Innovation and Technology Weekly – No. 3, 2005

This is the online version of UNU-MERIT’s I&T Weekly which is sent out by email every Friday. If you wish to subscribe to this free service, please submit your email address in the box to the right.

Issue 3, 2005

This week's headlines:



New delay hits EU software laws
January 25, 2005

A fresh delay has hit controversial new EU rules which govern computer- based inventions. The draft law was not adopted by EU ministers as planned at a Brussels meeting on Monday during which it was supposed to have been discussed. The fresh delay came after Polish officials had raised concerns about the law for the second time in two months.

In December, Poland requested more time to consider the issue because it was concerned that the law could lead to the patenting of pure computer software. Its ministers want to see the phrasing of the text of the Directive on the Patentability of Computer-Implemented Inventions changed so that it excludes software patenting.

The EU says the law would bring Europe more in line with how such laws work in the US, but this has caused some angry debate amongst critics and supporters. Critics say a similar model in Europe would hurt small software developers which do not have the legal and financial might of larger companies. But supporters say current law does not let big companies protect inventions which they have spent years developing.

Full story: BBC News Back to top


Electronics giants form alliance
January 21, 2005

The world's four biggest consumer electronics companies last week agreed to start using a common method to protect digital music and video against piracy and illegal copying.

Sony, Matsushita Electric Industrial, Samsung Electronics and Philips Electronics formed the alliance because they want buyers of their products to watch or listen to 'appropriately licensed video and music on any device, independent of how they originally obtained that content', they said in a joint statement.

The alliance, called the Marlin Joint Development Association (Marlin JDA), gives the companies standard specifications to build digital rights management (DRM) functions into their devices that support commonly used modes of content distribution.

Full story: CNN / Reuters Back to top


Vienna to softly embrace open source
January 28, 2005

The local government of Vienna is due to start migrating its desktop PCs to open-source software in the second quarter of this year.

Erwin Gillich, the head of information technology at the Austrian capital's municipal authority, said this will be a 'soft migration', in which users have the option of switching from Microsoft Office 2000 to the OpenOffice.org and from Microsoft Windows 2000 to Linux. As OpenOffice runs on Windows as well as Linux, users can switch the productivity application without changing their operating system.

Of its 16,000 desktop PCs, Vienna has identified 7,500 that could be migrated to OpenOffice, of which 4,800 could migrate to Linux, according to Gillich. The IT department is offering to install OpenOffice or Linux free of charge on PCs and will charge departments less money if they run these open-source applications rather than running MS Office or Windows.

Full story: ZDNet Back to top


Bead 'slashes mobile radiation'
January 25, 2005

Radiation from hands-free mobile phones can be reduced to virtually zero by a simple tiny magnetic bead which costs a few pence, a UK government adviser says. Professor Lawrie Challis said clipping a ferrite bead on kits stops the radio waves travelling up the wire and into the head. He called on the mobile phone industry to start using them 'as standard'.

The beads, which often measure less than 1cm in diameter, are commonly used to stop data interference in computers. While studies have shown hands-free kits reduce radiation, emissions still travel up the wires on the outside and are absorbed by the head. The beads work by absorbing these 'unintentional' emissions.

Professor Challis, is chairman of UK's Mobile Telecommunications and Health Research Programme, and was also on the Stewart committee which looked into mobile phone safety in 2000.

Full story: BBC News Back to top


AI computer 'learns' children's game
January 26, 2005

Researchers from the University of Leeds have created a 'learning' computer that can work out the rules of the children's game Scissors, Paper, Stone purely by observation.

The machine, named CogVis, differs from standard artificial intelligence systems in that no data is inputted by a human operator. Instead a motion tracking camera and audio inputs feed into the machine's data pool, which then works out patterns and makes decisions much like a human brain. The computer watched volunteers playing Scissors, Paper, Stone and listened while the players announced whether they had won, drawn or lost. Within 10 minutes CogVis had collected the data it needed and was able to correctly identify the results of games.

The system was designed as part of the EU's CogVis Project, which has brought together technologists from six countries to develop a 'cognitive vision system', a computer that can recognise behaviour and learn from it.

Full story: VNUnet UK Back to top


One charging pad could power up all gadgets
January 21, 2005

Instead of each electronic device needing its own charger, it may soon be possible to recharge phones and cameras by placing them on a plastic pad the size of a mouse mat. A dense array of coils buried in the pad will transmit energy to the gadget to charge its batteries. And it will be possible to charge as many gadgets as can fit on the pad at once.

Splashpower, a spin-off company from the University of Cambridge, UK, has filed a series of patents showing how it will work. Inside the pad, an array of coils spread a low-power magnetic field low and wide over the pad's flat surface so that devices anywhere on the surface can intercept charging flux. The pad has numerous flat primary coils embedded under the surface. The coils can be of different sizes and shapes: rectangular, circular or ellipsoid.

Splashpower-compatible devices will have a thin, flat receiver attached to them or inside their casing. Current induced in the receiver's coil when it is on the pad is then fed to the device's charging circuit.

Full story: New Scientist Back to top


Researchers develop new machine for detecting life on Mars
January 18, 2005

Scientists continue to explore Mars for elusive signs of life. A new tool should help in the hunt. The Mars Organic Analyzer (MOA) can detect and identify amino acids with 1,000 times greater sensitivity than the Viking probes that landed on the Red Planet in 1976.

Researcher at the University of California at Berkeley designed the briefcase-size MOA, which includes laser spectroscopy, tiny pumps, valves and fluid channels. In laboratory samples, the new system detected amino acids present in parts per trillion.

The MOA is being developed for the European Space Agency's (ESA) ExoMars mission, scheduled to launch in 2009.

Full story: Scientific American Back to top


Software watching while you work
January 25, 2005

Software that can not only monitor every keystroke and action performed at a PC but also be used as legally binding evidence of wrong-doing has been unveiled. he developers behind the system claim it is a break-through in the way data is monitored and stored.

The system is a joint venture between security firm 3ami and storage specialists BridgeHead Software. They have created a system which can monitor computer activity, store it and retrieve disputed files within minutes. The storage system allows every action on a computer to be logged. It could help employers to follow the trail of stolen files and pinpoint whether they had been emailed to a third party, copied, printed, deleted or saved to CD, floppy disk or memory stick.

The system can also monitor the downloading of pornography, the use of racist or bullying language or the copying of applications for personal use. Privacy advocates are concerned for the employee's privacy and for the damaging effect on the relationship between employers and staff.

Full story: BBC News Back to top


Alarm over anti-theft busting belt
January 27, 2005

A Dutch retail association has raised the alarm over a new device that Eastern European shoplifters use to turn off retail theft detection systems at a shop's checkout or exit.

According to the RND, which represents the interests of the larger retailers and franchise organisations in the Netherlands, Eastern European gangs have successfully shoplifted from perfume and electronics outlets by using a device that looks like a large battery and is hidden in a waist belt. Dutch police this week arrested several shoplifters from Germany and Slovenia who carried the device.

RND has started talks with manufacturers of Electronic Article Surveillance (EAS) systems to see what can be done. A spokesman of RND stresses that not all detection systems are deactivated by the device, which is believed to be manufactured in Eastern Europe.

Full story: The Register Back to top


R 2 many txt msgs bad 4 U?
January 24, 2005

Excessive text messaging may be bad for you, or at least for your fingers. That is what some Italian doctors think. They are telling people, particularly the young, that furious typing on mobile phones could lead to acute tendonitis.

Italian newspapers La Repubblica and Il Messaggero dedicated about half a page each to the problem on Monday. A 13-year-old girl in the northern Italian city of Savona needed treatment from an orthopaedic specialist after typing at least 100 short message services (SMSs) a day. She was prescribed anti-inflammatory medicine and ordered to rest her hands.

According to a recent study conducted for children's rights group Telefono Azzurro, some 37 per cent of Italian children are 'cell phone addicts'. Irritability and mood swings were other symptoms linked to very frequent cell phone use among the young. The message is clear: MayB U shd stop B4 its 2 L8.

Full story: CNN / Reuters Back to top


UNU-MERIT