Innovation and Technology Weekly – No. 17, 2008

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Issue 17, 2008

This week's headlines:

EU targets move to IPv6
May 29, 2008

The European Commission is aiming for 25% of businesses, public authorities and households in the EU to use next-generation internet addresses by 2010.

The EU's internet commissioner said more addresses were needed if Europeans were to use internet-enabled devices such as smart tags in shops, factories and airports or intelligent heating and lighting systems in their homes. Of the 4.3 billion addresses allowed by the address system most people use now, IPv4, only 700 million - or 16% - are still available. IPv4 dates to 1984.

Japan's Nippon Telecom and Telegraph has already rolled out a public IPv6 network and China plans to put one in place shortly. But the US and Europe are lagging behind, though the US has made IPv6 a condition for government contracts for website services. The EU executive called on European governments to follow suit.

Full story: PhysOrg / AP Back to top

Monkeys move robotic arm using brain power
May 28, 2008

Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh, US, have created a brain implant that allows monkeys to feed themselves using a robotic arm just by thinking about it. The device could one day help paralysed people to operate prosthetic limbs.

Two macaque monkeys successfully used the robotic arm to grab pieces of marshmallow off a pin positioned at various different locations. The arm is controlled by a network of tiny electrodes called a brain-machine interface, implanted into the motor cortex of the monkeys' brains - the region that controls movement. It picks up the signals of brain cells as they generate commands to move, and converts those into directional signals for the robotic arm.

The researchers first trained the monkeys to use a joystick to manipulate the arm. Then, the monkeys' own arms were restrained by placing them in tubes, and the robotic arm was switched over to brain control. The monkeys achieved success rates of 61% and 78%, respectively. And they could also direct the arm around obstacles to ensure safe delivery of the food morsels.

Full story: Nature Back to top

Researchers find new class of superconductor
May 29, 2008

US researchers believe that they have discovered an entirely new kind of superconductor.

The team from the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory at Florida State University reported surprising magnetic properties in new superconductors based on iron and arsenic which they have called 'doped rare earth iron oxyarsenides'.

The research suggests that the material may have future applications including improved magnetic resonance imaging machines, and a new generation of superconducting electric motors, generators and power transmission lines.

Full story: VNUnet UK Back to top

Religion is a product of evolution, software suggests
May 27, 2008

God may work in mysterious ways, but a simple computer program may explain how religion evolved. By distilling religious belief into a genetic predisposition to pass along unverifiable information, the program predicts that religion will flourish. But only if non-believers help believers out - perhaps because they are impressed by their devotion, according to James Dow, an evolutionary anthropologist at Oakland University in the US, who wrote the program - called Evogod.

To determine if it was possible for religion to emerge as an evolutionary adaptation, rather then a mental artefact, Dow wrote a program that focuses on the evolutionary benefits people receive from their interactions with one another. The model assumes that a small number of people have a genetic predisposition to communicate unverifiable information to others. They passed on that trait to their children, but they also interacted with people who did not spread unreal information.

The model looks at the reproductive success of the two sorts of people - those who pass on real information, and those who pass on unreal information. Under most scenarios, 'believers in the unreal' went extinct. But when Dow included the assumption that non-believers would be attracted to religious people because of some clear, but arbitrary, signal, religion flourished.

Full story: New Scientist / Journal of Artificial Societies and Social Stimulation Back to top

Researcher makes robot walk like a human
May 28, 2008

A Dutch researcher has developed a robot which he claims can walk like a human. Daan Hobbelen of TU Delft will receive his PhD for the device, which he has called Flame. The project is the latest in a long line of TU Delft research programmes that aim to examine the way humans walk and create robots that emulate this action.

Hobbelen concentrated on replacing the cautious, rigid way in which robots have traditionally walked, with the more fluid, energy-efficient movement used by humans. The researcher invented a suitable method for measuring the stability of the way people walk for the first time. He describes this natural human gait as 'falling forward in a controlled fashion'.

'Flame' contains seven motors, an 'organ of balance' and various algorithms which ensure a high level of stability. The robot can apply the information provided by its organ of balance to place its feet slightly further apart in order to prevent a potential fall.

Full story: VNUnet UK Back to top

IBM offers carbon emission calculator
May 23, 2008

IBM has unveiled an application which allows businesses to calculate their carbon footprint. The IBM Carbon Tradeoff Modeller calculates carbon emissions from all parts of a company and figures out the overall environmental impact of its operations.

The tool estimates the amount of carbon emitted in various business processes, such as packaging products and transporting materials. Customers are also able to produce models of the impact of future initiatives, and calculate the costs of making improvements to cut emissions. IBM hopes that the new tool will appeal to a business community that is increasingly looking at ways to cut carbon emissions and minimise energy costs.

Carbon Tradeoff Modeller is part of a larger IBM programme to offer ways for businesses to reduce carbon emissions. The company is also offering a white paper through its consulting branch which offers studies and tips on how companies can cut carbon emissions in their supply chain.

Full story: VNUnet UK Back to top

Terahertz laser shines at room temperature
May 28, 2008

Terahertz beams could be employed in many scientific and technological applications, such as biological imaging, security screening and materials science. Now these applications are a step closer, as researchers have made the first room-temperature coherent terahertz source based on commercially available semiconductor nanotechnology.

Terahertz radiation lies between the microwave and far-infrared regions of the electromagnetic spectrum, at wavelengths from about 1 to 0.03 mm. Until now, the only compact semiconductor lasers to emit light at terahertz wavelengths were 'quantum cascade' lasers (QCLs). Until now, however, QCLs have only been able to emit terahertz radiation at cryogenic temperatures of less than 200 K.

The new QCL device - made by researchers at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, Texas A&M University and ETH Zurich - emits terahertz radiation with several-hundred nanowatts of power at room temperature. At commercially available thermoelectric cooler temperatures around 259 K this power is increased to microwatts. Moreover, the power can be further increased up to a few milliwatts by optimising the semiconductor nanostructure layers of the laser's active region and by improving the extraction efficiency of the terahertz radiation.

Full story: PhysicsWorld / Appl. Phys. Lett. Back to top

Buses 'could be road sensor hubs'
May 28, 2008

Buses could be turned into 'mobile sensing platforms' to help reduce traffic and improve road conditions, according to European researchers.

Berlin buses were used to demonstrate the technology, which included on-board environmental sensors, cameras and GPS. The buses transmitted data wirelessly, over mobile phone networks, wi-fi and Wimax, to traffic control centres.

The pan-European research project, dubbed Moryne, is being led by the University of Applied Sciences, Osnabruck, in Germany, and the Institute for Transport Sciences, in Hungary.

The sensor systems could be used to detect fog and ice on the roads, as well as analysing traffic conditions and giving alerts about smog conditions. The scientists believe the data could be used to give motorists automatic warnings of traffic jams, as well as helping control centres respond to dynamic conditions on roads.

Full story: BBC News Back to top

Invention: Shopper-watching windows
May 27, 2008

Eye tracking software has become a mature technology that works effectively in many real situations. So the consumer electronics company Philips hopes to apply it to displays in shop windows.

The company's idea is to track the gaze of window shoppers to determine which items in the window they are staring at, then to display enlarged pictures, a slide show or other information about those items on nearby computer screens.

Philips says that the system could also be used in museums and art galleries to provide visitors with extra information as they need it.

Full story: New Scientist Back to top