) Emerging Platforms Lab in Hillsboro, Ore., has designed what it calls a personal video player--a handheld digital-movie player that could be built by a licensed consumer electronics manufacturer and sold for under $400. With it, you would be able to watch movies during a plane trip or make your commuter train ride pass more quickly with a TV show that you recorded off cable the night before.
The prototype PVP includes a four-inch color display and is built around a 400-MHz Intel XScale processor, a 30-gigabyte Toshiba hard drive that holds 100 hours of video, and a battery designed to last for several hours.
Loading the gizmo should be easy, thanks to high-speed connection slots--think USB 2.0, which is starting to appear on new computers, or FireWire--that are popping up in all kinds of consumer gadgets. Researchers envision consumers zapping movies onto their PVPs while at home from cable TV, TiVo recorders, or DVD players. Or, in airport kiosks, travelers might download a movie or two before a flight.
Sounds great, but it will only work if media content owners cooperate. Intel Corp. promises to include digital-rights management software in the player, but in the wake of the MP3 phenomenon, Hollywood is increasingly spooked about digital reproduction and is fighting to restrict it. But if Intel can assuage the movie industry's worries and get a consumer electronics partner onboard, PVPs should start appearing in handbags near you as early as next year. While machines excel at doing repetitive tasks, even sophisticated camera-equipped robots can fail if they or the materials they're handling get jostled out of alignment. MechVisual in Park City, Utah, and Steven B. Skaar, an engineering professor at Notre Dame University, have built a control system for robots that need not be carefully--or expensively--calibrated to their surroundings. Instead, a robot running the new system uses two ceiling-mounted digital cameras to locate and adjust its lifting arm, in real time, to do its work.
A MechVisual prototype is being tested at a Florida paper mill. There, a basic industrial robot made by Zurich-based ABB is wired to a desktop PC running MechVisual's software and linked to two ordinary digital cameras. For six weeks, the test robot has been flawlessly stacking massive tubes of paper on a pallet--work once done by hand, says MechVisual CEO Bruce Fryer. The company hopes to sell robots, complete with software and digital eyes, for $22,000. Two decades after the first cochlear implants helped the deaf hear, surgeons at the University of Southern California are a step closer to helping the blind see. On Apr. 30, they implanted a wireless prosthetic retina into a blind patient. It was the first of two planned tests of the device from Valencia (Calif.)'s Second Sight, which is developing aids to combat macular degeneration and other retinal disorders.
In the test, implants measuring 5 mm by 5 mm were placed in the retina and connected by a wire to a second device surgically inserted behind the ear. Recipients wear sunglasses containing a wireless camera that transmits images to the head implant. Electrodes in that device transmit electrical pulses to the retinal implant. The current stimulates living cells in the retina to send signals the brain interprets as shapes, colors, and lines--but not distinct images. The goal for now is to help patients gain more mobility, says Robert Greenberg, CEO of four-year-old Second Sight, which hopes to market the implant as soon as 2005. It is working on an improved version that will deliver higher-resolution images. Rain is a welcome sight in a drought, but once it hits a city sidewalk, the freshness turns foul. Dissolved hydrocarbons such as oil, gas, and grease run largely unfiltered into the nation's countless storm sewers--along with traces of heavy metals, pesticides, and animal feces. Then it all washes into nearby rivers or offshore outfalls. This witch's brew, says Steve Fleischli, executive director of the Santa Monica BayKeeper, a nonprofit watchdog group, spoils fresh water, can threaten public health, and often violates Environmental Protection Agency policy.
AbTech Industries, based in Scottsdale, Ariz., has a remedy that doesn't require digging up city streets. When dropped into existing storm water drains, the company's Smart Sponge filter acts like a supersize sink trap. Made of a proprietary polymer that bonds permanently with oil, the high-tech mats--which look like compressed popcorn--let water pass but absorb oil, PCBs, and other toxins before they flow downstream.
Illness-causing bacteria are AbTech's next target. In March, the company successfully tested an antibacterial coating on the filter. The EPA-approved treatment, made by BioShield Technologies (BSTI
) of Norcross, Ga., helps cut the damage done when sewage spills taint water bodies with potentially deadly bugs. Three states are testing the antibacterial filter kits.