Innovation and Technology Weekly – No. 30, 2005

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Issue 30, 2005

This week's headlines:

EU launches plan to boost research, innovation
October 12, 2005

The European Commission launched an action plan on Wednesday to improve research and innovation in the EU and attract more private sector funding. The commission says that the EU is lagging far behind the US and Japan in terms of innovation and research, but believes it is important to take action now that the gap is stabilising.

The plan comprises 19 initiatives that would, among other things, redeploy state aid to research activities, encourage businesses to invest in them through tax breaks, and improve partnerships between industry and universities. For each of the steps the commission invites member states to take their own measures to complement the project.

The initiatives involve changes in EU policy-making puts the sector at the heart of the bloc's funding and promotes it to businesses. The plan would help achieve the EU's aim of having the private sector fund two thirds of the research and development budget by 2010. Currently, the private sector accounts for some 55 percent of such funding, compared with 63 percent in the United States and almost 75 percent in Japan.

Full story: EUBusiness / AFP Back to top

ESA considers rebuilding lost CryoSat satellite
October 10, 2005

ESA The European Space Agency is considering rebuilding its lost CryoSat satellite, which crashed into the Arctic Ocean on Saturday after the failure of its launch vehicle.

CryoSat was designed to measure the thickness of polar ice sheets and floating sea ice to an unprecedented level of accuracy, providing valuable new data to climate scientists. But it was lost when its Rockot launcher, built by a German and Russian joint venture called Eurockot, failed shortly after launch from the Plesetsk cosmodrome in north-west Russia. Russia, ESA and Eurockot are investigating the cause of the failure.

But ESA is already considering a replacement mission. Money will be a key factor in the decision to rebuild. The original mission cost €136 million, which included the development of the €70 million satellite, ground support, the launch and operations for three years. But a clone of the original CryoSat should be less expensive, according to ESA.

Full story: New Scientist Back to top

Microsoft, Yahoo! join forces in instant-messaging
October 13, 2005

Microsoft and Yahoo! announced Wednesday they will join forces to provide free instant-messaging services online.

The plan will bring together the world's biggest software manufacturer and the internet search-engine giant to compete head on with America Online, which has dominated the instant-messaging sector worldwide.

The two companies said they hope to have about 275 million users and create the 'largest consumer community in the world by allowing users to send messages via Microsoft's MSN Messenger and Yahoo! Messenger.'

Microsoft and Yahoo! did not, however, indicate any plans to work together on the Voice over Internet Protocol that enables users to talk over the internet.

Full story: PhysOrg / UPI Back to top

Police deactivate network of 100,000 'zombie' PCs
October 12, 2005

Three men have been arrested in the Netherlands on suspicion of controlling a vast illegal computer network made up of more than 100,000 'zombie' personal computers. The colossal scale of the network indicates the growing sophistication of computer crooks, whose motivation is to make money via spam email, online extortion and identity theft.

The Dutch authorities accuse the three men of using a virus called W32.Toxbot, which was released in February 2005, to infect home computers with 'bot' software in order to create a distributed 'botnet' of machines all over the world.

Investigators allege that the men used this network for a range of nefarious purposes. These include attempting to extort cash from a large unnamed US company by threatening to overload its servers with a torrent of internet traffic from infected computers. The trio also allegedly used the zombie machines to steal PayPal and eBay account information to buy goods over the internet.

Full story: New Scientist Back to top

Google sets up $1bn charity fund
October 12, 2005

Web search firm Google - whose motto is 'don't be evil' - is setting up a subsidiary dedicated to doing good. Its new philanthropic division, named, will fund social investment projects in the developing world. Founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin are devoting 1 per cent of Google's stock and profits - almost $1bn - to the new venture.

The charity is the outcome of a pledge made by the California-based company at the time of its initial stock market flotation last year. The foundation will start with an initial endowment of about $90m. In addition, a further $175m will be invested outside the foundation over the next three years, with the aim of aiding 'socially progressive' private companies as well as non-profit organisations.

The first beneficiaries include projects to improve water supplies in rural Africa and anti-poverty works.

Full story: BBC News Back to top

Digital cameras fail en masse
October 12, 2005

Five of the world's biggest digital camera manufacturers have issued warnings over faults with charge-coupled devices (CCDs) that lead to blurred images or even a complete failure to record images.

Canon, Nikon, Sony, Konica and Fuji have issued consumer alerts over the fault, and other manufacturers which use the same components are expected to follow suit.

The fault means that in high temperatures the wiring behind the CCD will fail and distort any images taken. Camera electronic chips and wiring are usually either encased in epoxy or ceramic material to protect them, the latter being more expensive. These CCDs, which have been sold to several manufacturers, are believed to use the epoxy casing.

Full story: VNUNet UK Back to top

Project tango to improve the image of desktop Linux
October 13, 2005

A new project has been launched by Linux desktop developers and artists to improve the look and feel of open source desktops and unify icons and naming schemes across the various free software desktop initiatives.

The Tango Project was launched at the Gnome Summit in Boston by Jakub Steiner, a member of Novell's product design team, and Steven Garrity, leader of the Mozilla visual identity team.

The project has been set up with the aim of unifying the visual style of free desktop software, with initial work on a base icon library, style guide, and standard naming specification for icons, to make it possible to create icons will work on multiple platforms, such as the Gnome and KDE Linux desktop interfaces.

The announcement of the Tango project follows the launch of Novell's openSUSE Better Desktop initiative, which seeks to improve the quality of desktop Linux.

Full story: Computer Business Review Back to top

Researchers boost handwriting data input
October 07, 2005

A project funded by the EU has developed a data input device that enables users to communicate in their own handwriting with mobile phones, PDAs, laptops or PCs without any cables. The VPen, which looks like a chunky pen, works like a mouse, pen, keyboard or graphic tablet.

VPen has been developed by partners funded by the EU's Information Society Technology VIPDATA research and development programme. The wireless input device features a long talk and standby time of several days. It connects to numerous host devices using Bluetooth.

VPen's mouse-like operation uses a high-performance optical sensor that estimates movement by the changes in contrast with the area scanned on the writing surface. Recognition software works word by word as handwriting is identified. Tests show a 90 per cent degree of accuracy, the developers say.

Full story: VNUnet UK Back to top

Researchers push hard drives to the limit
October 10, 2005

Scientists at Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne say they have discovered the maximum amount of data that can be crammed onto a conventional hard disk drive.

They believe that they have reached the ultimate density limit of magnetic recording with a self-assembled lattice of non-interacting two-atom high islands of cobalt on a single-crystal gold substrate. The density of 26 trillion islands per square inch is the highest yet recorded, and 200 times the bit density of current computer hard disks. The scientists say that the magnetic properties of the islands are the most uniform ever recorded. Because the islands do not interact with each other, they can each hold one bit of data.

However, the storage medium is not 'ready to use' because these records were posted at a temperature of -223C. Above this temperature, the researchers found that thermal excitation starts to reverse the magnetisation, and the information in the memory becomes volatile.

Full story: VNUnet UK Back to top

Something fishy down at London Aquarium
October 11, 2005

The world's first autonomously-controlled robotic fish have been unveiled at London Aquarium. The robotic fish are said to swim as fast as tuna, with the acceleration of a pike and the navigation skills of an eel.

The fish, designed by researchers at Essex University, navigate by sensor based controls, and mimic the motion of fish. The team worked with the London Aquarium for three years to develop a biologically- inspired robot that mimics the undulating movement of real fish.

The researchers say the project aims to bring the public into direct contact with robots, increasing their understanding of science and technology. The work has many real-world applications including detecting leaks in oil pipelines, mine counter-measures and improving the performance of underwater vehicles.

Full story: Daily Telegraph Back to top

Invention: Phone jolt
October 11, 2005

How many times have you missed a call when the phone is on 'silent' and it is too loose in a pocket to feel it vibrate? It must be a recurring problem for engineers at Toshiba in Tokyo, Japan, as they have come up with a way to make the vibrations more noticeable.

Their flip-open phone has a sensor pin to detect how tightly closed it is. From this the sensors can tell, for example, if the phone has been popped into a loose pocket or tucked into a tight one close to the owner’s body.

When a call or message comes in, the sensor checks the pressure and adjusts the vibration strength accordingly. High pressure, meaning a tight fit, will result in just a gentle shake. But a loose fit will result in an almighty judder, hopefully enough to grab the user's attention.

Full story: New Scientist Back to top

Japan to require microchips for 'dangerous' animals
October 13, 2005

Japan is moving towards requiring owners of potentially dangerous animals, such as crocodiles and pythons, to have microchips implanted in their pets in case the animals get loose, officials said on Thursday.

The move follows a recent wave of incidents around the nation in which animals such as pythons, crocodiles and giant salamanders have been found wandering loose, frequently on the streets of densely populated cities.

In one notorious case, a man lost track of his pet python after he took the animal 'for a walk' in a park and the snake fled when the man fell asleep on a bench. He was quoted by one TV station as saying he was surprised the snake disappeared because it wasn't that kind of snake.

The Environment Ministry is drawing up a law that would require tiny cylindrical microchips - 1 centimetre long and 2 millimetres in diameter - implanted under the skin of some 650 animal species, making it possible to trace the owner if the animal goes missing.

Full story: Reuters Back to top