Can't Resist the Wrist

Gizmo engineers seem to have a forearm fetish. Phones, medical-info chips, prisoner IDs and traffic-report terminals -- anything smaller than a microwave oven, they want to strap it to your wrist. The latest entry is Casio's wristwatch with a built-in global positioning system. An eight-channel receiver can pick up signals from up to eight GPS satellites. Data is received from at least three GPS satellites to determine the location. A user's destination can be specified, and the watch graphically indicates the direction and distance to the destination. A standard lithium battery provides up to 600 readings, or 10 hours of automatic monitoring in which the reading is updated every minute. It is suitable for hiking, fishing or any outdoor sport. It weighs 5.22 ounces with a screen size of 0.69 inches by 0.82 inches.

Additional information is available by contacting Casio Computer Co. at 800/442-5707.


Babbling Browser

IBM has combined the capabilities of its ViaVoice OutLoud text-to-speech synthesizer with Netscape's Navigator browser to create Home Page Reader, which translates Web text into voice for visually impaired users. "The software uses a male voice to read text and a female voice to read links," said Paul Luther, IBM's marketing program manager for special needs.

With Home Page Reader's fast-forward key, the user can skim Web pages and quickly locate the needed information.

It requires a 150MHz Pentium processor, 32MB RAM for Microsoft Windows 95/98, or 64MB RAM for Windows NT. It costs $149.

Additional information is available by contacting IBM Special Needs Systems at 800/426-4832.


Signs of the Times

People who are blind or visually impaired have difficulties navigating through cities since they are denied the ability to read street and building signs or use maps. Talking Signs solves this problem by providing a repeating, directionally selective message emanating from the sign. The message is sent from a transmitter via invisible infrared light beams to hand-held receivers that decode the signal into speech. To use a Talking Sign system, the user scans the environment with the receiver. As individual signals are encountered, the user hears the messages. For example, upon entering a lobby, one might detect "information desk" when pointing the receiver directly ahead or "public telephones" when pointing to the right or "stairs to the second floor" when pointing to the left. Talking Signs are currently being used in San Francisco, New York, Austin, Texas and Washington, D.C., and internationally in Venice, Italy, and Yokohama, Japan.

Additional information is available by contacting Talking Signs Inc. at 888/825-5746.


A Global View of Human Rights

Weather satellites no longer limit themselves to cloud formations. Now they provide information that can be used by human-rights groups and policy-makers to uncover cases of genocide in war zones such as the former Yugoslavia.

Students at the School of Communication at American University in Washington, D.C., showed how high-resolution satellite data puts reporters in prohibited places and tracks human-rights abuses. The class, taught by Professor Christopher Simpson, teaches nontechnical students to read and interpret satellite images. The course is being offered both online and on campus. "Satellite images are power tools that can capture images with a high degree of certainty, providing an important tool for policy-makers, journalists and human-rights activists," Simpson said. Students are also studying satellite-imagery applications to monitor fires, man-made disasters and other crises.

Additional information is available by contacting Prof. Simpson at 202/885-2037.


Where No GPS Has Gone Before

The TTS 500 optical surveying instrument with reflectorless technology is designed to work in areas where global-positioning-system signals are weak or obstructed. It can collect data for topographic maps; stake out construction sites; perform boundary, seismic