TOKYO (Reuters) - For all those drivers that hate parallel parking and anything else that requires the reverse gear, Nissan could one day have the car for you.
The leading Japanese carmaker recently unveiled the Pivo 2, a battery-powered concept car with a fully rotating cabin that makes going backwards obsolete, since the driver can turn to face the direction they need to go.
Its wheels also turn 90 degrees, making parking easier.
"With this easy-to-handle car, you can feel comfortable while driving," said Masahiko Tabe, senior manager of the advanced vehicle development group at Nissan Motors.
"You can go everywhere without worrying about your driving skills." The car is as yet not for commercial sale.
The futuristic, three-seat car also comes with a robotic device that Nissan said monitors the driver's expression using censors and tailors its conversation accordingly.
The device, able to converse in English and Japanese, can help an angry driver overcome road rage or wake you up if you're prone to dozing behind the wheel, the car makers said.
"Are you sleeping? There's a cafe 500m ahead," the device said during a demonstration of the car last week. The Pivo 2 will be showcased at the Tokyo Motor Show later this month.
Nice. My only concern is that the car looks extremely small and about as crashworthy as a reinforced aluminum can. I don't even want to think about the unusual trajectories this vehicle with sideways-turning wheels might take in a freeway accident. A rollover accident would not be a picnic, either.
But with a few modifications -- say, incorporating some of the same technology into a SUV -- we'll have something really useful here.
Another round of kudos to Japan for thinking outside the box. With advanced robotics, a new moon exploration program, and vehicle innovations like this, Japan is setting an impressive technological pace.
Tokyo, Japan (AHN) - The Japanese satellite launched last month finally reached orbit around the moon on Friday. The probe is eventually set to move into orbit closer to the moon's surface before starting an observational mission that should last a year.
The $279 million Selenological and Engineering Explorer or SELENE involves launching the main satellite in a circular orbit at an altitude of about 60 miles, as well as the two smaller satellites in elliptical orbits. The data collected will be used the study the moon's origin and evolution.
Many more details about Japan's long-term space plans, which include constructing a research base on the Moon starting around 2025, are here.
Japanese culture has long appreciated and celebrated the moon. As a techological world leader, Japan has as good a chance as any country on earth of establishing a moon base this century.
Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. H-2A rocket, loading the Kaguya probe, takes off from Tanegashima island, Kagoshima prefecture, Japan, on Sept. 14, 2007. Source: Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd./JAXA via Bloomberg News at Bloomberg.com
. . . [O]n display at a trade fair this week in Tokyo was a power assist suit that makes it easier to lift an elderly person out of a wheelchair or bed.
The suit looks clunky, takes 10 minutes to put on, weighs thirty kilos (66 pounds) and has blinking lights and wires reminiscent of a robot in a sci-fi movie.
But it allows the wearer to lift a person as heavy as 100 kilos as if they were carrying only half that weight.
"I don't feel heavy at all. Because of air pumped in the suit, I just feel like I'm carrying a normal backpack," said Hiroi Tsukui, a participant in the project as she carried a young man onto a table to demonstrate to onlookers.
For now the suit, developed by Kanagawa Institute of Technology, is only made to order and generally targeted at nursing homes and hospitals.
But Tsukui hopes it will be used in ordinary homes in the future. . . . .
Researchers are also looking to improve "robot suits" for the elderly to wear themselves for more autonomy, instead of relying on caregivers or their children.
A "muscle suit" developed by Tokyo University of Science also allows the wearer to lift heavy objects.
The half-body suit incorporates artificial muscles made of elastic rubber and nylon and air pumps for the arms.
Hiroshi Kobayashi, an associate professor at the university that spearheaded the project, admitted that hurdles remain before it could be easily used.
The suit, which weighs four kilos, presents "some safety concerns for elderly people," he said.
"So for now we have limited the suit to caretakers or even construction workers whom I think would benefit greatly from this. But we hope in the future this will give old people more mobility with their arms," he added.
Another product designed to give elderly greater mobility is auto giant Honda Motor's "Walking Assist" product which can help the elderly walk independently without the help of a cane, walking frame or arm of a carer.
The long-term possibilities are mind-boggling.
Ordinary humans will be able to acquire superhuman strength simply by putting on the right "suit."
Victims of spinal cord injuries will be able to "walk" again, whether they ever regain voluntary movement in their limbs or not.
A soldier in a body-armored robot suit will be badly shot and will surprise everyone by continuing to walk or run forward a bit longer, thanks to a robot suit with a delayed reaction time.
Someone will dress their dog in a human robot suit and give us all a laugh when the dog "walks" on two feet.
Now and then, a robot suit will malfunction. Someday, a robot suit might take a few steps by itself, startling someone.
Someone will incorporate robot suits into ballet. The dance will be more graceful and more beautiful than you can imagine.
Someone will be caught secretly using robot technology in a sport.
Entirely new sports that incorporate robot suits will be invented.
~ ~ ~
It's a reminder that we live in an incredibly exciting era in human history. Consider all that humans have invented, discovered, and achieved in a little more than a century:
Mankind took to the skies with airplanes. We can now circle the globe with amazing speed.
Radio and television were invented.
Antibiotics were developed, saving millions of lives.
Humans reached outer space and walked on the moon. Probes landed on Mars and are venturing into the solar system and beyond. Satellites have become commonplace.
The first open heart surgery was performed.
Organ transplantation became routine.
The first artificial heart was invented.
Scientists discovered how to use adult stem cells to repair and replace organs.
Scientists discovered how to restore hearing to the deaf.
Computers were invented and, quickly changed just about everything else. They're in our banks. They' re in our cars. They're in our toys. You learn not to jump when the toys you're putting away say something.
It's an amazing time to be alive.
There is plenty of room for worry and concern in this age -- there is in every age -- but as we observe the forward rush of science, medicine, travel, and technology, we can also draw incredible hope.
It is no longer possible to look someone in the face and say, without fear of being proven wrong, "You'll never see again." "You'll never walk again." "That thing will never fly."
Now you can turn to your friend and say sincerely, in almost every situation, "I know it looks hopeless now. But someone, somewhere, is working on a solution right now. There's always hope."
There is always hope.
It's exciting to see what people can achieve. The possibilities are limitless because the intelligence and creativity that flows through us comes from a Source much more awesome than we can fathom.
When you're a kid, the days before Christmas count down so slowly. If you're lucky, along the way you find wonder.
Now that you're an adult, you don't have to wait for Christmas anymore. The magic is all around you, every day. Just lift up your eyes. While you're at it, lift up your heart.