|SCIENCE TRIBUNE||Thursday, August 1, 2002, Chandigarh, India|
could whisper tips in your ear
NEW PRODUCTS &
could whisper tips in your ear
The digital assistants of the future may help whisper advice in your ear from experts in every field from surveillance to cooking and home repair.
Prototypes of such exotic devices were revealed recently at a demonstration of emergent technologies given by Accenture Technology Labs of Chicago, the research and development arm of the global firm formerly known as Anderson Consulting.
Using a combination of silver-dollar-sized wireless cameras and omni-directional microphones as eyes and ears, researchers showed how computer software or remote teams of experts could provide a wide range of information, from critical facts and figures at corporate presentations to tips for repairing bathroom tile.
"It almost gives you a bit of telepathy," research associate Dana Le of Accenture said as she wore a portable computer at her hip and a pink earphone mike on the right side of her face. "Just by whispering in your ear, this can help back you up," she said.
The idea is simple — because computers are becoming smaller, the technology is well on its way to becoming wearable. Industry analysts have predicted. "40 percent of adults will be using some form of wearable computer by the end of the decade," said Luke Hughes, director of Accenture’s facility in Palo Alto, Calif.
"But no one wants to look like a ‘Borg,’" Le said, referring to the half-human, half-robotic characters on TV’s "Star Trek: The Next Generation" series. "No one wants to wear a camera over their eye down the street or interrupt the flow of conversation with sudden commands to their computer," she said. With that idea in mind, researchers are thinking of ways to make the computers interact more naturally.
One innovation Accenture senior researcher Dadong Wan helped produce is the Personal Home Improvement Assistant, which in the future could become a variation of the now-popular PDA. By tapping into electronic yellow pages now under development, a person looking to put up a light fixture simply could describe the do-it-yourself task at hand, and speech recognition software would put them in contact with several electricians or hardware stores anywhere in the country.
With the assistance from an expert over an earphone — who surveys the situation using cameras attached to flashlights or other household appliances — the customer could carry out home repairs at a fraction of the cost of hiring a handyman, while the specialist saves himself or herself a trip.
The same technology could help people cooking at home or shopping in malls. Given the increased presence of security cameras, Wan added that people afraid to walk down certain streets someday could request local companies to check the cameras to make sure their intended route is clear and safe.
Another possibility, which Le is developing, carries the official name Personal Awareness Assistant, but it has been nicknamed "Cyrano," after Cyrano de Bergerac, who whispered courtship advice into a friend’s ear. Through a microphone, Cyrano would listen for oft-repeated words and sentences, such as "Nice to meet you," or "How interesting." It constantly would retain the previous 60 seconds of conversation in a data buffer and then record anything said a few seconds before and after any keywords were spoken into data files of only about 50 kilobytes.
"We tried recording everything from dawn to dusk, and we found out that lives are full of junk, monotonous stuff no one wants to relive," Le said. By noting these cues, wearable computers could augment their users’ memories discreetly — people could use a microphone to ask their PDA, literally, who they met at a party, and by cross-referencing all sound files recorded after "Nice to meet you" and the dates and times those files were recorded, the computer could recall the sound files containing with names.
Cyrano also could be linked to cameras to capture low-resolution images at the same time cue words are spoken, Le noted. Although privacy might be an issue, Le said all the prototypes were built with off-the-shelf parts, meaning anyone could build them now. "We’re just exploring what they mean," she said. "In the future, it’s likely an etiquette would go up around this — whenever a person wears one of these devices, people will know how to respond appropriately."
Wearable computers expert Vaughan
Pratt of Stanford University in California found these concepts
"eminently practical." One question, however, he says, would
be "with such a wide range of applications, will the number of
devices proliferate in proportion? The obvious downside to that is that
it can become an expensive proposition to get them all. But the upside
would be simplicity — if you can dedicate a machine to one function,
then you can have better production efficiency and make it
Rapid industrialisation and the use of agro-chemical pesticides and weedicides for the protection of crop have led to environmental degradation. The excessive and indiscriminate use of synthetic fertilisers and chemicals has damaged the ecosystem considerably. Though the Green Revolution helped the country for food safety and the farmers for raising their income, yet with the use of wide range of synthetic fertilisers, pesticides and high yielding varieties, the food products have become highly chemicalised, which should be a major cause of concern to the environmentalists as well as the general public.
The answer to this remedy is bioremediation. Bioremediation refers to the use of microorganisms in the removal of hazardous toxic pollutants from soil and ground water. The process of cleaning toxic pollutants from soil and ground water as well as heavy metal contamination by the use of plants is known as phytoremediation.
The pollutants are phytotoxic and affect the normal physiological and genetic constituent of plants, but plants that tolerant and accumulate toxic chemicals overcome these problems through the process of phytochelation and metalothioneins in their cells. Some plants are rich in antioxidants such as ascorbic acid, phenolic compounds, beta-carotene etc., and this helps them scavenge the toxic compounds. In environmental management the recent trend is to use microorganisms as well as plants for immediate rectification and prevention of further degradation of polluted soil and water resources.
Bioremediation using microorganisms is becoming a new cutting edge area in research. Bacteria, fungi, algae, lichens and higher plants variedly respond to environmental pollution or assimilation of the pollutants into their system.
Some of the important bioremedials include: algae such a Chloreliassp for water purification, Stigeoclonium for removing of heavy metals; the bacteria Pseudomonas cepacia for biodegradation of chlorinated hydrocarbons, Methylophilus methylotropus to prevent eutrophication, Arthrobacter viscous and Pseudomonas putida to remove heavy metals from industrial effluents; and the fungi Aspergillus spp, Rhizopus spp and Trichoderma spp to detoxify industrial effluence. In addition to these microorganisms some other living organisms such as mosses like Mercenya ligualata accumulate copper in their cells and are known as ‘copper mosses’. Certain aquatic ferns, Azolia pinata and roadside ferns like Christ Ella dentate and Pteris vitata are phytoremedials in water bodies and absorbers of environmental pollutants respectively.
Genetic engineering is another method of bioremediation, because it has made possible the transfer of genes across the species to overcome the reproductive barriers. The advances in genetic engineering have opened new vistas to enhance the biodegradable reclamation abilities of the naturally occurring microorganisms and higher plants. Genetically altered bacteria have become popular in checking oil spills the world over. Now, attempts are on to make plants that can accumulate metals to reclaim degraded soil.
A team of Canadian scientists reported the popular tree, genetically engineered with the bacterial mercuric reductase gene and capable of vapourising mercury from contaminated sites. In Indian mustard, the E-coli gene gsh 11, introduced by Yong and co-workers, was reported to have very fast biomass accumulation that led to accumulation of 40-90 per cent higher cadmium concentration in the transformed shoots. Bacterial merA gene was transferred to yellow poplar trees (University of Georgia US), to release mercury from the affected sites. Attempts are on to introduce the merA gene into Arabidopsis tobacco and canola.
Less use of synthetic
chemicals fertilisers, pesticides and highbred varieties can also help
biodegradation, however a balance has to be struck. Unless the latest
tools of science and technology are applied for sustainable development,
hunger will persist and the gains of the Green Revolution will be lost
in the future times to come. Bioremediation is the best way of
reclamation of biodegraded land.
Philips has opened HomeLab, its futuristic home technology research laboratory in Eindhoven, The Netherlands.
The technological devices built into the two-level, two-bedroom home, do not include remote controls, entertainment devices or computer monitors, all of which have been replaced with futuristic technologies that are transparent to the naked eye, yet are more sensitive, personalised, adaptive, anticipatory and responsive to the presence of people.
All of this "intelligent technology" is embedded into everyday home appliances and furniture to create a laboratory where families can actually reside, allowing Philips scientists to study their subjects’ interactions with developing technology in their most natural setting — the home.
HomeLab, which opened in late April, is linked through hidden cameras, microphones and two-way mirrors to a state-of-the-art observation centre.
Philips says that HomeLab will enable its researchers to "live" with consumers 24 hours a day, to study how they interact with new home electronic prototypes. The company believes that this unprecedented, ongoing access will speed up its product development cycle.
"By observing them using our technology in their natural habitat — the home, we can better adapt that technology into real world products. This will be a key differentiator for Philips moving forward," said Ad Huijser, Philips’ chief technology officer.
The facility is decorated with modern furniture and Van Gogh prints. To play a song, the person simply says "Music where are you?" and hums a tune. Within a few seconds, the smart technology will play the tune being hummed. Similar technologies are tucked throughout the home — even in the bathroom, where a digital display in the medicine cabinet plays videos that encourage children to brush their teeth.
And now a robot fly
Scientists at the University of California at Berkeley are on the verge of building a tiny robotic insect that has to ability to fly, just like the real thing.
The university said that it had made a breakthrough on the new robot by creating a wing similar to a housefly’s wing, which can generate lift. When completed, the flying robot will be around the size of a coin. The wings themselves are about half an inch long, 1/20th the thickness of a sheet of paper and look similar to miniature paddles.
The bug will rest on a tripod of solar panels to power it, but are light enough to allow the robot to gain lift. Its polyester wings are attached to thin but strong stainless steel struts, giving them the capacity to flap, rotate and do complicated aerobatics, such as land on a ceiling. The end goal of the project is to have, by the end of 2003, a robot weighing a tenth of a gram (or around the same as paper clip) that can lift off the ground and hover.
"The complicated thing for us has been to build a wing mechanism which can both flap and rotate simultaneously at 150 times per second, the same speed as a fly’s wings beat," said Ronald Fearing, professor of electrical engineering at UC Berkeley and the principal investigator for the project. "What we’ve shown is that we’ve got force in at least one direction, which is an important milestone."
Electronic diode from microbes
Indian scientists have fabricated the world’s first working electronic diode using a semiconductor material produced by a microbe.
The achievement by K. M. Paknikar and co-workers at the Agarkar Research Institute in Pune is reported in the August issue of "NewsIndia," a publication brought out by the International science journal "Nature."
The Pune scientists coaxed the yeast "Schizosacchoromyces pombe" to synthesise nanoparticles of Cadmium Sulphide (CdS) — a semiconductor material — by adding a tiny amount of cadmium in the solution.
They then used this CdS along with Polyphenylene Vinylene — an organic polymer — to fabricate the diode.
Diode, which is the heart of electronic circuits, is a device that allows current to pass in one direction but not in the other.
Paknikar says this
is "the first report of the actual use of nanoparticles synthesised
by microorganisms in an electronic device — a demonstration that
proves its utility in microelectronics and device miniaturisation."
SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY CROSSWORD
1. Unit of measure of radiation activity.
6. Measure of a surface.
7. Symbol for Selenium.
8. Christian system of dating events.
10. A mineral compound found as a salty crust on lake shores.
11. Abbr. for International Labour Organisation.
12. A hypothetical substance made of neutrons and responsible for formation of matter.
13. Metal fasteners.
14. Soft gray metal having high density.
15. Black powdery particles deposited by smoke.
16. A joint at an angle other than 90 degree.
19. Abbr. for Superintending Engineer.
20. Kind of small bunds constructed to divert flow.
21. World’s 2nd largest digital equipment company based in USA(abbr.)
22. Commonly used circuit in electronics.
23. Unit of viscosity in CGS system.
24. This clock is highly accurate and regulated by resonance frequency of atoms.
25. A German undertaking that organises International technical exhibitions.
27. Synthetic fibre made of polyamide polymers.
28. An element used for galvanising.
1. In this mathematical number system, numbers look like a flock of birds.
2. Edible grains.
3. Symbol for Einsteinium.
4. An important angle used in soil mechanics problems.
5. Optically active substance found in milk of all animals.
9. This mixture is made of substances having constant maximum melting points.
11. An inter-governmental agency of UN working for welfare of working classes.
17. A corner stone in a building.
18. A white powdery acid obtained from urine.
26. Symbol for Manganese.
Solution to last week’s