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Campus Now

Spring Verdure Issue (May. 2015)


Contributing to society through science and technology

Reporting on cutting-edge research results from the "Waseda of Research"

Cooperating with a stage performance of "Black Jack"
Bringing "Pinoko" to life as a robot

The Pinoko robot performs the birth scene

The Human Art Theater performed a theatrical rendition of Osamu Tezuka’s masterpiece “Black Jack.” As part of a plan to fuse manga and theater, the popular character Pinoko was played by a robot created by the Faculty of Science and Engineering’s Takanishi Laboratory.

Pinoko first appears in the 12th chapter of Black Jack, “Teratoid Cystoma.” Pinoko was a rare type of parasitic twin that was constructed from a mass of organs and given the appearance of a small girl by the unlicensed but genius surgeon, Black Jack.

The Pinoko robot developed by the Takanishi Laboratory has detachable arms, legs, internal organs from her body. The robot's eyes are equipped with CCD cameras that project the Pinoko's field of vision onto a screen. Equipped with 25 motors, the robot is a complete and charming reproduction of the iconic Black Jack character.

Dimensions and structural diagram of Pinoko

A screen in the theater displays a scene from the manage along with video of the operation scene as seen through the eyes of Black Jack. The projection creates an intense sense of realism. Following the operation is a scene in which Pinoko carefully tries moving her arms and legs, giving a performance of adjusting to her new body and becoming aware of the world around her. She also got bewildered by her given body.

Instructor Kenji Hashimoto was involved in the field of theater robotics, which fused a theater and robotics. “Preparation for combining theater and robotics began last spring," explained Hashimoto. "As part of a third-year undergraduate class and a first-year graduate class, we created the Pinoko robot. We designed a robot that can perform, but it is not normal for non-members of the Takanishi Laboratory to operate the robots. I am relieved that everything has gone smoothly.”

Developing the disaster-recovery robot "Octopus" to help recovery in disaster areas

Octopus can traverse uneven terrain by utilizing two arms and its crawlers

On March 13, a remote controlled four-armed, four-wheeled crawler robot (excluding operator seating) was unveiled at the Minami-soma plant of KIKUCHI SEISAKUSHO within an evacuation order zone during the nuclear disaster crisis. The robot is a collaboration between Waseda University’s Future Robotics Organization (Director: Professor Masakatsu Fujie, Faculty of Science and Engineering) and KIKUCHI SEISAKUSHO CO., LTD.

The robot’s name, “Octopus,” is derived from its eight limbs. It is 1.7 meters in height and 700 kilograms in weight. The robot can be equipped with a fiber laser capable of cutting stone and a grappler capable of holding rubble and other waste. It is expected to have a wide range of applications including assistance in lifesaving efforts for people trapped in buildings destroyed by earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcanic eruptions, as well as decommissioning of nuclear waste from nuclear plants.

Image of Octopus working in a disaster area
(Image courtesy of the Waseda University Manga Club)

These kinds of Robots generally focus on performing one function at a time on flat terrain for large scale work. However, the Octopus robot can use its four-wheeled crawlers to traverse complex terrain and rubble, and possesses hydraulic capabilities that enable simultaneously use of all four arms. This allows the robot to perform a wide range of tasks such as classifying rubble, clearing rubble and fallen trees, and extinguishing fires. This type of robot that can utilize four arms simultaneously is very rare throughout the world. Presently, the robot is operated by two people from a remote location, but will be improved to realize operation by a single person in the future.

During the robot’s unveiling, Professor Masakatsu Fujie commented, “We are planning to establish a research facility in KIKUCHI Minami-Soma plant. We hope to overcome the obstacles that come with natural disasters and an aging society, and use this robot to bring new industries to Fukushima Prefecture."

Newly developed system that can identify fingerprints in non-destructive way and without physical contact

Forensic Hyperspectral Imager

In collaboration with JFE Techno Research Corporation and the National Research Institute of Police Science, Professor Takayuki Sota (School of Advanced Science and Engineering) has developed a “Forensic Hyperspectral Imager” device based on hyperspectral imaging techniques, which can differentiate layered fingerprints into individual prints and detect untreated latent fingerprints from surfaces such as walls and magnetic sides of railway tickets. The device is compact enough to store in a suitcase and is capable of detecting signals from fats and amino acids in fingerprints or fluids of humans in non-destructive way and without physical contact. This superior technology gives the device outstanding potential.

Even with the advancement of DNA profiling technology, the uniqueness and permanence of fingerprints make them useful in forensic criminology. With its superior identification methods, the device will improve the abilities of forensic teams and contribute to a safer and more secure society by enabling users to promptly identify and arrest suspects. This also works as a deterrent against criminals. It is also expected that with improvements, this device will be capable of quickly and precisely identifying victims of natural disasters by their fingerprints. The device can potentially open the door to identifying when latent fingerprints are impressed based on their fluorescent spectra. Reliability demonstration tests of the device began with the full cooperation of National Research Institute of Police Science from the end of October 2014.

A fluorescent color image of layered fingerprint and palm print concealed on the wall (a). The fingerprint (b) and palm print (c) image separated spectrally based on small spectral differences (d). The optical source is a high-output green laser.

Clarifying part of the mechanism for formation of cell mitotic apparatus (contractile ring)
Expected to lead to containment of cancer cells and regenerative medical treatments

Self-organization and contraction of the contractile ring structure.
The white dotted line shows the border between droplets and oil.

A research group led by Professor Shinichi Ishiwata (Direcotr of Waseda Bioscience Research Institute in Singapore (WABIOS)) and Research Assistant Makito Miyazaki’s (Faculty of Science and Engineering) was the first in the world to replicate the contractile ring’s structure by isolating a refined cellular protein and placing it within a cell-imitation capsule. Furthermore, the team has reached an understanding of the self-organizational structure of the ring responsible for cell body division, and has clarified the minimum requirements and physical conditions of its contraction properties.

This achievement is expected to play a great role in understanding the overall workings of cell division. If cell division can be fully understood, it will become possible to control the process in the future. This is expected to lead to medical treatments in various fields that can prevent cancer cells from multiplying, and promote the propagation of healthy cells. These fields include some kinds of disease treatments and regenerative medicine. It is also possible that this research can be utilized to create artificial cells with self-propagation abilities.

In the future, researchers will utilize bottom-up methods in order to clarify the function of each protein thought to be related to cell division.

* The details of this research were published in the online English science magazine April issue “Nature Cell Biology”.