The Pulse - The word on the street from the heart of Tokyo

Back to Contents of Issue: December 2002

1) Honda lands World's first order for fuel-cell passenger cars,
2) Mac Donald may bring Krispy Kremes to Japan,
3) Omron, Mobilecast announce telematics alliance,
4) Medical robot succeeds in removing brain tumor.

* Honda Lands World's First Order for Fuel-Cell Passenger Cars
In brief: Honda Motor announced in October that it had won the first-ever order for passenger cars powered by fuel cells, the Japanese press reported. The order came from the Los Angeles city government.

Honda says it will deliver five fuel-cell electric vehicles to the government, with the first order arriving before the end of the year. The car, which is more like a minivan, is said to get about 350km on one fill-up of hydrogen.

XXX COMMENTARY: Japanese auto executives have been saying publicly that fuel-cell powered cars won't be a real option for most consumers until 2010 or so. But privately, those same executives have been bearing down on their top engineers to bring out this technology faster. Honda and Toyota are especially eager to stake their claim to the global market for fuel-cell cars, and so far, they've been out in front of other carmakers. This order, though small, is significant. There will soon be more.

* McDonald's May Bring Krispy Kremes to Japan
In brief: The facts are still a bit cloudy, but Salomon Smith Barney analyst Mark Kalinowski has mentioned the possibility of McDonald's Japan partnering with Krispy Kreme Doughnuts of the US, according to wire reports. Kalinowski wrote that the move would be in keeping with Krispy Kreme's recent push abroad, and that McDonald's would be a good partner because of its vast knowledge of Japan's real estate market. Neither company would confirm the report.

XXX COMMENTARY: A recent study showed that nearly one-third of Americans -- or 59 million people -- are obese. But that couldn't be because of too many Big Macs and Krispy Kreme doughnuts, could it? Japan, watch your waistline!

* Omron, Mobilecast Announce Telematics Alliance
In brief: Omron and Mobilecast of Tokyo announced that they will team up in the telematics field to produce a server for cars. The server would contain a CDMA2000 1x module from KDDI and provide an array of entertainment and security services, the companies say. The first service, to be on the market next May, would allow drivers and passengers to request songs by voice -- a service called on-demand radio, an Omron spokesman said.

XXX COMMENTARY: Cars are quickly becoming entertainment centers, and Omron's latest venture will add to the list of titillations available when you're on the road. Nothing wrong with that. But we're more interested in the safety and security measures Omron can develop. It already has a very interesting anti-theft system that contacts your keitai as the thieves make off with your car and traces the car's whereabouts via satellites. Also look for a system that uses sensors to give your car a routine checkup -- it's in the works and sounds useful.

* Medical Robot Succeeds in Removing Brain Tumor
In Brief: Shinshu University professors announced that they successfully removed brain tumors from a patient by using a medical robot developed by Hitachi. It was believed to be the first surgery of its kind in the world.

Surgeons only needed to make a one centimeter diameter hole in the skull in order for the robot to remove the tumors, a Hitachi official said. In order to remove brain tumors, surgeons normally have to make a cut of at least several centimeters, he said.

XXX COMMENTARY: The robot was developed by Hitachi and other partners as part of a project supported by a semi-governmental body. Medical robots have been used in a few abdominal surgeries, but this was the first brain surgery using a robot, Hitachi claims. Hitachi hopes to put these robots on the market within two or three years.

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