body.

Ondz could be used in musical performances, to enhance the sound of real clapping. Or viewers watching a programme online could click a button to make hands at the broadcast site clap, Takahashi told AFP.

He also said he would like to produce a “spanking machine” to hit comedians, as well as stomping feet to complement the hand-clapping arms.

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'Subtitle glasses' to debut at Tokyo film festival

Story from The Daily Yomiuri Online, 10/22/11.

Olympus Corp. and a nonprofit organization have jointly developed special eyeglasses that project subtitles on the lenses so the hearing impaired can enjoy Japanese movies.

A type of head-mounted display (HMD), the glasses will be unveiled at the Tokyo International Film Festival that runs through Oct. 30.

The device was developed by the Tokyo-based precision equipment maker and the non-profit Media Access Support Center (MASC), based in Kawaguchi, Saitama Prefecture.

MASC has been working to provide better access to information for people with hearing difficulties by promoting captions for films and DVDs, and is providing captions from its Web site through the iPhone to the device.

According to MASC, subtitles for the hearing impaired need to include not only dialogue but also information on who is going to speak before actors deliver their lines. It also needs to explain to viewers about footsteps, honking horns and other sound effects.

As it costs at least 1 million yen per film to print these subtitles, few films provide them. Only 51 of 408 new releases in 2010 had the special subtitles.

Theaters showing these films are also limited, especially in rural areas. Since the subtitles may annoy non-impaired viewers, the films are generally shown only for about two days even in metropolitan areas.

Mitsuhiko Ogawa, 49, vice director of Tokyoto Chuto Shiccho Nanchosha Kyokai, an association for people with hearing disabilities, said films give people with hearing problems an important opportunity to relate to other people and society. "It would be great if we were able to go see a movie with anybody, anytime, anywhere," Ogawa said.

Even if the HMD comes into wide use, however, scripts for subtitles still have to be made for each film. MASC director Koji Kawano, 48, said making HMD subtitles costs less than one-fifth of usual subtitles as the HMD subtitles do not have to be printed on film. "The problem is who bears the cost," he said.

Kawano stressed films with HMD subtitles will also be good for seniors with hearing difficulties. He said demand could be increased by expanding the HMD's functions to allow the use of foreign-language subtitles.

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