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Super Spectrum's Debut at the Super Bowl


Use of airspace over the Super Bowl in San Diego last month was restricted because of security concerns. But ABC came prepared for that. Its high-definition TV camera on a ridge half a mile from the game beamed beauty shots of the surrounding scenery over a wireless link to an ABC team in the stadium, which wove the pictures into the broadcast.

The images may not have been memorable. But the technology used to transmit them could make a big splash. ABC enlisted Loea Corp. of Lihue, Hawaii, to rig the antenna in the hills. Operating in a very high-frequency slice of radio spectrum, 71-76 gigahertz, Loea transmitted bandwidth-hogging HDTV pictures at 1.45 gigabits per second--about 1,000 times the data rate of many home broadband connections. Since there was no need to compress the images at this speed, "there was no delay whatsoever," explains Mike Strein, ABC's managing director for technology.

The Super Bowl was the first commercial use of this spectrum. But other applications will follow once the Federal Communications Commission draws up rules for its use. For example, Loea CEO Louis S. Slaughter sees the technology replacing costly fiber-optic links among office buildings. Call her robo-nurse. When Yasue Tsukui straps into a prototype Power Suit, its computer-controlled, air-driven limbs multiply her strength dramatically. The 95-lb. engineering grad student can carry a 150-lb. man without breaking a sweat. A refined version of the suit promises to make it easier for nursing-home attendants to shift patients or for construction workers to haul armloads of two-by-fours.

Credit for this robotic suit goes to the man in Tsukui's arms, Keijiro Yamamoto, a professor of welfare-systems engineering at the Kanagawa Institute of Technology near Tokyo. His breakthrough came five years ago when he perfected forerunners of sensors that line the suit's arms, back, and legs and relay muscle activity data to a small computer. This backpack-mounted brain, in turn, instantly regulates how much air should flow to or be prevented by high-pressure air bags that are connected to an onboard air pump. As they inflate and deflate, the air bags add force to the wearer's efforts and help maneuver the 45-lb. suit.

Next, Yamamoto plans an improved version of the suit that should sell for $1,700 or less. He also hopes to develop similar but smaller devices to restore strength and mobility to people with disabilities.

Until cheap integrated circuits came on the scene in the late 1960s, computers relied on electrically activated mechanical switches to store data. If Woburn (Mass.) startup Nantero Inc. has its way, memory may soon return to its electromechanical roots--but this time, it will be on a nano scale.

Nantero's nonvolatile random-access memory (NRAM) uses single-walled carbon nanotubules just 20 nanometers, or billionths of a meter, wide. The tubules are laid out in a grid, with those running in one direction suspended a few nanometers above those running the other way. When opposite voltages are applied to a perpendicular pair of tubules, the upper one bends until it makes contact with the lower. Touching tubules have a different electrical resistance that can be read as a "1," while noncontact is a "0."

This binary grid promises to outperform current memory chips. Nantero says NRAM can pack 5 billion bits of data into a square centimeter--several times the density of today's high-capacity memory chips. Plus, the NRAMs can be read 2 billion times per second, about five times as quickly as the fastest memory chips now in common use. And the devices are nonvolatile, meaning their contents are retained even when power is off. Such performance suggests that NRAM could make a superior substitute for the flash memory in most digital cameras and cell phones. It could also be used for the specialized high-speed RAM used in PCs.

Nantero is currently talking with chipmakers about manufacturing NRAM, which can be fabricated in existing chip plants. Chief Executive Greg Schmergel says that the new devices could be on the market in as little as two years. It seems that men have their own biological clock--and it starts ticking early. Researchers from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and the University of California at Berkeley have discovered that the speed and liveliness of sperm, called motility, starts dropping when men are in their 20s by about 3.1% a year--far earlier than had been suspected. The chances of clinically abnormal motility is 25% by age 22, 40% by age 30, and 60% by age 40.

The researchers based their finding on a study of 97 healthy volunteers age 22 to 80. "Women tend to be the focus in fertility issues," says Berkeley professor Brenda Eskenazi, a co-author. "But men are not scot-free in this."


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