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Robots Mimic Origami

press-3A research team from Harvard and MIT has introduced a robot that can transform itself from its two-dimensional form into a 3-D object (Forbes, August 9).

The developers found their inspiration in origami, as well as in such natural-world processes as that by which a flower opens in the sun. Applications have been suggested for outer space, or other environments where a flat device is optimal for storage.

The robots take about four minutes to autonomously fold themselves into functional shapes for specified tasks. The process begins when hinges placed at key spots begin to heat up due to an external trigger, causing the materials to harden and constrict.

Program Aims to Fight Space Junk

Tokyo is looking to tie up with Washington on a space program, in what some pundits have called “the fourth battlefield” (RT News, August 4).

The US–Japan partnership would be aimed at protecting communication and surveillance satellites from the massive quantity of space junk that can threaten operations in orbit.

Washington is seeking partners to extend its satellite links in the Asia–Pacific, and began discussions with Japan and Australia in 2012.

Many people have commented on how the space program is an extension of the US military pivot toward this region. Tokyo’s space initiative is set for launch in 2019.

Comparing Education Cultures

press-5The author of a new pedagogic book compared teaching methods in US and Japan classrooms for six years in her research (NPR, August 9).

In her book, Elizabeth Green describes how math lessons in the United States present up to 20 or 30 practice problems in one lesson, to instill learning through repetition.

In Japan, there is only a single question per class period, which allows students to examine deeper mathematical concepts, she writes.

She also extols the way teachers in Japan work together to evaluate and dissect each other’s lessons, thus building mentors among their peers. Green feels American teachers are too isolated to learn from others’ experiences and do not share best practices.

Onsen Fit for a President

press-4The resort town of Obama Onsen in Nagasaki Prefecture has enjoyed a surge in tourism since the US president’s election in 2008 (NPR, August 4).

Soshi Nakamura, an employee of the town’s tourism office, said that residents were excited when Barack Obama was elected president six years ago, and they still feel an affinity for the leader today.

Obama-themed kitsch pervades the place, with signs and printed towels on sale on many street corners. Obama Onsen is home to a famous geopark.

Surge Seen in Inbound Japan Travel

The number of US travelers to Japan hit an all-time high this June (Meetings Focus, July 2014).

Statistics from the Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO) showed that 87,900 people from the United States visited Japan during the month.

April and May of this year also break previous visitor records. In addition, the total of US visitors was clocked at 446,000 for the first half of 2014, surpassing all previous records for a six-month period.

Reasons suggested for the increase include more direct flights from the United States to Japan, favorable dollar/yen exchange rates, and heightened, targeted promotional activities by the JNTO.