Japanese Toilet Makers Agree on Standardized Symbols

Japan’s high-tech toilets are luxurious for some and confounding for others. Tourists facing a language barrier are forced to decipher cryptic symbols just to use one, and icons that mean one thing on some models might mean something entirely different on another. In an effort to make the products more user-friendly, Japan’s Sanitary Equipment Industry Association has announced standardized symbols for all its toilets, Ars Technica UK reports.

The pictographs, revealed on January 17, represent eight common functions: large flush, small flush, lift lid, lift seat, stop, rear wash, front wash, and dry. According to the BBC, the organization—which includes the companies Toshiba, Panasonic, and Toto—hopes to foster "a toilet environment that anyone can use with peace of mind." The new standard will be implemented in April.

Example of a Japanese toilet control panel. Image credit: Maya-AnaïsYataghène via Flickr // CC BY 2.0

A consistent toilet language across Japan is good news for foreigners, but the eight basic symbols are just a start. Deodorizers, white noise features, and seat warmers are a few of the more unconventional features tourists will encounter when they flood the nation for the Tokyo Olympics in 2020. As of last year, the Japan National Tourism Organization’s target for the event was 40 million visitors.

[h/t Ars Technica UK]

A New App Interprets Sign Language for the Amazon Echo

The convenience of the Amazon Echo smart speaker only goes so far. Without any sort of visual interface, the voice-activated home assistant isn't very useful for deaf people—Alexa only understands three languages, none of which are American Sign Language. But Fast Company reports that one programmer has invented an ingenious system that allows the Echo to communicate visually.

Abhishek Singh's new artificial intelligence app acts as an interpreter between deaf people and Alexa. For it to work, users must sign at a web cam that's connected to a computer. The app translates the ASL signs from the webcam into text and reads it aloud for Alexa to hear. When Alexa talks back, the app generates a text version of the response for the user to read.

Singh had to teach his system ASL himself by signing various words at his web cam repeatedly. Working within the machine-learning platform Tensorflow, the AI program eventually collected enough data to recognize the meaning of certain gestures automatically.

While Amazon does have two smart home devices with screens—the Echo Show and Echo Spot—for now, Singh's app is one of the best options out there for signers using voice assistants that don't have visual components. He plans to make the code open-source and share his full methodology in order to make it accessible to as many people as possible.

Watch his demo in the video below.

[h/t Fast Company]

Ralph Gatti, AFP/Getty Images
The 'David Bowie Is' Exhibition Is Coming to Your Smartphone
 Ralph Gatti, AFP/Getty Images
Ralph Gatti, AFP/Getty Images

"David Bowie is," an exhibition dedicated to the life, work, and legacy of the pop icon, concluded its six-year world tour on July 15. If you didn't get a chance to see it in person at its final stop at New York City's Brooklyn Museum, you can still experience the exhibit at home. As engadget reports, the artifacts displayed in the collection will be recreated in virtual and augmented reality.

The Victoria and Albert Museum, the curator of the exhibit, and the David Bowie Archive are collaborating with Sony Music Entertainment and the sound and media studio Planeta on the new project, "David Bowie is Virtual." Like the physical exhibition, the digital experience will integrate visual scenes with the music of David Bowie: 3D scans will bring the musician's costumes and personal items into the virtual sphere, allowing viewers to examine them up close, and possibly in the case of the outfits, try them on.

"These new digital versions of ‘David Bowie is’ will add unprecedented depth and intimacy to the exhibition experience, allowing the viewer to engage with the work of one of the world’s most popular and influential artists as never before," the announcement of the project reads. "Both the visual richness of this show and the visionary nature of Bowie and his art makes this a particularly ideal candidate for a VR/AR adaptation."

"David Bowie is Virtual" will be released for smartphones and all major VR and AR platforms sometimes this fall. Like the museum exhibition, it will come with an admission price, with a portion of the proceeds going toward the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Brooklyn Museum.

[h/t engadget]


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