Innovation and Technology Weekly – No. 35, 2004

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Issue 35, 2004

This week's headlines:

Open-sourcers launch campaign to weaken European patents
October 20, 2004

A group of companies promoting open-source software launched a campaign in Europe Wednesday that is designed to bolster the use of copyright law at the expense of patent law in a move they believe will help safeguard the spread of open-source software. The initial corporate backers of the campaign, called NoSoftwarePatents (NPS), are Red Hat, MySQL, and 1&1.

Large established corporations generally resort to patent protection to protect their positions over newer and smaller companies, e.g., open-source firms. The issue figures directly into IT organisations moving towards open-source software, whose migration efforts are slowed because of the copyright-patent debate.

The NSP campaign will attempt to influence 12 major European countries to work to water down patent protection for software. The campaign seeks to eventually influence pan-European patent agencies, including the European Patent Convention to promote new legislation. The final goal is to help spread open-source software by removing onerous IP regulations.

Full story: Back to top

Miniature jet engines could power cellphones
October 20, 2004

Engineers of the Georgia Institute of Technology, US, have moved a step closer to batch producing miniaturised, jet engine-based generators from a single stack of bonded silicon wafers. These chip-based 'microengines' could one day power mobile electronic devices.

By spinning a tiny magnet above a mesh of interleaved coils etched into a wafer, the researchers have built the first silicon-compatible device capable of converting mechanical energy - produced by a rotating microturbine - into usable amounts of electrical energy. It produces 1.1 watts of power, already enough to power a cellphone or GPS receiver, and it is just in the research stage. Achieving this power requires 100,000 revolutions per minute.

The key advantage of microengines is that they pack in at least 10 times more energy per volume of fuel than conventional lithium batteries, take up less space and work more smoothly than much-touted fuel cells.

Full story: New Scientist Back to top

NEC strikes blow in supercomputer battle
October 21, 2004

The battle for supercomputing supremacy took a new twist on Tuesday when Japanese manufacturer NEC launched a new generation of computational building blocks that could be laced together to form the most powerful supercomputer in the world.

NEC will sell single SX-8 'nodes' for about $11,000. Each node is capable of 128 gigaflops (128bn floating point operations per second). But the company says that if 512 of these units were laced together, the maximum number, the result would be a supercomputer capable of a massive 65 teraflops - 80 per cent faster than its nearest rival.

On 29 September, IBM's 'Blue Gene' knocked NEC's Earth Simulator from first place in the world rankings, performing at a speed of 36 teraflops during a standard benchmark test. The Earth Simulator, built from an array of NEC SX-6 nodes, had been the defending champion since June 2002. NEC is now seeking to regain its crown with this new set of building blocks that are smaller, faster and less power-hungry than those used in the Earth Simulator.

Full story: New Scientist Back to top

Smart fabrics make for enhanced living
October 20, 2004

Imagine a handbag that warns you if you are about to forget your umbrella or wallet, and which you can later turn into a scarf that displays today's pollution levels.

All these objects could soon be possible thanks to a system of computerised fabric patches developed by MIT's Media Lab. Each patch contains a functional unit of the system - a microprocessor and memory plus either a radio transceiver, a sensor, a microphone, batteries or a display. Put the patches together in different ways and you can create a variety of information-providing or environment-sensing objects.

To keep it waterproof, the circuit board inside a patch is coated with a hard transparent resin. It is then padded with a thin layer of foam and encapsulated in the chosen fabric. It can be populated with a variety of components, from Bluetooth transmitters to a cut-down PC motherboard. The patches are joined using Velcro, which has been modified to enable electrical as well as physical connections. In this way, data and power can flow from one module to the next.

Full story: New Scientist Back to top

New display 'as clear as a glossy magazine'
October 20, 2004

Hewlett Packard has developed a revolutionary liquid-crystal display technology which it hopes will ultimately lead to ultra high-resolution flat screens ranging in size from a magazine page to an advertising billboard. Moreover, the screens will use far less power than ordinary LCD screens, and can be made using cheap technology.

Conventional computer screens can only manage 1600 by 1200 pixels, and even high-definition TV displays create their images with an array of 1920 by 1080 pixels at best. Now, HP reckons it can make an A4-sized screen with 7000 by 5000 pixels - matching the quality of a glossy magazine. HP says it will be able to replicate this quality on screens all the way up to large electronic posters and billboards.

HP calls the new system a post aligned bistable nematic (PABN) LCD. This week, HP demonstrated two 4 by 3-centimetre prototypes. The images on the prototypes were undeniably coarse, with visible blemishes and faulty pixels. But HP stressed that PABN will not be ready for market any time soon. Rather, the demonstration is proof that the technology works.

Full story: New Scientist Back to top

Printers betray document secrets
October 20, 2004

That staple of crime novels - solving a case by identifying the typewriter used to write a ransom note - is being updated for the modern day. Scientists at Perdue University in Indiana have discovered that every desktop printer has a signature style that it invisibly leaves on all the documents it produces. The work will help track down printers used to make bogus bank notes, fake passports and other papers.

Before now it was thought that the differences between cheap, mass-produced desktop printers were not significant enough to make individual identification possible. But the researchers have developed techniques that make it possible to trace which printer was used to produce which document.

The differences emerge in the way that a laser printer lays down ink on the paper and which can be spotted with the Purdue system. Typically, different printers lay down ink in distinct bands that can be spotted by image processing software. The team is now working to extend its techniques to cover inkjet printers and on ways to manipulate printers so they lay down ink with more easily identifiable signatures.

Full story: BBC News Back to top

Hollywood chip will bring digital TV to mobiles
October 21, 2004

Texas Instruments (TI) announced details of a wireless chip on Thursday that will let mobile phone users watch high-definition television on their handset.

Codenamed 'Hollywood', the chip will support two emerging digital TV standards - Digital Video Broadcasting - Handheld (DVB-H), a European specification that should also be deployed in the US; and Integrated Services Digital Broadcasting - Terrestrial (ISDB-T), a similar Japanese spec. At present, a mobile phone manufacturer would have to include three separate chips - a TV tuner, a signal demodulator and a channel decoder. The Hollywood chip includes all this functionality.

Texas Instruments said that the chip will be able to receive a live TV broadcast at up to 30 frames per second. But Hollywood is some distance away from commercial deployment. TI says it is already being trialled but manufacturers are not expected to receive samples until 2006. There will also need to be significant advances in battery technology, as digital TV will be a big drain on a mobile's power resources.

Full story: ZDNet UK Back to top

New gadget turns off TVs
October 20, 2004

A new keychain gadget that lets people turn off most TVs - anywhere - has become an instant best-seller. Inventor Mitch Altman's TV-B-Gone says orders are pouring in so fast his website keeps crashing.

Hundreds of orders came in after the tiny remote control was mentioned in Wired magazine and other online media outlets. The keychain fob works like a universal remote control but one that only turns TVs on or off.

With a zap of a button, the gizmo goes through a string of about 200 infrared codes that controls the power of about 1,000 television models.

Full story: Ananova Back to top