Neural Implant

Cyberkinetics, makers of the BrainGate, a neural implant that the physically impaired can use to control computers, said it will file an investigational device exemption with the FDA to conduct a pilot clinical trial this year.

Five quadriplegic participants will receive the implant.

BrainGate is a brain-computer interface consisting of an internal neural signal sensor and external processors that convert neural signals into output signals that a person controls and uses to operate a PC. The sensor consists of a tiny chip smaller than a children's aspirin, with 100 electrode sensors -- each thinner than a hair -- that detect brain cell electrical activity. The chip is implanted on the brain's surface in the area that controls movement. -- Cyberkinetics

Space Tested

The European Space Agency (ESA) has launched SMART-1, the first in a series of "Small Missions for Advanced Research in Technology" missions. The spacecraft is now heading for the moon using a revolutionary propulsion technique and carrying an array of miniaturized instruments, the ESA said.

The main purpose of the SMART-1 mission is to flight-test new solar-electric propulsion technology -- a kind of solar-powered thruster, or "ion" engine, that is 10 times more efficient than the usual chemical systems used for space travel.

Solar-electric propulsion does not burn fuel as chemical rockets do. The technique converts sunlight into electricity via solar panels and uses it to electrically charge heavy gas atoms, which accelerate away from the spacecraft at high speed and drive the spacecraft forward. -- The European Space Agency

X Doesn't Mark the Spot

Researchers from Lucent Technologies' Bell Labs have developed new software that gives users tighter control over the sharing of location information generated by cell phones, personal digital assistants and other mobile devices.

Bell Labs' newly developed Privacy-Conscious Personalization framework relies on user preferences to intelligently infer a user's context, such as working or shopping, and then determines how that location information should be shared.

When a user's location or other information is requested, the request is checked against the user's preferences and filtered through a high-performance rules engine, known within Bell Labs as "Houdini," before any action is taken. Since location and other mobile services require near-real-time performance, this entire process can take a few milliseconds or less. -- Bell Labs

Video Game Workout

Powergrid Fitness' kiloWatt -- a new game controller for Sony PlayStation 2, Microsoft Xbox and PC games -- turns video games into workouts.

Powergrid Fitness took the two thumb-stick controls on standard PlayStation 2 and Xbox game controllers and blended them together into a single shoulder-height joystick. When you push it, sensitive strain gauge sensors measure the microscopic flex in the alloy metal resistance rod, and a microprocessor calculates how hard you're pushing.

kiloWatt measures force rather than motion, and kiloWatt's sensors are adjustable in real time, so the effort level can be made easy, brutal or somewhere in between. The kiloWatt system is composed of a structural steel platform base, an alloy steel resistance rod, an engineering polymer game controller and a strain gauge sensor array. -- Powergrid Fitness

Clothes Horse

Toshiba and Digital Fashion Ltd. will jointly create a three-dimensional fashion simulation system to allow virtual modeling and coordination of clothes, cosmetics and accessories in real time.

The system will capture images of people, outfit them in the virtual clothes of their choice, and then display natural-looking images in real time, including movement of the person and the clothes.

The new simulation system will reproduce real-time three-dimensional images of movement in front of a display equipped with cameras, along with the textures, shades and real appearance of the chosen material and clothing. Using the simulation system will offer the same sense of reality as a real mirror. Commercialization of the system is expected in 2006. -- Toshiba

Shane Peterson  |  Associate Editor