GT Spectrum

Reports from the IT horizon.

by , , / June 2, 2006
Rise of the Machine
Robotics experts from Carnegie Mellon and several other U.S. universities are developing a tree-climbing robot. The aim of Robots in Scansorial Environments (RiSE) is to develop a machine capable of walking on land and crawling up vertical surfaces.

Such robots could have plenty of useful applications, in search-and-rescue and space exploration, for example. But presumably it could also help you reach those really hard-to-prune branches. --

Cellular Swipe
Americans may not need their wallets to pay for movie tickets or gas at the pump. In the next six to 18 months, they may be able to use their cell phones instead of folding money. This concept is already popular in Europe and Asia.

In South Korea, many cell phones sport software that's integrated with banking systems so people can buy groceries and soft drinks from vending machines.

Japanese consumers also use "wallet phones" with contactless smart cards, which are not just used as credit cards -- they can contain entrance tickets, metro tickets, loyalty cards, air tickets and employee ID cards. -- Information Week

Silicon Brain
European researchers have developed "neuro-chips" in which living brain cells, or neurons, and silicon circuits are coupled. The achievement could one day lead to the creation of sophisticated neural prostheses to treat neurological disorders, or the development of organic computers that crunch numbers using living neurons.

Scientists created the neuro-chip by squeezing more than 16,000 electronic transistors and hundreds of capacitors onto a silicon chip just 1 square millimeter in size. They then used special proteins found in the brain to "glue" neurons onto the chip.

The proteins are more than just a simple adhesive: They allow the neuro-chip's electronic components to communicate with the neurons. Researchers are now working on ways to avoid damaging the neurons during stimulation, and exploring the possibility of using a neuron's genetic instructions to control the neuro-chip. --

Rumors or Tumors?
People who regularly use cell phones don't face an increased risk of developing brain tumors, according to a study published in the British Medical Journal.

Researchers studied 966 people with the most common type of brain tumor and 1,716 healthy volunteers over a period of four years, and found no relationship between cell phone use and the incidence of tumors. There was no connection between the risk of tumors and the duration of calls, their frequency or the make of the phone, the study said.

Wireless phone makers in the United States are facing class-action suits that claim radiation from the devices puts users at increased risk of illnesses, including brain cancer. In October 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court turned away arguments from the manufacturers that federal regulations preclude the lawsuits by consumers. --

Slow to Grow
The growth of Internet usage in the United States is slowing because late adopters are more difficult to convert than expected, according to a study by Parks Associates and CNET. Current U.S. Internet users access the Web in the following ways.

Internet access outside the home only: 13 percent
Dial-up at home: 22 percent
No Internet access: 23 percent
Broadband at home: 42 percent

Mind Your Manners
A 2006 survey on cell phone etiquette of 2,000 adults in the United States asked where it's OK to yak on your cell phone. Eighty-six percent of the survey respondents own cell phones. -- Conducted by Harris Interactive and sponsored by LetsTalk.

63 percent said it's generally acceptable to chat on a cell phone while driving.

66 percent said it's OK to talk on the phone in the grocery store.

2 percent said taking calls at the movies is acceptable.

21 percent said answering calls at a restaurant is fine.

38 percent said talking in the bathroom is OK.

Competitive Exports
Computer memory chips surpassed cigarettes as Virginia's top manufactured export in 2005, according to economic figures. The state sent about $645 million worth of chips abroad in 2005, up from less than $12 million worth in 1997. Over the same period, cigarette exports fell 83 percent to $440 million. -- USA Today

Digital Culture
A report by Mediamark Research Inc. suggests that spending time online and engaging in other digital pursuits helps children ages 6 to 11 develop the skills, knowledge and self-confidence they need to fully participate in the world around them.

The following indicates Internet usage among U.S. children in this age group.

Have used the Internet in the past 30 days:
Boys: 56.3 percent
Girls: 61.8 percent

Use the Internet every day:
Boys: 7.6 percent
Girls: 8.7 percent

Note: The figures expressed are a percentage of survey respondents.

White-Collar Crime
In 2005, more than 46 percent of Americans experienced white-collar crime victimization, and more than 62 percent reported personally experiencing these crimes at some point during their lifetime, according to a survey by the National White Collar Crime Center. The types of victimization measured included:

  • frauds involving product pricing, "free prizes," and auto repair;
  • 800/900 number scams;
  • unauthorized PIN use;
  • unauthorized credit card use;
  • Internet fraud; and
  • financial planning fraud.

    One hundred and thirty million Americans have been victimized.
    -- National White Collar Crime Center
    Karen Stewartson Managing Editor