Computing Applications News track

News Track

  1. Airport Security Afoot
  2. Air Fare
  3. The Human Touch
  4. Luddite Politicians Seek Help
  5. Are We There Yet?
  6. Tunes To Go
  7. Author

A promising scanning device that would allow airline passengers to keep their shoes on while walking through security checkpoints is now being tested, reports USA Today. The ShoeScanner uses technology similar to an MRI to detect explosives in five to eight seconds. Rather than remove shoes and jackets, travelers stand in a kiosk where radio waves are targeted at shoes to agitate molecules and analyze their structure. Readings are sent to a computer that holds a library of explosives characteristics and makes a quick comparison. Kip Hawley, head of the U.S. Transportation Security Administration, says the technology must pass tests in real airport settings before he would discuss a timetable for deploying the machines. "The question is: Can you operate and deploy (the machine) and have people walk on it without it breaking down. It’s sensitive electronic equipment."

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Air Fare

In other "flight news," the move to turn airplanes into Wi-Fi havens allowing passengers to send email from laptops, monitor BlackBerrys, or surf the Web on domestic flights may be realized by 2007. AirCell and JetBlue’s LiveTV unit were the top two bidders in a Federal Communications Commission auction of air-to-ground airwaves. AirCell agreed to pay $31.3 million for 3MHz of spectrum; JetBlue bid $7 million for 1MHz of airwaves. The Federal Aviation Administration must first approve the Wi-Fi services to make sure they do not interrupt airplane navigation equipment. The CEO of AirCell, however, says such service could roll out next summer and passengers could expect to pay about $10 a flight for Wi-Fi access. Although technologically available, in-flight cell phone usage still faces stringent regulatory hurdles and consumer resistance.

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The Human Touch

A device that can feel the texture of objects with the same degree of sensitivity as a human fingertip has been created by researchers at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. BBC News reports that the sensor may pave the way for robotic hands that can replicate the human sense of touch and possibly aid in minimally invasive surgical techniques by giving surgeons a touch sensation. The researchers achieved this high level of sensitivity by creating a very thin film of layers of metal and semiconducting nanoparticles flanked by electrodes. When the film touches a surface, the press or stress squeezes the layers together causing the current in the film to change emitting light from the particles. The visible light is detected by camera. The amount of light emitted is exactly proportional to the stress applied. Richard Crowder, a robotics expert from Southampton University in the U.K., says this unique sensor "could prove to be a key advance in technology for reasons including relatively simple construction, apparent robustness, and high resolution."

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Luddite Politicians Seek Help

Many veteran politicians, bowing to technology benefits beyond their personal expertise, are recruiting computer whizzes to help them navigate the new world of blogs, podcasts, and the Web to better connect with future voters. Where the presidential election of 2004 initiated Internet fundraising on a grand scale, the 2008 campaign promises a far greater increase in Web-based activities, and Luddite politicians are savvy enough to know they must get onboard the cyber train to compete, reports the Associated Press. Strategists in both parties say the drive to use new media is a no-brainer because it’s cheap and easy and connects to far more people than earlier methods. Indeed, email is considered old school compared to the streaming videos and real-time interaction on the Web sites of some political candidates today. John Edwards, 52, the 2004 Democratic vice presidential nominee and a White House hopeful for 2008, recently debuted a new Web site that includes a reality television show that tracks him as he travels the U.S. And Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, 54, (R-TN) responds to questions every week posted on his blog and is among several politicians to record podcasts.

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Are We There Yet?

A plan to obtain GPS data from commercial vehicle fleets to predict traffic jams before they happen is coming to several U.S. cities. The San Jose Mercury News reports Microsoft spin-off Inrix will deliver traffic information gathered from more than 500,000 "sentinel" commercial vehicles equipped with GPS locators to improve the speed and accuracy of its traffic-flow information that should help millions of drivers nationwide. By year’s end, the information from these vehicles will cover 35,000 miles of road and provide real-time traffic data for 50 major cities. Inrix president Bryan Mistele wants to make traffic data personally relevant, noting that most of the current navigational devices rely on distance and speed limits to determine travel time. He knows the inaccuracies of such readings firsthand. Every morning the navigational device in his car tells him it will take 15 minutes to drive from his home to his office in Kirkland, WA. The trip almost always takes 45 minutes due to accidents, construction, and the simple fact there are lots of other cars on the road. He expects the Inrix Dust Network of fleet vehicles will benefit five million motorists by the end of this month, and 10 million by the end of the year.

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Tunes To Go

The recently unveiled Nike+iPod Sports Kit uses wireless technology that lets Nike’s Air Zoom Moire sneakers send fitness data to an iPod Nano via a sensor tucked inside the running shoes and a small receiver attached to the Nano. As you run, the sensor records distance, time, pace, and calories burned in real time and displays the data on the Nano. Audio feedback is delivered through Nano’s earbuds. USA Today reports wearers can customize a workout (how far, how long) and choose playlists to hear on the way. You can also set up a PowerSong that kicks in when you need an energy boost. And you can upload workout data from the Nano to Apple’s iTunes and the Web site to track progress over time and to compete (virtually) with other runners. The Sports Kit costs $29 but it obviously requires a Nano ($149) and a pair of Air Zoom Moires ($100). A half dozen other iPod-ready Nike models are expected by year-end.

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