Fujitsu research lab demos current projects, says economy shouldn't affect funds

The Japanese company held an open house at its research labs on the outskirts of Tokyo

The head of Fujitsu's main research division says it is a mistake to cut back on investing in new technologies during hard economic times.

"As we are working on long-term research, it is important that funds are not overly influenced by short-term business conditions," said Tatsuo Tomita, who spoke during an open house last week at the company's labs in Kawasaki, just outside of Tokyo.

(Watch video of some Fujitsu Labs projects on YouTube.)

Fujitsu, which developed the K computer, the world's fastest supercomputer, is known for its emphasis on research and development. The company has typically invested about 5 percent of its annual revenues in creating new technology, regardless of its profit levels, which have fallen sharply during the recent economic downturn.

Tomita said research funding should not be based on profit, but rather on revenue, as it "reflects the scale of the business."

He said Fujitsu's research efforts will continue to focus on cloud and server technologies, in line with the company's efforts to move away from its history as mainly an electronics manufacturer.

Many of the research projects on display at Fujitsu Laboratories' open house reflected this shift. Researchers demonstrated technologies to quickly analyze large sets of data collected from thousands of field sensors, as well as software to predict product defects by analyzing public records and news reports, and a system to reduce the number of disk reads needed when accessing large databases.

Fujitsu also showed a prototype for a new kind of containerized data center. These are gaining popularity as they can be quickly installed or reconfigured. But western versions, typically the size of a standard shipping container, are often too large for use in Tokyo's tight spaces, so the Fujitsu version has a footprint similar to that of a mid-sized car.

It also takes the rare step of using servers with no internal fans, relying instead on a large cooling unit that monitors the temperatures of individual server CPUs and adjusts accordingly. The company, which plans to test the prototype through Japan's hot and humid summer months, says it can theoretically reduce power use over traditional versions by 40 percent when the outside temperature is 35 degrees Celsius.

The company also had its experimental teddy bear robots on display, which track people in front of them using nose-mounted cameras and respond to being touched or squeezed. The bears are meant to serve as robot companions for the elderly and infirm, and Fujitsu is gradually giving them more features, such as the ability to recognize the moods of their owners and store this data online.

Toshiko Morita, who heads the lab's human interaction division, said Fujitsu hoped to use such mood information to help families keep track of older relatives in nursing homes or living by themselves.

"The data can be sent to the family, so that the family can understand the life of the grandfather or grandmother, remotely," he said.

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Jay Alabaster

IDG News Service

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