Innovation and Technology Weekly – No. 24, 2006

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 24, 2006

This week's headlines:

European researchers aim to build online trust
July 05, 2006

European researchers have unveiled plans to develop technology that allows firms to build trust and improve relationships in the virtual world. TrustCoM, a project funded by the EU's Information Society Technologies research programme, aims to tackle the problem of establishing trust between organisations online, and ensuring the security of digital transactions and electronic business processes.

Using open source service-oriented architecture tools in a generic framework in a distributed environment, the project aims to address the trust, security and contract management issues that hinder the widespread creation of dynamic virtual organisations.

The tools being developed cover the qualification of companies as a means to select suppliers and partners, and a system to document and monitor contractual relationships and establish criteria about what all participants in the business chain should do. It will also provide the means to identify partners which fail to fulfil their obligations. The framework is flexible enough to adapt to the virtual organisation being reconfigured with the entry of new members or the exit of old ones.

Full story: VNUnet UK Back to top

EU taskforce to bolster ICT security
July 06, 2006

The European Commission has unveiled details of an ambitious initiative that aims to boost personal security and privacy in the online world.

Solving security and dependability issues are 'absolutely vital' if companies and consumers are to make the most of new technologies, according to the Commission, which is supporting the SecurIST project to ensure continued developments in the area. The pan-European taskforce is charged with establishing the Commission's Strategic Research Agenda for ICT Security and Dependability in Europe for 2007 to 2013.

The project has established an EU-based security and dependability working group of European experts. Its aim is to create a roadmap and ICT strategy to take Europe beyond 2010. More then 200 researchers are divided into specific initiatives within the overall remit of the taskforce.

Full story: VNUnet UK Back to top

Human repellent aims to deter mosquitoes
July 03, 2006

Scientists from Aberdeen University in Scotland are determined to even the score with mosquitoes by developing bug repellents using chemicals in human body odour that the insects hate.

They have isolated chemicals in the odour of people who do not get bitten and hope to use them to improve controls to prevent the spread of insect-borne diseases such as malaria, dengue and yellow fever in developing countries.

The researchers used a technique known as gas chromatography- electroantennography to identify which components of the odour mosquitoes can detect. They are currently comparing their impact to insect repellents approved by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

So far results have been promising, according to the researchers. In addition to mosquitoes, they are also looking at tics and other disease-carrying insects. They hope to develop a formula that will be marketed within around two years.

Full story: MSNBC / Reuters Back to top

'Bionic' limb breakthrough made
July 03, 2006

UK scientists have developed technology that enables artificial limbs to be directly attached to a human skeleton. The breakthrough, developed by researchers at University College London, allows the prosthesis to breach the skin without risk of infection.

The work paves the way for bionic limbs which are controlled by the central nervous system. The technique, called Intraosseous Transcutaneous Amputation Prosthesis (ITAP), involves securing a titanium rod directly into the bone. The metal implant passes through the skin and the artificial limb can be directly attached to it.

Risk of infection, which could be caused by bacteria passing from the external limb through the rod to the bone, is avoided because the skin tissue meshes around the rod to form a seal. To work out how to attach live tissue directly to metal, the scientists looked at how deer's' antlers can grow through the animals' skin without infection.

Full story: BBC News / Journal of Anatomy Back to top

Researchers create broadband light amplifier on a photonic chip
July 06, 2006

Cornell University researchers have created a broadband light amplifier on a silicon chip, a major breakthrough in the quest to create photonic microchips. In such microchips, beams of light travelling through microscopic waveguides will replace electric currents travelling through microscopic wires.

The amplifier uses a phenomenon known as four-wave mixing, in which a signal to be amplified is 'pumped' by another light source inside a very narrow waveguide. The waveguide is a channel only 300 x 550 nanometres wide, smaller than the wavelength of the infrared light travelling through it. The photons of light in the pump and signal beams are tightly confined, allowing for transfer of energy between the two beams.

Photonic circuits are expected to find their first applications as repeaters and routers for fibre-optic communications, where several different wavelengths are sent over a single fibre at the same time. The new broadband device makes it possible to amplify the multiplexed traffic all at once. The process also creates a duplicate signal at a different wavelength, so the devices could be used to convert a signal from one wavelength to another.

Full story: Eurekalert / Nature Back to top

Microsoft opens up on file styles
July 06, 2006

Users could be in for less frustration as Microsoft makes flagship programs handle rival ways of saving documents, spreadsheets and presentations. The initiative covers the Word, Excel and PowerPoint programs. The prototype of the first tool to translate between formats was made available as a free download this week.

Both Microsoft and the broader technology industry have been working to standardise the ways information is saved so it appears the same when opened by different programs. The new initiative will make it possible for anyone using programs in the Office software suite to save files in more so-called 'open' formats.

Specifically, the tools will make it possible to save and work with files using the Open Document format - a specification developed by the open source community as an alternative to the proprietary formats used by large software firms. The Microsoft-led project is being carried out with French firm Clever Age, Aztecsoft in India and Dialogika in Germany.

Full story: BBC News Back to top

Wireless sensors could protect US power grid
July 04, 2006

A network of compact surveillance sensors could soon be monitoring the US power grid. Sensors attached to electricity pylons would spot problems like bad weather or damage caused by terrorist attacks and automatically re-route around trouble spots.

Electricity companies already measure the load on power lines to spot problems and divert power around them. But the wireless sensor network under development at Iowa State University, US, will provide firms with much more detailed information.

The sensor boxes will connect to one another using wireless links, and will feed information on what is happening on the grid back to a central control station. They will run on batteries so they can keep relaying information if the power is cut, while future models may also have solar panels. The control system will then make decisions on how to reroute power around any problems detected. The temperature, humidity and movement sensors will monitor the area around the cable to provide further information, such as the local weather conditions, in the event of a problem.

Full story: New Scientist Back to top

Researcher invents star shade to study planets
July 05, 2006

A researcher at the University of Colorado in Boulder has invented a tool that could help scientists find never-before-seen planets and map their make-up. Webster Cash invented the 'New Worlds Observer' to help answer if there is life on other planets.

The difficulty with observing new planets is that the mother star drowns it in light making it impossible to see with even the most sophisticated space telescopes. Cash's invention is essentially a star shade. It has a petal shape and designed with mathematical precision to suppress the exact amount of starlight. The invention creates an artificial eclipse of that star without eclipsing the planet that is next to it.

The tool would allows scientists to observe never-before-seen planets trillions of miles away and map their atmospheres for signs of life. The hope is to build and launch the star shade within the next decade. If NASA decides to fund the project, it might launch in 2013 with the James Webb space telescope, the successor to the Hubble.

Full story: / Back to top

Quill-inspired printer
July 03, 2006

The quill pen may be a few hundred years out of date as far as writing implements go, but Xerox believes it could be the future of printing technology. Ink jet printers use a lot of power to push ink through tiny nozzles. This means the batteries in portable printers quickly go flat, while the nozzles can become clogged if the ink does not have exactly the right viscosity.

So the Palo Alto Research Centre in California (PARC), run by Xerox, has developed a new type of printer with tiny cantilever arms that flip between an ink reservoir and the paper, picking up and depositing a speck of ink powder or drop of liquid ink. The cantilever arm is around 2 millimetres long and is flipped using electrostatic forces. The main stem of the arm is coated with Teflon, with a bare metal tip that is slit like a fountain-pen nib so that it picks up and deposits a few pico-litres of ink every time it flips.

Multiple arms can be used to deposit different coloured inks, and making the nibs smaller would increases the printer's resolution. PARC says the same system can also be used to transfer precise doses of drugs into pills or to automate the analysis of very small DNA samples.

Full story: New Scientist Back to top