Sensitive chair that checks stress a smash at Tokyo tech fair

Data from sensors in Panasonic’s prototype armchair being analyzed in a demonstration by a Panasonic employee at the CEATEC fair in Tokyo. (AFP)
Updated 17 October 2018
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Sensitive chair that checks stress a smash at Tokyo tech fair

  • Electronics giant Panasonic showed a prototype of an armchair that can tell how stressed its user is by measuring sweat from hands as well as seating position and facial expressions
  • Components manufacturer Murata Manufacturing has pioneered a small device held for a minute between the thumb and forefinger to measure pulse rates and nervous system activity

MAKUHARI: Sensors that can measure stress levels, mood, posture and performance took center stage at Asia’s top high-tech fair in Tokyo.
Ten years ago at CEATEC the big noise was created by big-screen TVs and entertainment systems. Now the buzz is about tiny sensors that measure the minutest facet of the human body — a Japanese speciality.
Electronics giant Panasonic showed a prototype of an armchair that can tell how stressed its user is by measuring sweat from hands as well as seating position and facial expressions.
“You could imagine such a chair in the office and by combining the results with air conditioning and lighting levels, you could adjust the ambiance of the office to enable people to relax if necessary,” a Panasonic demonstrator said.
Components manufacturer Murata Manufacturing has pioneered a small device held for a minute between the thumb and forefinger to measure pulse rates and nervous system activity.
“We are going to start selling this very soon to companies, so they can measure how stressed their employees are. Transport and taxi companies are especially interested,” said Takashi Hayashida, a spokesman for the firm.

 

Staff equipped with sensors could be under permanent surveillance to “improve their posture and productivity,” according to Japanese electronics firm TDK.
Sensors are also being put to work to improve health care — especially for the elderly, with nearly 28 percent of the Japanese population over 65.
Using a device created by hygiene firm Lion, patients can flash a smile at a smartphone and send it to a server that will report back with data on oral hygiene.
Housing equipment firm Lixil has developed a bathtub sensor that measures water temperature and vital signs such as pulse and body temperature in an attempt to cut the 5,000-plus sudden bath deaths a year in the country, 90 percent of them in over 65s.
At the other end of the age scale, sensors are being used to ease labor shortages in kindergartens and creches.
Japan’s public New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization has developed a super-fine and sensitive film that can perform a host of functions related to childcare.
When placed in a cot, for example, it can upload data to a computer showing whether a baby rolls onto its stomach or its temperature spikes.
“There is a staff shortage in creches. We need solutions to enable them to watch over more children at a time,” said a demonstrator.
The same film can be used to determine how much and at what speed a meal is eaten — in a hospital or retirement home for example — by measuring the pressure applied on a table by a bowl or plate.
Much effort is also devoted to that less life and death matters, especially body odour, to which the Japanese are especially sensitive.
Cosmetics giant Shiseido recently commissioned a study to demonstrate that the odour given off by a person under stress smells like ... onions.
And the sensors are not just for humans. Sharp has developed a cat litter tray equipped with monitors to measure the volume of the feline’s urine and record its frequency.

FASTFACTS

Almost 28 percent of the Japanese population are over the age of 65.


Angola battles to revive oil exploration as output declines

Updated 16 November 2018
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Angola battles to revive oil exploration as output declines

  • Without another mega-project like Total’s Kaombo on the horizon and fields getting old, Africa’s second-largest crude producer is facing a steep decline
  • Sonangol, the state oil company, is negotiating contracts for new blocks with oil majors and Angola plans to hold an auction next year

LUANDA: On Saturday, nearly two decades after securing the initial rights, Total’s CEO, Patrick Pouyanne, was in Luanda to snip the ribbon on a $16 billion oil project. It is not clear when he, or his peers, will be celebrating in Angola again.

Without another mega-project like Total’s Kaombo on the horizon and fields getting old, Africa’s second-largest crude producer is facing a steep decline unless it can revive exploration in what was once one of the world’s most exciting offshore prospects.
Sonangol, the state oil company, is negotiating contracts for new blocks with oil majors and Angola plans to hold an auction next year, the first tender for exploration rights since 2011.
It is a race against time for a country where oil accounts for 95 percent of exports and around 70 percent of government revenues. Luck will also play a part, as it always does in exploration where finding oil can never be guaranteed.
But without new projects, output could fall to 1 million barrels per day by 2023, according to the oil ministry. That is down from 1.5 million today and nearly half of what Angola was producing a decade ago. The country risks having its OPEC quota cut and is struggling to ensure the long-term feed for its $10 billion liquid natural gas plant.
President Joao Lourenco won an August 2017 election promising an “economic miracle” in Angola, which despite its oil wealth struggles to provide basic services to a mostly impoverished population that is growing at 3 percent a year. But falling oil production means a third consecutive contraction is expected in 2018, even while annual inflation runs at 18 percent.
To turn things around, Angola has asked international oil companies to the table, offering better fiscal terms and more collaboration.
With the time from exploration to first oil on new areas anything from five to 10 years, Angola is also offering tax breaks to encourage companies to link existing marginal discoveries to operating production platforms.
There are signs the measures are working, though some oil experts wonder at what cost for the southwest African country.
“The level of exploration activity in Angola is beginning to change,” Sonangol’s chairman, Carlos Saturnino, said at Saturday’s inauguration.
He expects between five and 10 new concessions to be signed next year.
Exxon, he said, had shown interest in some blocks in southern Angola’s unexplored Namib basin, while advanced discussions are being held with BP, Equinor and ENI for the rights to the ultra-deep offshore blocks 46 and 47.
BP and ENI declined to comment. Equinor and Exxon did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Total, which operates 40 percent of Angola’s production, plans to drill its first exploration well in four years. Beneath 3,630m of water on block 48, it will be one of the world’s deepest.
“We hope it will be a play-opener for the ultra-deep in Angola,” said Andre Goffart, senior vice president for development. “We are seeing a new wave of exploration in Angola.”
These signs of fresh exploration come after a period of near-paralysis due to a lack of drilling success, a slump in oil prices and a deteriorating relationship between Sonangol and the oil majors.
Angola’s offshore reserves are expensive to explore and develop, making it a hard sell for shareholders when oil is at $40. The number of rigs operating off Angola’s shores dropped from 18 in early 2014 to just two in 2017, according to oil services company Baker Hughes.
The steep drop in prices from 2014 came just as companies were smarting from the failure to discover Brazil-like oil
reservoirs beneath a layer of salt on the African side of the Atlantic. The search for the “Angolan pre-salt” resulted in some of the most expensive dry wells ever drilled and sapped exploration appetite.
Critics say the situation was exacerbated by Isabel dos Santos, the former president’s daughter and previous chair of Sonangol, under whose leadership new projects ground to a halt. Dos Santos denies allegations of mismanagement, saying she helped turn around an almost bankrupt company.
“There are few places in the world right now where the oil majors are in as good a negotiating position as here,” said one international oil executive in Luanda on condition of anonymity.
Some local experts fear the deals Angola is striking are too beneficial for the companies, although details remain private.
“If Angola gives away too much it could create problems further down the line,” said Jose Oliveira, an oil specialist at the Catholic University in Luanda.
But the country has little choice given its imminent production decline and a lack of money or expertise to lead the drilling campaigns itself.