IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Researchers are studying a new application of GPS that could raise big bucks for states and local jurisdictions.

The idea is to track the driving habits of commercial and personal vehicles via GPS, said David Forkenbrock, director of the Public Policy Center of the University of Iowa and principal investigator of the study.

"I designed the system based on the concern that a lot of people have over the inability of the motor fuel tax to supply the revenue necessary to support the road system in the long run," Forkenbrock said, adding that the revenue will shrink as alternative fuels, high-mileage vehicles and fuel-cell vehicles catch on.

The research is examining the feasibility of replacing the motor fuel tax across the country, which would cause the price of fuel at the pump to drop by 40 cents per gallon, he said, adding that the 40 cents is a combination of federal and state taxes.

"If youre going to replace the gas tax, why not design a system that allows you to do a number of things that youd like to do anyway, such as charge vehicles according to how much damage they do to the roads or encouraging people to travel on roads that can handle the traffic?"

The policy implications for local governments are tremendous, he said, because using GPS in this manner would allow local governments to charge vehicles extra for traveling along neighborhood routes to avoid arterial traffic, thus minimizing the amount of travel along those smaller routes.

A potential complication is getting the GPS capabilities into vehicles, especially the older vehicles. Forkenbrock said hes fairly confident that, in time, pretty much all vehicles will be outfitted with GPS while theyre being assembled.


Laser gunLAKESIDE, Calif. -- The days of shooting bad guys with lasers may not be that far off. A San Diego-based research company, HSV Technologies Inc., is working on a nonlethal laser that immobilizes a person by causing the skeletal muscles to lock up.

The weapon, known as either the "Non-Lethal Tetanizing Beam Weapon" or the "Anti-Personnel Beam Weapon," uses UV radiation to create a path in the air that allows an electrical current to be conducted to the target.

The current is a replica of the neuro-electric impulses that control skeletal muscles and, essentially, jacks up the normal twitches of the muscles to a rate that tetanizes, or freezes, the muscle tissue into a single, sustained contraction.

Currently, the weapon is the size of a suitcase, although the company expects advances in laser technology to reduce the size to something that would fit in a persons hand within two years, said Eric Herr, vice president of HSV.

The effects of the device last only a few seconds, and the effective range of the weapon is approximately 100 meters, Herr said.

As promising as this weapon sounds, Herr said the companys patent on a nonlethal, engine-disabling weapon using similar technology is what has law enforcement officials excited.


PhotosWASHINGTON, D.C. -- In the old days, if city officials wanted to know what sorts of pipes and conduits were underground, they had to consult paper records.

Now, technology is making it possible to create a complete 3D picture of what lies beneath the grounds surface. A Washington, D.C.-based company, Witten Technologies, is using computer-assisted radar tomography (CART) to create maps of the