Computing Applications News track

News Track

  1. A Thousand Points of Light
  2. Typing with Your Eyes
  3. Cleaning Crustacean
  4. The E-Bay of Argentina
  5. Online Abduction Alerts
  6. Fighting Airport Noise
  7. Happy Birthday
  8. Footnotes
  9. Figures

A $9 million, three-year grant from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Biological and Environmental Research will enable researchers to create 1,000 points of light through tiny microelectromechanical systems (MEMs) electrodes to be positioned on the retinas of individuals blinded by diseases such as macular degeneration and retinitis pigmentosa. These diseases damage rods and cones that normally convert light to electrical impulses, but leave the neural paths that transport electrical signals to the brain intact. By using a tiny camera and a radio frequency transmitter in the frame of a patient’s glasses, information and power to the modules placed within the eyeball can be transmitted. The modules will be linked to retinal nerves that send electrical impulses to the brain to process. The project team includes Sandia National Laboratories, four other national labs, a private company, and two universities.

“They won’t be able to drive cars, at least in the near future, because instead of a million pixels, they’ll see 1,000. The images will come slowly and appear yellow. But people who are blind will see.”
—Sandia National Laboratories project leader Kurt Wessendorf

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Typing with Your Eyes

Researchers have developed software that enables text to be entered without the need for fingers. Dasher, created by scientists in Cambridge University’s physics department, can be controlled by an eye tracker that monitors what parts of the screen the user is looking at. Rather than scanning keys on an onscreen keyboard, users can scan boxes that feature the most likely letters in a series. The creators say the frequency of misspellings is about five times less than it is for alternative writing systems. Dasher is being licensed as an open-source model; researchers say the open-source community will release a consumer version within a year.

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Cleaning Crustacean

A crab-shaped vacuum is the first commercial mass-market cleaner of its kind. The battery-powered device, called Roomba, zooms around a room in spirals, using a path-finding program based on one developed for the military (for finding landmines) as well as sensors to navigate. Once the Roomba realizes it has vacuumed every part of the room several times, it stops, beeps, and shuts off. The machine is not perfect: it can’t reach corners, has been known to get wedged under certain furniture, and can’t hold a large amount of dirt since its removable dust bins are small. A “virtual wall” sensor can be purchased separately and incorporated when cleaning a large area, keeping the Roomba from wandering away. Roomba maker iRobot claims it can vacuum a small room in 15 minutes; it takes 10–12 hours to charge Roomba, and it will run for a little over one hour on a single charge, depending on floor type. Price: $199.95.

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The E-Bay of Argentina

In the face of a debilitating recession and the collapse of the Internet bubble in Argentina, one Buenos Aires-based online auction site is bucking the trend, suggesting the Argentine retail industry is changing in unpredictable ways, reports the Wall Street Journal. Not only has the company, DeRemate, managed to stay afloat long enough to reach its third anniversary, it is growing with money to burn in a crisis-wracked country that defaulted on its debt and devalued its currency. Daily visits in August 2002 to the site average above 160,000, about double last year’s rate, and the number of articles up for sale in late August exceeded three million, up 30% from July. It appears DeRemate created an online fleamarket for middle-class Argentinians who are Internet literate and still have some money but not nearly as much as last year, as well as others who are eager to auction just about anything—even family heirlooms—to raise funds.


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Online Abduction Alerts

The Amber alert system, set up to notify the public about missing or abducted children, and relying on conventional media outlets, will soon extend to the Web. Fine Point Technologies, a New York-based company, is licensing software to ISPs that would push the alerts to their online customers by creating small pop-up windows containing the important information. The technology was originally created for Internet providers to send customers network status alerts; some providers also use it to warn customers about severe weather.

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Fighting Airport Noise

New York residents who live near La Guardia and Kennedy airports have a new tool for fighting airport noise: a Web site that lets residents track which planes are overhead, and just how low they are flying. “It takes weeks to get that information,” says Rep. Joseph Crowley, whose district includes several noise-plagued neighborhoods in Queens and the Bronx. Passur AirportMonitor is already used at a few U.S. airports and will make the information available to residents within 10 minutes after a plane roars over their residences.

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Happy Birthday

It was just over 20 years ago that Scott Fahlman taught the Net how to smile. On September 19, 1982, Fahlman, an IBM researcher who has devoted his professional life to AI, typed “:-)” in an online message, along with the admonition to “read it sideways,” and it has since become a staple of online communication. Fahlman’s innovation inspired countless other “emoticons” like ;-) or :-0 to show surprise. Companies such as Yahoo!, Microsoft, and AOL all incorporate emoticons into their instant-messaging systems, while telecom firms, jewelry makers, and online retailers have filed trademark applications for products and slogans that incorporate Fahlman’s smiley face. But Fahlman has never seen any money from his creation. “If it cost people a nickel to use it, nobody would have used it,” Fahlman says. “This is my little gift to the world.”

I think the survey shows how people respond to a survey. But how do they actually behave? I’m sure a lot of people don’t think it’s acceptable to talk [on a cell phone] in a restaurant. But do they? Yeah, I’m sure they do.”
—Carol Page, operator of, on a recent study on cell phone manners.

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UF1 Figure.

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