The Junk Bins of Akihabara

Akihabara, Tokyo has transformed over the years. In its present form Akihabara emerged from the ruins of a devastated Tokyo after World War 2 when the entire district was burnt to the ground. The area was rebuilt in the shadow of the Akiba Jinja (dedicated to the god of fire prevention), and a new breed of street vendors began to appear. Huddling under the protection of railway bridges, and dealing mostly in Black market radio parts, these vendors set a new tone to what would become Japan’s “Electric Town”. And as Japanese manufacturing prowess grew so too did Akihabara.

Maids touting for business

Now of course Akihabara is also home to Otaku culture, and is perhaps best known in this regard for its maid cafes. Streets are littered with maids touting their cafes, somewhat incongruously among computer outlets and precision tooling stores.

My interests however lie squarely in Akihabara’s glorious junk bins. Of all places I think I’m happiest  digging through this mass of discarded technology from Japan’s manufacturing past.

A tour through the junks bins is like an archaeological dig. And in this article I will present some recent finds, and ponder on their relevance to Japanese manufacturing.

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Japanese Edition: 3Dプリンターで24時間以内に住宅建設。しかもリサイクル材料を用いたエコ建築。

3d printed house in china

by: [Hideyuki Yamamoto] based on this feature.

3Dプリンターメーカーが小さくて精度が高いプリンターを開発するのに躍起になっている中でShanghai WinSun Decoration Design Engineering Companyという中国にある会社がオリンピックプールの半分程度の大きさの巨大な3Dプリンターで実験を重ねているとBBCなどは報じている。




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DARPA Robotics Challenge Trials Day 1


Today was the first of two days of trials at the DARPA Robotics challenge at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Florida. Created after the Japan’s Fukushima nuclear disaster, The robotics challenge is designed to advance the state of the art of robotics. The trials range from driving a car to clearing a debris field, to cutting through a wall. Robots score points based on their performance in the trials. Much of the day was spent waiting for teams to prepare their robots. There were some exciting moments however, with one challenger falling through a stacked cinder block wall.

Pictured above is Valkyrie from NASA JPL JSC. We reported on Valkyrie earlier this month. Arguably one of the better looking robots of the bunch, Valkyrie proved to be all show and no go today, failing to score any points in its day 1 trials. The day one lead went to Team Schaft, a new robot from Tokyo based startup company Schaft inc. Schaft scored 18 points in its first day. In second place is the MIT team  with 12 points. Third place is currently held by Team TRACLabs with 9 points. All this can change tomorrow as the second day of trials take place. The live stream will be available from 8am to 7pm EST on DARPA’s robotics challenge page.

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Sustainability Hacks: Poop power

Yes. That’s a motorized tricycle with a toilet. Let that sink in for a minute. Oh, that isn’t a concept sketch of something that will never be built. The Toilet Bike Neo is most assuredly a real thing.

Biogas, or methane produced from decaying plant or animal wastes, is a legitimate form of energy. Waste gasses from landfills make up about half a percent of U.S. natural gas consumption. The state of Vermont even has a Cow Power program of renewable energy. That being said, this is a toilet on a trike.

The bike was built for Japanese bathroom fixture manufacturer TOTO’s green initiative. Biogas is produced onboard the trike, so instead of going to the local gas station to fill up, you could just get a newspaper, coffee and bran muffin. There are tanks on the back of the trike containing “fuel”. This arrangement probably makes a rear end collision in the Toilet Bike Neo more terrifying than getting rear-ended in a Ford Pinto.

The Toilet Bike Neo is setting off on a trip across Japan on October 6th (today) to promote biogas. You can follow the updates on the Toilet Bike Neo’s Twitter.

A tip ‘o the hat to [jon] for sending this one in. You may now commence the jokes.

Geiger counter A/D conversion for radiation level crowdsourcing


[Akiba] and the crew at Tokyo Hakerspace are still hard at work trying to help out their fellow countrymen after the recent earthquake, tsunami, and ongoing nuclear crisis in Japan. You may remember the group as they are behind the Kimono Lantern project we featured last week. This time around, their efforts are focused on getting usable information out to those who need it.

With all of the talk about nuclear fallout, they wanted to see what sort of measurements they could get in Tokyo, however they could not locate a Geiger counter anywhere nearby. Luckily, they were eventually able to source two old counters from the Reuseum in Idaho. One is being lent out to individuals in order to check if their home’s radiation levels are safe, but it was decided that the other would reside outdoors in order to collect radiation readings from the air.

[Akiba] wanted to put the results from the external Geiger counter up on Pachube, however these old units are all analog. He figured that a quick and dirty way to do analog to digital conversion would be to monitor the chirps coming off the counter’s speaker. This was done by wiring up an Arduino to the speaker leads, and keeping track of each time the speaker was activated. This resulted in an accurate digital radiation reading, matching that of the counter’s analog display. The Arduinio wirelessly sends the information to another Arduino stationed inside his apartment, which then uploads the data to Pachube.

A walkthrough of his conversion as well as the source code for both the Arduino counter and the Pachube uploader are available on his site, in case anyone else in the Tokyo area has a Geiger counter handy and wishes to do the same.

Tokyo Hackerspace helping disaster victims

We, like the rest of the world, have watched in horror as footage of the recent earthquake-caused disaster has been reported from northern Japan. It’s easy to watch video and see nothing but distruction, however, life goes on and [Akiba] is looking for a way to help the recovery efforts. He mentions that one of the big needs in the disaster area right now is for light, as the power infrastructure has been heavily damaged. The mason jar seen above is a Kimono Lantern that was meant to accent a garden at night. It has a solar cell – one NiMH rechargeable battery – and one bright LED along with a charging circuit. It was designed in the Tokyo Hackerspace and they released the build files in hopes that a large number can be donated to those in need. With a reasonable amount of daylight, the single cell battery can be charged enough to provide 10 hours of light from the little device.

How can our hacks help others? That question has been on our minds for the last few days. Light is a great first step. But we’ve also wondered about information networks to help coordinate rescue and cleanup workers. There are hacks that bring WiFi using wind power or solar power. What other hacks do you think would be useful to aid in the recovery process?