GT Spectrum

GT Spectrum

by / February 4, 2004
Finger Money
Consumers at retail outlets throughout suburban Washington, D.C., Virginia and Maryland are among the first in the United States to pay with their fingers at 24 retail locations involved in a biometric payment services pilot.

To create an account with participating merchants, customers presented a blank personal check and their drivers' licenses or other valid ID to the merchant for scanning. Customers also entered a 10-digit unique number -- a telephone number, for example -- into a card payment terminal.

The customer's two index fingers are scanned on the finger pad and converted into an algorithmic number. From that point forward, when consumers want to pay for purchases at a participating retailer, they simply enter their 10-digit ID number, place their index fingers on the biometric finger pad and payments are authorized from their checking account within 10 seconds.

The technology resulted from a partnership between BioPay and Hypercom Corp. BioPay handles the biometric payment service, and Hypercom manufactures the terminals and finger-scanning pads.

The system was designed to offer convenience, faster payments and security.

"This new technology is fast, easy and convenient for customers, and it allows me to accept a secure, low-cost form of payment which helps increase my bottom line," said Tom Webb, a General Nutrition Center franchise owner.

Epson Develops World's Smallest Flying Microrobot
Epson unveiled a prototype of the world's smallest flying microrobot at the 2003 International Robot Exhibition in Tokyo.

The robot was built to show off the company's work on micromechatronics and explore possible applications for the technology. The tiny device levitates itself by using contra-rotating propellers powered by an ultrathin, ultrasonic motor with the world's highest power-weight ratio, according to Epson. The robot balances itself in mid-air with the world's first stabilizing mechanism using a linear actuator.

The device displayed in Tokyo is the latest in a line of Epson microrobots, which the company calls its EMRoS series. The first, called the Monsieur, went on the market in 1993 and is listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the world's smallest microrobot.

In April 2003, Epson developed the Monsieur II-P, a prototype that contains a power-saving Bluetooth module that allows multiple units to be remotely controlled simultaneously. The company even staged a full-blown microrobot ballet theater to demonstrate its use of Bluetooth.

Retina Implant Aims to Help Blind See
MIT and Harvard Medical School researchers are developing an eye implant that can restore vision in patients with retinitis pigmentosa -- the leading cause of inherited blindness -- and age-related macular degeneration, which is the leading cause of blindness in the general population.

The Retinal Prosthesis Group, an academic consortium of material scientists, software engineers, ophthalmologists and retinal physiologists, has worked for about 15 years to bypass diseased or damaged retinas to deliver images to the brain.

Under local anesthesia, researchers implanted silicon chips containing ultrathin electrode grids in five blind subjects and one with a normal retina who was going to lose her eye due to a surrounding cancer. The chips were introduced through patients' dilated pupils and temporarily attached to the retinal surface. The grid bypasses the individual's defective rods and cones by stimulating healthy ganglion cells with a tiny electrical current.

Researchers then applied a stimulation pattern to the chips, and asked the patients to draw what they saw. Their drawings corresponded to the stimulation patterns about half of the time, according to the researchers.

The group says the technology is unlikely to restore reading ability to patients with little or no usable retinas, but it could produce a retinal prosthesis that enables them find a door in a room, walk down the street without a cane, recognize a face or determine whether that face is smiling or frowning.

Researchers face substantial obstacles in wedding technology and biology to create a safe, workable device, especially in a sensitive area such as the back of the eye -- just millimeters from the optic nerve leading to the brain. The largely transparent retina is a quarter of a millimeter thick and the consistency of wet tissue paper. No one knows how much current the retina can bear, especially over a long period.

In addition, heat is given off during energy transfer, but luckily the vitreous fluid in the middle of the eye dissipates it. This same salty vitreous liquid would require any wires and connections to be made of inert and durable materials.

-- Deborah Halber, MIT News Office

High-Tech Industry Sheds More Than 500,000 Jobs in 2002
The U.S. high-tech industry lost 540,000 jobs in 2002, dropping from 6.5 million to 6 million, according to the AeA, an electronics industry trade association. The organization's annual report released in mid-November -- Cyberstates 2003: A State-by-State Overview of the High-Technology Industry -- details national and state trends in high-tech employment, wages, exports and other economic indicators.

The electronics manufacturing sector took the biggest hit, accounting for more than half the tech jobs lost between 2001 and 2002. The study found bad news in other sectors too. In 2002, the software sector recorded a loss of nearly 150,000 jobs. That sector posted large increases in all previous editions of Cyberstates. The communications services sector posted similar job losses, and the engineering and tech services sector lost 15,000 jobs in 2002.

One bright spot came in research and development and testing labs, where employment increased by 7,000 in 2002. Also, a preliminary look at 2003 data shows the decline in high-tech employment is slowing considerably, according to AeA. High-tech employment fell 8 percent last year, but preliminary 2003 data showed a decline of 4 percent, according to AeA President and CEO William Archey. "We project that the 2003 high-tech job losses will total 234,000 -- down 57 percent from the 540,000 decline in 2002."

Cyberstates 2003 found all but three states lost high-tech jobs in 2002. California lost the greatest number of tech jobs, shedding some 123,000 jobs. Texas was second with tech jobs down by 61,000. The District of Columbia, Wyoming and Montana were the only states to add technology jobs in 2002. -- AeA

Internet Usage on the Rise
Despite perceptions that Internet usage has slowed, it has actually grown significantly:

  • Domain name service (DNS) resolutions for Web and e-mail increased 51 percent between August 2002 and August 2003.
  • E-mail usage is up even more dramatically:
    245 percent increase in DNS resolutions for e-mail.
    The portion of e-mail related queries more than doubled this year, from 7 percent to 16 percent.
  • Currently there are 10 billion DNS queries a day -- more than three times the daily volume in 2000.

    Businesses and individuals are increasing Internet usage for communication, collaboration and commerce:

  • Online payment transactions per Internet merchant grew by 17 percent.
  • Number of secure sockets layer (SSL) certificates sold or renewed grew by 6 percent.
  • 57 percent of SSL purchases were in the United States, indicating U.S. e-commerce dominance.

    However, the growth in Internet usage is outpaced by increased security and fraud threats. Fraud threats -- identity, cash and product theft -- increased in both number and complexity:

  • More than 6 percent of U.S. e-commerce transactions and approximately 4 percent of total online transaction amounts between April 2003 and August 2003 were potentially fraudulent.
  • Security events per security device grew by approximately 99 percent between May 2003 and August 2003.
  • Security threats grew in complexity, as evidenced by Sobig -- the first time root servers were used to speed up the rate of infection.

    Security and fraud threats are internationally dispersed:

  • The United States is the leading source of security threats, accounting for 81 percent of all threats.
  • More than 52 percent of fraud attempts came from countries other than the United States, which is most likely due to the fact that prosecution outside of the United States is nearly impossible.
  • Nigeria ranks first on the list of fraudulent activities as a percentage of total transactions.

    Source: Verisign's Internet Security Intelligence Briefing, October 2003
    Shane Peterson Associate Editor