2015 VOL.70 NO.4

  Special Reports

Evolving Postal and Logistic Automation Systems

Postal and Logistic Automation Equipment and Pattern Recognition Technologies
KIMURA Fumitaka

Trends in Technologies for Postal and Logistic Automation Systems and Toshiba's Approach
KOJIMA Hidetaka / YAMAMOTO Takehiko
Half a century has passed since Toshiba started the development of postal and logistic automation equipment in 1965. We have been continuously introducing sophisticated products with high performance and high reliability, applying our proprietary optical character recognition (OCR) technologies cultivated through our long experience in this field. These products have been contributing to the accurate and swift delivery of mail and parcel items in Japan and overseas in response to customers' requirements.
With the increasing volume of parcels in recent years resulting from the global dissemination of electronic commerce, new types of services and more accurate and rapid delivery technologies are required. In order to support postal and logistic infrastructure systems worldwide, we are making ongoing efforts to offer the optimal postal and logistic solutions for each operation using the latest technologies.

Next-Generation Letter Sorting System for Japan Post Co., Ltd.
In response to the introduction of seven-digit postcodes, Toshiba developed a letter sorting system incorporating a sequence sorting function to arrange letters according to delivery routes, and delivered it to the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications (now Japan Post Co., Ltd.) in February 1997. Almost 1,000 of these letter sorting machines are still in operation.
Demand has recently increased for the enhancement of postal processing efficiency, leading to a need for higher efficiency of the sequence sorting function and for an automatic mail forwarding function to handle mail items showing an addressee's previous address. Moreover, in place of the existing system in which the address database for sorting and operational data are individually managed for each letter sorting machine, demand has arisen for management through the integration of multiple letter sorting machines.
To meet these sophisticated and diversified requirements, we have developed a next-generation letter sorting system with new functions and higher performance that will contribute to further improvement of the efficiency of postal services.

Integrated Letter Sorting System for Singapore Post Limited
WATANABE Toru / ANDO Toshiki / YAYAMA Kyoko
Toshiba has developed a new mail processing system and delivered it in stages to Singapore Post Limited, which provides both domestic and international postal services in Singapore. The installation work and testing were performed from March to October 2014, and the system commenced operation in November 2014.
This system is an integrated letter sorting system, which is essential for mail processing and related operations. It consists of conventional letter sorting machines; flat item and packet sorters; a unified optical character recognition and video coding (OCRV) system incorporating an optical character reader (OCR), barcode reader, and video coding system (VCS); and information technology (IT) systems for operation planning and management. Each of these devices offers not only a high throughput and OCR read rate, but also excellent environmental performance such as space saving, low noise, and low power consumption. Most of the mail in Singapore is now automatically processed by this system.

Sophisticated Cold Roll Box for Logistics Utilizing ICTs
MUNAKATA Naoyuki / MURAKAMI Atsushi / MATSUDA Yasushi
A cold roll box (CRB) is a portable refrigerator that is used to transport refrigerated and frozen goods in physical distribution systems. In Japan, demand has recently arisen for CRBs with functions that not only realize more rapid cooling and faster battery charging, but also stricter temperature control. In other markets as well, there is a growing need for CRBs accompanying the increase in demand for transportation of refrigerated and frozen goods.
Toshiba has developed a new secondary battery type CRB that integrates its proprietary technologies, including refrigeration technology, rapid charging technology, and information and communication technologies (ICTs), cultivated through the development of physical distribution systems. The new CRB achieves cooling and battery charging in two hours, one-quarter the time required by our conventional products, and provides cold storage for seven hours, two hours longer that the conventional products. These features make it possible to increase the frequency of usage from once a day to three times a day, resulting in more efficient use of equipment as well as space and energy saving. Furthermore, the newly developed CRB offers customers a sense of security by providing transportation status and temperature traceability information obtained by data collection devices.

Improvement of Address Recognition Technologies for Letter and Parcel Sorting Systems
In logistics and postal automation systems, character recognition technology to acquire information for sorting destination addresses from scanned images is essential for letter and parcel sorting systems.
Toshiba has been engaged in the research and development of core technologies in this field since the 1960s. The accuracy of recognition of full address data from scanned images of postal items and parcels, including the street, floor or house number, and postal code, has been enhanced through these efforts. However, in the recognition of freely handwritten addresses, where the boundaries of each character may be unclear, a candidate reduction technique to narrow down the candidate addresses from among a large number of readings of characters in conjunction with an address database plays a major role in the recognition algorithm.
In response to this situation, we have now developed handwritten word recognition and address database searching algorithms for letter and parcel sorting systems based on an a posteriori probability that is assumed to be statistically optimal. We have conducted evaluation experiments using the newly developed word and address recognition technologies and confirmed that these technologies can recognize handwritten addresses with higher accuracy than conventional methods.

Technologies for Automatic Depalletizing Robots for Logistics Sites
OGAWA Akihito / MURAKAMI Atsushi
With industries in the service sector facing a critical labor shortage accompanying the aging of society and declining birthrate in recent years, improvement of productivity is becoming a social issue. In particular, demand for the introduction of automated processes has been increasing in various business fields such as logistics in which long working hours and heavy workloads tend to be required, in terms of both reducing the burden on workers and realizing sustainable growth. Innovative robot technologies are therefore necessary due to the difficulty of automating all handling processes for diversified packages using current equipment.
As a solution to this issue, Toshiba has been engaged in the development of technologies for robots to support the processing of complex tasks carried out by workers. We have now developed technologies for automatic depalletizing robots for logistics sites incorporating the following technologies: a control algorithm to automate the processes of depalletizing work, an articulated mechanism with vacuum type gripping pads to grip packages of various shapes, and a package recognition technology to accurately detect the position of target packages.


  Feature Articles

Speaker Clustering Technology to Assist in Performing Efficient Reviews of Speakers' Utterances Recorded at Meetings
KIDA Yusuke / DING Ning / HIROHATA Makoto
The wide dissemination of mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets has greatly facilitated the recording and storage of voice data. Accordingly, demand has recently arisen for not only voice recording functions but also a function to assist in performing efficient reviews of the recorded utterances of speakers at meetings.
Toshiba has developed a speaker clustering technology that makes it possible to accurately classify utterances according to each speaker extracted from the recorded contents of a meeting. This is achieved by augmenting the extraction of timbre features with estimation of the speech arrival direction using stereo microphones as required. We have conducted evaluation experiments using speech recorded at various meetings and confirmed that this technology can classify utterances according to the corresponding speakers with higher accuracy than conventional methods.

Small-Sized One-Time Programmable Memory Using Band-to-Band Tunneling in CMOS Transistors
ZAITSU Koichiro / ODA Masato / YASUDA Shinichi
One-time programmable (OTP) memories based on complementary metal-oxide semiconductor (CMOS) transistors have been used as low-cost nonvolatile embedded memories for logic products because no special manufacturing processes are required. However, conventional OTP memories require additional selectors for random-access programming, resulting in an increase in chip area.
With this as a background, Toshiba has developed a new type of OTP memory by applying a unique programming scheme using the band-to-band tunneling phenomenon. This memory makes it possible to design simple memory circuits without additional selectors, and is expected to be applied to logic products as a high-capacity embedded memory with a small area.

Vibration-Suppression Control Technology for Robot Arms Utilizing Dynamics Modeling
OAKI Junji
Serial-link robot arms have been introduced into automated lines in order to improve productivity. To further increase their speed of operation, these robot arms must be controlled with high acceleration and deceleration while suppressing arm-tip vibration due to elasticity of the reduction gears built into each joint of the arms. A dynamic model-based control technology taking joint torsions of the robot arm into consideration is required for this purpose. However, it is difficult to design feedback gains of the nonlinear observer for estimation of the torsion angular velocity.
As a solution to this issue, Toshiba has developed a vibration-suppression control technology using a torsion angular velocity feedback scheme with a nonlinear observer that eliminates the need to design feedback gains by taking advantage of the high identification accuracy of the dynamic model employed. This technology can be implemented as a controller that can be plugged into existing joint servos.

Design Technology for Optical Products Using Simulation Based on Response Surface Method
Optical simulation technologies are now widely used in the design of optical products, such as light-emitting diodes (LEDs), complementary metal-oxide semiconductor (CMOS) image sensors, and so on, instead of trial production in order to shorten the development period. Either wave-optics analysis or geometrical-optics analysis is generally applied according to the scale of the target product structure. With the increasing number of design parameters resulting from the growing complexity of structures in recent years, a great deal of time is required to implement all of the simulation conditions. In line with this trend, there is a need for efficient design technologies to reduce the time required for simulations.
Toshiba has developed an efficient design technology for optical products by combining the most suitable response surface method and optimization method with optical simulation technologies. Through the application of this technology to the development of optical products, we have confirmed that it can reduce the number of simulation conditions and shorten the product development period.

LF471 Electromagnetic Flowmeter with Extremely Small-Diameter Measuring Pipe for Marine SCR Systems
LIM Yunli / YONEMOTO Satoshi / HOJO Satoshi
Marine vessels equipped with a diesel engine having an output exceeding 130 kW that are constructed from 2016 onward are required to have a selective catalytic reduction (SCR) system in accordance with the International Maritime Organization (IMO) regulations for the reduction of nitrogen oxides (NOX) in exhaust gases when navigating in designated regions of the sea. In order to control the flow rate and manage the amount of urea solution, which is a reducing agent in the SCR system, an electromagnetic flowmeter for extremely small-diameter pipes is essential.
In response to this situation, Toshiba has developed the LF471 electromagnetic flowmeter for marine SCR systems. The LF471 achieves excellent environmental tolerance against electrical noise and vibration and offers improved long-term zero-point stability as well as compact dimensions to reduce the required installation space. We have also succeeded in reducing cost through the optimization of materials and narrowing down of specifications.

Flexible OCR Postprocessing by Matching Deterministic Finite Automaton and Character Candidate Lattice
SUZUKI Tomohisa / NAKAJIMA Yasuhiro
An effective means of improving the accuracy of optical character recognition (OCR) is to apply postprocessing using specific knowledge of the recognition targets, including full names, addresses, and telephone numbers. Word postprocessing is generally performed by matching the recognition results with words previously registered in a dictionary. Demand has been growing in recent years for the application of word postprocessing to more complicated recognition targets. However, it is difficult to reduce the costs and shorten the development period required for the modification of postprocessing programs in order to handle such complicated word matching.
With this as a background, Toshiba has developed a flexible OCR postprocessing technology that implements word postprocessing by matching a deterministic finite automaton (DFA) converted from a regular grammar describing the recognition target and a candidate character lattice. This technology makes it possible to easily expand recognition targets without changing the program, and is currently being introduced into OCR products for effective processing of various finance- and insurance-related documents.


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