Motoko Kakubayashi

The perfect popstar - Kagaku

Nov 16, 2010 While New Zealanders have been screaming over Justin and dazzling over Gaga this year, Japanese fans have been cheering on a popstar who sings exactly what they want her to sing and says what they want her to say.  To be precise, she is not even human. Hatsune Miku is a virtual popstar and character for Crypton Future Media’s singing synthesizer application.  The software uses Yamaha’s vocaloid synthesizing technology, and gives anyone the chance to make their own Hatsune Miku song by typing in the lyrics and music.  To make Hatsune Miku sound real, a real voice actor had recorded a series of letter sounds, which could then allow a creater to string them together to make words, and eventually sentences. Her name, 初音ミク, is a mixture of the Japanese characters for “first”, “sound”, and “future”, and means … Read More

Gadget that tricks brain into thinking a plain cookie is a chocolate cookie - Kagaku

Oct 22, 2010

A visitor gives MetaCookie+ a go Being able to transform a simple cookie into chocolate, strawberries, or even mushrooms is not magic, it’s science according to Tokyo University researchers who showcased their latest invention at a technology event in Japan last week. The MetaCookie+ is a virtual tasting headgear set where multiple hoses send the smell of a particular food to the wearer’s nose while the image of the desired food appears in the hands of the wearer on a TV screen.  In doing so, scientists have found they can trick the human brain into thinking that what the wearer sees and smells must be real, and ultimately changes the taste of the food being eaten. To date, Tokyo University professor Michitaka Hirose and lecturer Tomohiro Tanikawa’s research team have been able to program in seven different foods into MetaCookie+. Read More

The sound planetarium - Kagaku

Oct 01, 2010

Like a traditional planetarium can paint stars on the walls of a room, Japanese scientists have created a sound planetarium where one machine can create a surround sound effect no matter where you stand inside of a room. Developed by researchers at Ritsumeikan University, the team had wanted to create a device that would transmit music around a room without having to hassle with multiple speakers. Their end product was the Bass Unit, an icosahedral speaker with 10 built-in speakers.  By planting it in the middle of a room, music coming out would be converted into ultrasonic sound and bounce off the room’s walls.  By doing this, it delivers the same volume of music to everyone anywhere in the room, regardless of how far away they are from the speaker itself. Not only this, but by using the clear … Read More

The gentle robot - Kagaku

Oct 01, 2010

It recognises you, talks to you, and reminds you about that hair appointment at 2pm.  Usually there’s a catch somewhere if you expected this from a person, but the Japanese researchers have developed a robot programmed only to help you, and unveiled it for the first time on September 24. Created to aid people with mild memory loss or dementia, the small robot first remembers its master’s face and voice, and when time draws near to an appointment, calls out to it’s owner. “Mr/Mrs (name), today’s the day you go to the Doctor’s isn’t it.  Your ride will be coming soon so maybe it would be a good idea to go to the toilet now.” Helping those who forget: Japan's newest robot Representatives from electronics company NEC, one of the robot’s makers, had said a new human conversation program had … Read More

Man-made milky way shines through Japanese metropolis - Kagaku

Jul 13, 2010

To celebrate this year’s star festival, 50,000 LED lights were released into an Osaka river to depict the real stars which are usually blinded by city lights. "The Legend of Osaka Amanogawa" event in Osaka, Japan July 7 marks Tanabata, a summer night festival celebrating the legend of Orihime and Hikoboshi, two lovers separated by a river of stars, the Milky Way, who are allowed to meet only once a year on the seventh day of the seventh month of the lunar calendar. But the problem for many Japanese people in recent years has been that the millions of street lights have made it impossible to see any stars.  To address the challenge, “The Legend of Osaka Amanogawa” was established in 2009, and invites people to make a wish upon an Inori-boshi, or prayer star.  The palm-sized plastic sphere has a built-in … Read More

Japan, the Galapagos Islands of the mobile phone - Kagaku

Jun 16, 2010

When I moved to Tokyo earlier this year, I asked my future colleague what mobile phone I should buy. I had a history of being a Motorola lover, Nokia fan, and until recently, Sony Ericsson’s best friend. My colleague’s advice was simple. “Japan is the Galapagos Islands of mobiles.  They have evolved in a completely different way from the rest of the world.” So, basically this meant I was screwed. The other day I came across an exhibition of Japanese mobile phones from the 1990s to today.  Even though I had no idea what functions most of them had, it had been an eye-opener to see how things have changed in the last 20 years. These are some photos I took from the exhibition.  By the way, I used my iPhone to take the pictures. 1994 1995 1997 flip phone … Read More

Time to send a robot to the moon - Kagaku

May 10, 2010

A humanoid robot will be walking on the moon by 2015. illustration of what SOHLA's humanoid robot would do on the moon Usually I’d write the rest of the story here, but this time, I’ve decided to hand it over to the wonderful people at New Scientist: I say wonderful because I’ve been a fan of the magazine since I was at primary school so I got quite a buzz when their reporter contacted me at work to contribute to the story. Read More

Farewell forever floppy disk - Kagaku

Apr 27, 2010

Last week, electronics giant SONY officially announced they would put an end to manufacturing the floppy disk. The SONY 3.5 inch floppy disk made its debut in 1981 and was widely used by anyone who had a computer as a way to store documents.  But the company said the much-loved floppy had been losing out to USB memory sticks and CDs during the past few years. Other major companies such as Maxwell and Mitsubishi had already ended floppy disk productions in early 2009. Nonetheless, the floppy disk leaves an impressive track record.  At its peak 47 million floppy disks were sold worldwide in 2000, and even in 2009, 8 million floppies were sold in Japan alone. Read More

Cutting out the radio host from radio - Kagaku

Apr 12, 2010

We’ve all done it.  Tried to record that favourite song on the radio without any interfering chit-chat from the radio host. A few days ago, Sanyo electronics unveiled their new gadget which can record AM/FM radio music and leave out the talking with more accuracy than any human being would be able to. The Xacti sound recorder ICR-XRS120MF The Xacti (pronounced ‘Zac-tee’ if you were wondering) sound recorder ICR-XRS120MF has been designed to analyse the sound wave forms of the sounds it records.  Because talking sounds a lot different from singing and music, it has a different wave form.  This helps the recorder to decide when to stop and start recording. Weighing in at 66g, the Sanyo recorder has also become the world’s lightest radio recorder. Unfortunately, there’s no way it can omit chatter if it comes in during a song.  The … Read More

Magic cooking - Kagaku

Dec 07, 2009

Making ice cream in three minutes or cooking pasta using one minute of power is possible with a sprinkle of science. Yokohama National University professor Shoko Shibukawa has been researching the science of cooking for more than 20 years.  Last week on Japanese television, she showed how to cook a few things in a small period of time. 1. Homemade icecream in three minutes. Ingredients: 100mL milk, 100mL full cream, 2.5 tablespoons of sugar Step 1: Mix the ingredients together. Step 1 Step 2: pour the mixture into a resealable bag, and try to flatten out the bag as much as possible when closing it up to make sure there is little air inside. Step 2 Step 3: place the bag inside a larger bag filled with ice cubes and salt. Step 3 Step 4: wrap the step … Read More