Developments to Watch
MINDING THE KIDS--ON THE NET
PARENTS WHO WORRY about their kids in day care may soon find reassurance at the click of a mouse. WorldWide Access in Chicago is testing a system called KidCam that lets parents with Internet access observe their child's day-care room on their PCs--and even enjoy a scheduled teleconference.
For security reasons, parents at participating day-care centers are asked to register and use membership numbers and passwords. Once that's set up, they log on to the center's Web site remotely and navigate to their child's room. If the parent's PC has a video camera, a feature called Kid Chat permits videoconferencing.
Kathleen Vrona, vice-president for marketing and sales and a co-founder of WorldWide Access, says the system has received good reviews in trial centers such as Rainbow Child Care & Learning Center in Naperville, Ill. In addition, as many companies that offer on-site day care have discovered, parents who are resting easy about their children's well-being tend to be more productive at work, Vrona says.EDITED BY NEIL GROSS By Elizabeth VeomettReturn to top
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HIGH-TECH DESIGNS: BEYOND PLASTIC MODELS
IN THE MID-1980S, WHIZZES in manufacturing melded computer-aided design (CAD) software with plastic modeling equipment. The result, called stereolithography, lets product designers create finished physical models from their computer screens. Now, engineers at Sandia National Laboratories have gone a step further, actually manufacturing metal parts directly from CAD.
Following specifications from off-the-shelf design software, a laser burns a pit in a metal substrate to create a molten pool measuring about thirty-thousandths of an inch in diameter (photo). Metallic powder is then sprayed at the focus of the beam while a stage moves the substrate back and forth. As the material melts and cools, "the finished object materializes before your eyes, layer by layer," says Clinton L. Atwood, Sandia's team leader for rapid prototyping. The process eliminates several manufacturing steps, he says, and the result is "a dense metal part with excellent metallurgical properties."
Initially, industry may use the technology to create metal tools or templates for plastic injection molding. But ultimately, factories could employ the same process to produce auto parts or to repair worn tips on turbine blades in aircraft engines. Sandia is completing a technology-transfer agreement with manufacturing giants Eastman Kodak Co., 3M, and others.EDITED BY NEIL GROSSReturn to top
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SILENCING SNORERS WITH RADIO WAVES
TIRED OF LISTENING TO YOUR PARTNER snore? Somnus Medical Technologies in Sunnyvale, Calif, has received Food & Drug Administration clearance for a technique that remolds the palates of snorers, removing the excess tissue that obstructs breathing and causes all the clatter.
The technique, called "somnoplasty," is an alternative to surgery. After applying a local anesthetic, a doctor wires the patient's body with electrodes, inserts a needle into the palate's soft tissue, and pipes in radio waves. These agitate ions in the tissue, resulting in heat that kills the excess cells.
During the half-hour outpatient procedure, the patient feels a slight warmth and, for a few days afterward, a scratchy throat. But in a few weeks time, the body flushes out dead cells and the palate retracts to permit easy breathing. Somnus says the treatment will cost about $2,500 in the U.S. It has enlisted Medtronic Inc. of Minneapolis to help export the procedure to Europe and Asia.By Stephen Baker EDITED BY NEIL GROSSReturn to top