SCIENCE TRIBUNE Thursday, April 11, 2002, Chandigarh, India

Satellite news gathering
H. S. Jatana
S our appetite for live news, as it happens, on the ground continues to grow and the number of dedicated news channels multiplies, a whole industry supporting Satellite News Gathering has evolved within the broadcast and satellite sector.

Sculptures to deflect quakes
CIENTISTS have discovered structures called “sonic crystals” that can block traffic noise, may be able to transform an unpleasant sound into a pleasant one and may even have applications in protecting cities from earthquakes, New Scientist magazine reports.


  • Tadpoles have  third eye

  • Disposable cell phone

  • Fuel-cell technology

  • Magnetic field sensors




Satellite news gathering
H. S. Jatana

AS our appetite for live news, as it happens, on the ground continues to grow and the number of dedicated news channels multiplies, a whole industry supporting Satellite News Gathering (SNG) has evolved within the broadcast and satellite sector.

The true potential of Satellite News Gathering (SNG) first came to our attention in the early 1990s during the Gulf war. Images from the then relatively unknown CNN had even the non-news junkies mesmerised by live coverage of events as they unfolded on the television screen. As a result, CNN became an instantly recognised name for TV news worldwide.

It could be said that this period marked a watershed in the whole method of newsgathering and delivery. For its part, the satellite news industry has developed into an increasingly sophisticated entity, driven by the demand for news and sport.

Nowadays, we expect to be kept abreast of world events as they happen, rather than days or even hours after they occur. The number of news channels, some of them 24-hours, accessible via our TV sets has increased at an astounding rate in the last few years, all jostling to capitalise on our ever-increasing hunger for news as and when we want it.

CNN, BBC, VOA, Al Jazeera, Star, Zee, CNBC are just some of the options we now have when we switch on our TV sets with a view to catching up on the events going on in the world.

The Asian region is well served by satellite channels delivering news to the region. International players such as CNBC Asia, CNN International, and BBC worldwide cover the entire region — with the exception, of course, of countries like China where so far private individuals are not allowed to receive DTH signals. Besides them, a number of regional and pan-Asian news networks are reaching the homes of millions of viewers.

As the number of satellite TV networks beaming into the region increases, the Asian region audience, like audiences everywhere else, expects to view quality news coverage as events happen live on the ground. As such, the market for SNG services to the region’s broadcasters is a growing market.

Behind the camera

Although delivery of news looks so effortless on our behind the scenes of live news is a host of technology that makes it all possible. Satellites are used to relay breaking news or special events as they occur from a vehicle equipped with a SNG system to a studio for immediate editing and broadcast. This ability to transmit and receive high-quality voice, data and video in a wide area of coverage and in real-time, is central to the concept of SNG or digital SNG, as is increasingly the case. Developments in digital compression, in fact, enable more efficient use of bandwidth compared to analogue.

To own and maintain their own satellites for the live transmission of news would be an expensive business for news networks as satellites do not come cheaply. For smaller broadcasters, a fleet of Outside Broadcast (OB) vehicles, represents a huge financial commitment. So, a whole industry has grown up around the business of getting live events to the viewer. In addition to the satellite operators themselves, there are manufacturers of OB vehicles, flyaways and uplink and downlink facilities, to name just a few.

Companies such as London-based SNG Broadcast Services and Nera Satellite Services, now offer broadcasters the use of OB facilities at diverse locations, allowing smaller broadcasters to ensure that they can still compete on a somewhat more even footing.

One of the knock-on effects of the growing news industry is that satellites are now seen as more than just a telecommunications tool. Most countries now own and operate a number of satellites that enable them to rent out bandwidth to both international and regional broadcasters. In the Asian region, organisations like Asia Sat also offer their satellite facilities. On the international level, the major players include Loral, NDC, Astra, PanAmSat and Inmarsat. However, in the last few years telcos such as British Telecom (BT) and Sonera have also begun waking up to the commercial value of operating in the broadcast sector and have established divisions dedicated to this sector.

The tools

But what are the systems currently available in the market that can satisfy the demands for news from the public? The answer to this question is that there are many such systems catering for a host of different needs.

Inmarsat, for instance, has been very much at the heart of news reports on the war in Afghanistan. Major networks such as BBC and CNN have been using Inmarsat’s network of satellites to relay live broadcasts by correspondents in the region back to the studios in London and Atlanta.

Correspondents in the field can film live images using video conferencing units, such as the TH2 talking Heads or videophone from 7E Communications in London. This then links via a standard ISDN socket to the Inmarsat’s Global area Network (GAN) terminal, which provides a dial-up two-way connection to the home studio via Inmarsat’s satellite network. Inmarsat’s GAN terminal offers broadcasters a 64kbits/sec two-way channel.

Like Inmarsat, Intelsat is another satellite network operator that serves the broadcast sector. As part of its managed services package, Intelsat’s digital carrier services offer pre-configured bandwidth segment to broadcasters requiring point-to-point connectivity for thin, medium and thick route traffic. Intelsat has two kinds of channel-based networks and capacity is permanently assigned on one of them during the lease term.

Broadcasters can also lease transponders from Intelsat if they require a greater degree of flexibility. Leasing capacity enables broadcasters to determine a point-to-point, or point-to-multipoint, service with equipment and quality specifications determined by their individual needs. Leased services are normally the more flexible option and are highly scalable.

Like news, sports coverage is one of the key drivers for the SNG/DSNG industry. In this case, an Occasional Use Television (OUTV) service is the ideal solution, giving broadcasters an option to access satellite operators earth stations at a moment’s notice. Capacity allocation is normally extremely flexible, and is available from anything between ten minutes to 24 hours.

The ‘Lilliput’ factor

As news networks and reporters are increasingly under pressure to deliver immediate coverage of events as they occur, it is important for correspondents to be able to put together reports either using a smaller support crew or even at times on their own. A new species of SNG products that are smaller and more mobile have begun to appear on the scene for just this type of application.

Swe-Dish satellite systems has developed its IPT Suitcase satellite system, which is small, extremely portable and can easily be operated by one person. The IPT suitcase system has inbuilt encoding capability, and offers broadcast quality transmission. Another portable system is available from UK based Ottercom in the form of its STORM satellite data terminal. A standalone terminal, STORM is independent from local communications infrastructures and offers ISDN speed data and voice transfer via Inmarsat’s GAN STORM has been deployed by a number of broadcasters covering events in Afghanistan.

Also in line with the trend for smaller systems for the SNG market, the M2sat Take Away terminal, available via Nera, fits into a suitcase and is ideal for remote location, or rapid response news coverage.

Developments such as the videophone and 7E’s Talking Heads mean that broadcasters are no longer tied down to the use of OB vehicles, making it far easier for correspondents to broadcast from the more inaccessible regions of the world. Furthermore, the more compact nature of this type of equipment is a significant development away from the heavy, cumbersome satellite gear previously used in these situations. The result is coverage, from the scene as and when events unfold.


As the number of news channels increases, competition between them for viewer loyalty will become more and more fierce. In order to come out on top, it is crucial for a network to be “first to market” with news stories, which in turn means that news crews need to be more nimble. For their part, vendors and satellite operators will have to continue to develop equipment and services in line with these needs.


Sculptures to deflect quakes

SCIENTISTS have discovered structures called “sonic crystals” that can block traffic noise, may be able to transform an unpleasant sound into a pleasant one and may even have applications in protecting cities from earthquakes, New Scientist magazine reports.

Francisco Meseguer of the Institute of Material Science in Madrid discovered that a minimalist sculpture in downtown Madrid forms a sound crystal” that can block out sound waves in the same way as tiny photonic crystals, arrays of light altering material, can be used to manipulate waves of light.

Sonic crystals are mostly empty space and can be made of anything from glass spheres to metal roads and are set in groups so that sound waves can be bounced off the crystals” and against each other.

In 1995, Meseguer and acoustics expert, Jaime Llinares, from the University of Valencia, realised that by scaling up the tiny spheres of photonic crystals to centimeter-sized shapes to match the size of sound waves, they could bounce the sound waves to that they would interfere and cancel each other out.

They tested their theory on a sculpture by Spanish minimalist Eusebio Sempere with an array of metal bars at close to the right size, shape and spacing and found that the sculpture did block sound.

Their findings have given rise to several applications, including using sonic crystals as aesthetically pleasing ways of blocking out road noise and manipulating and filtering sound. There is even the possibility of transforming traffic noise into, say: the sound of the trees or of the ocean. Industrial and military applications are also being investigated so that ships and submarines could not be detected by sonar.

The possibilities do not end with sound waves, and researchers are toying with the idea of harnessing other waves, such as earth-jolting seismic waves which could be blocked in the same way. In 1999, Meseguer and his colleagues found they could block small seismic waves in a quarry, by drilling a latice of holes around a test area.

However, to protect a city against real seismic waves the holes would need to be hundreds of metres across and at least a kilometre deep. But individual buildings with sensitive atomic-level measuring instruments could be isolated from ground disturbances caused by heavy traffic.

The idea of sonic crystals may not be new. Researchers think member of the ancient Mayan civilisation could have built sonic crystals into their temples on the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico 900 years ago. In one instance the sound of a clapping hand is heard echoed back as the chirp of the scared quetzal bird. Scientists concede that more research is needed to discover if the echo is by chance or by design. DPA



Tadpoles have third eye

Zoologists O.P. Jangir and his colleagues at Dungar College in Bikaner have demonstrated the existence of a third eye in tadpoles through a simple experiment.

They removed the two normal eyes of the tadpoles and reared the blinded creatures in water containing vitamin A.

In a few days, a new eye developed exactly midway between the two normal eyes that had earlier been surgically removed.

Jangir and his co-workers D.V.S. Shekhawat, Acharya Prakash, K.K. Swami and Pawan Suthar have reported their discovery in a recent issue of the journal of Biosciences. They said their findings “are as yet preliminary”.

Tadpole, at early stage, is capable of replacing its normal eyes by a “median eye,” according to their report that said that ‘removal of both the normal eyes caused the pineal gland to transform into a median eye.”

The transformation took place even when the tadpoles were reared in plain tap water, but vitamin A enhanced the process, their experiments showed. For instance, 59 out of 70 vitamin A treated radpoles developed median eye while only 40 out of 70 untreated tadpoles developed it.

“The pineal eye so developed possessed all components of normal eye such as retina, cornea and lens and was found to be as good as the functional eye, the scientists said. PTI

Disposable cell phone

Cell phones are supposed to make our lives easier. So why do wireless companies keep packing them with pricey extras—like colour screens, web browsers, games and e-mail—that most people don’t need?

Now several companies are developing stripped-down, single-use models targeted for casual users who just want to take a cell phone on vacation or stash one with their emergency flashlight. One of the first to market will be the Hop-On Wireless (shown here) priced at $30 for 30 minutes was of talk time.

To keep costs down, the device (about the size of a deck of cards) contains only a quarter of the components found in a typical cell phone. It doesn’t take incoming calls, and there’s no keypad or display. Instead, users plug in an earpiece (included) and speak the number aloud; voice-recognition technology converts the sounds into digits and places the call.

To activate the phone, users simply push the green call button. Color-coded lights indicate when the 30 minutes of prepaid talk time is running low (yellow) or out (red). The lithium-ion batteries will last for up to two years, so your minutes will probably run out before your batteries do. To learn more:

Fuel-cell technology

Scientists in the USA have developed a new technology to generate energy which may be of use in lighting up villages in India, besides being useful for cars and cell phone batteries.

“The new technology called fuel cell technology can be used for off grid power generation and we are trying to see its market potential in India in this context, Dr Thomas M.Connelly, Global Chief Science and Technology Officer of Dupont, the company which has developed the technology, told PTI.

“We had talks with Tata Energy Research Institute (TERI). However, nothing has been decided as of now,” he said.

Fuel cell technology could also be used for running cars and cell phones. However, for using it in cell phones, scientists are working to produce microfuel cells.

Microfuel cells for example of 2.5 kilo watt per hour capacity, might act as portable energy source and be used to even light up a room, he said. When used in cell phones, fuel cells would allow users to avoid the need to charge the battery every day. PTI

Magnetic field sensors

Scientists have developed sensitive magnetic field sensors for vehicle detection which score over conventional methods by facilitating reliable, low-maintenance and weather-independent registration of traffic flow.

Traffic on highways is becoming more and more congested. Although intelligent traffic control systems help keep the endless columns of vehicles rolling, optical detection systems, installed on bridges frequently do not function correctly under certain unfavourable weather conditions such as fog or bright light.

The units also get easily dirty, which renders them blind. Induction loops, on the other hand, have to be regularly serviced and cannot easily recognise stationary vehicles, a report in Fraunhofer Gesellschaft said.

In view of this, researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Microelectronic Circuits and Systems IMS have employed the new sensitive magnetic field sensors which, by cycling traffic signals or redirecting lanes accordingly, help traffic control centres in keeping highways from becoming parking lots or at least provide more timely reports of traffic jams.

In their engineering for the project, the scientists from the institute’s Dresden branch take advantage of the Earth’s magnetic field, which can be measured with a high degree of precision by the sensors. PTI



Clues :


1. Class of animals that consume other animals for food.

8. A drilling tool shaped like a cork-screw.

9. A bore from which mineral oil is drawn.

12. A mode of therapy used to enable ill or injured people to work. (abbr.)

13. Symbol for Manganese.

14. Commission set up in India to decentralise energy systems.

17. Herbarium in Kolkata to preserve samples of rare plants. (abbr.)

18. Non-protein portion of haemoglobin.

19. Solid figure with every point on its surface equidistant from centre.

21. 21st Greek letter.

22. Milky or bluish precious stone with iridescent reflections.

23. Common name of 2-acetoxy benzoic acid.


1. Element widely distributed in nature.

2. Organisms which make their own food from air, water, sunlight, nutrients.

3. A synthetic rubber having excellent properties to act as bearing for bridges.

4. Circular coloured membrane behind cornea of eye.

5. Firm stemmed water or marsh plant.

6. Regular oval shaped figure.

7. Airtight structure for storage of cement.

10. A white solid obtained by heating calcium in oxygen.

11. A machine for lifting loads to higher places through wire ropes.

15. Self help movement started in USA to handle problems of addiction among youth. (abbr.)

16. Coarse corundum for polishing metal.

17. A small item controlling the world systems today.

19. Curative mineral spring.

20. ….centre, point at which earthquake reaches earth’s surface.

Solution to last week’s Crossword: