Read for the Blind

Text-to-speech conversion software that reads Web pages and on-screen documents aloud to the blind and visually impaired isn't new. But a new portable device developed by inventor Ray Kurzweil eliminates the need to be near a computer.

The Kurzweil-National Federation of the Blind Reader combines a digital camera and a PDA to create a device that photographs printed material, scans the text and then reads it within seconds using a synthesized voice. Printed pages captured with the device can be saved for later use. It can store thousands of text pages on extra memory cards and can also transfer files to a computer or PDA.

The device can read many document types, including receipts, letters, recipes, book pages, memos and package labels. An audible description tells users how many edges of a document are in range, as well as the angle and distance the reader is from the page so they may take more accurate photos. The device is equipped with a headphone jack for privacy. -- The New York Times

Energy-Efficient Servers

On July 12, the U.S. House of Representatives approved legislation instructing Americans to "give high priority to energy efficiency as a factor in determining best value and performance for purchases of computer servers."

Higher efficiency not only reduces electricity bills, it offers lower cooling costs, so server buyers have long had a strong market incentive to go green.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., also instructs the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to conduct a three-month study "of the growth trends associated with data centers and the utilization of servers in the federal government and private sector." -- CNET

Linux on Legs

Four companies in Japan have created a low-cost, user-programmable humanoid robot for educational and research applications. The HRP-2m Choromet uses technology from Japan's National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST), and is user-programmable thanks to open software running on a Linux implementation.

The Choromet stands about 13 3/4 inches tall, and can walk upright on two legs. It can also assume supine or prone positions, and stand up from either.

AIST hopes Choromet's ability to run software-based movement programs on a real-time Linux platform will enable researchers and schools to experiment with the effectiveness of humanoid robot motion pattern applications. --


On July 14, 2006, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush announced that a digital radio system allowing state law enforcement officials to communicate throughout the state during emergencies is fully operational.

The Statewide Law Enforcement Radio System will let more than 6,500 officials from 17 state agencies communicate throughout 59,000 square miles and as far as 25 miles offshore.

Florida's 14,000-radio system was tested successfully during the hurricane seasons of the past two years. Officials predicted it would prove valuable in future storms, as well as in criminal inquiries and possible terrorist attacks. -- The Miami Herald

Dot Matrix

Tailgating is a common cause of rear-end collisions, playing a role in 80 percent of crashes on one stretch of central Minnesota highway.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation (MNDOT) is painting big dots on the highway to show drivers safe following distances. The reflective, oval dots are painted 225 feet apart, and are accompanied by signs explaining that a minimum of two dots should appear between vehicles. This provides the three seconds needed to come to a complete stop without rear-ending the vehicle ahead.

The dots will remain on Highway 55 in Wright County for at least a year, giving MNDOT enough time to compare the number of crashes before and during the test. Most of the project is

Karen Stewartson  |  Managing Editor
Jessica Jones, Contributing Writer  |  Contributing Writer