Best of Product news '99

Government Technology selected the 16 most interesting products of 1999 from the pages of this year's product news. The selection was wholly subjective, based on what was unusual, innovative and potentially useful to our readers. If you know of an interesting product we haven't covered, contact Kaveh Ghaemian at 916/932-1300 or e-mail The prices listed were the most accurate single-unit figures available at time of publication. Please contact vendors for current prices.

by / November 30, 1999 0
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 and geodetic control surveys; and photogrammetric work. With Survey Controller 7.0 field software for TCI data collector and Trimble Survey Office software 1.5, it provides a powerful tool for data flow, flexibility and interoperability between GPS and optical instruments and a laser rangefinder for surveying any situation.

Additional information is available by contacting Trimble Navigation Ltd. at 800/827-8000.


Smart Clothes Make the Man

The Georgia Institute of Technology is developing a computerized shirt embedded with a motherboard, fiber optics and special sensors that monitor the body's vital signs. Professor Jayaraman Sundaresan of the GIT School of Textile & Fiber Engineering said the technology, developed for military applications, could benefit the health-care industry, monitoring patients after heart surgery or monitoring babies overnight for sudden infant death syndrome. Eventually, wireless transmission will allow the wearer to be monitored on the go, making it suitable for police and firefighters.

Additional information is available by contacting the Georgia Institute of Technology's
School of Textile & Fiber Engineering or Sundaresan at 404/894-2490.


Crimebusting Alliance

Several law enforcement agencies in Utah are using Alliance, a new computer program that eliminates jurisdictional boundaries and facilitates cooperation and communication between neighboring law enforcement agencies. When one agency wants to search another's database, a query is sent to a broker, which receives the query, routes it to the appropriate agency, collects the search results and sends them back to the requesting agency.

Additional information is available by contacting Spillman Technologies Inc. at 435/753-1610.


Digital Whiteboard

The Ibid 600 is a 4-foot-by-6-foot digital whiteboard that connects to a PC, which can then capture everything written on the board. The information can then be saved, filed, printed, distributed electronically or shared in realtime with remote applicants. The Ibid 600 can be easily mounted on a wall or moved between offices on a rolling stand.

Additional information is available by contacting Micro Touch Systems Inc. at 978/659-9000.


Nuke Your Food, Rot Your Brain, Check Your E-mail

Couch potatoes and Net addicts, rejoice. No longer will you have to face the nightmare of going into the kitchen and missing two minutes of television or suspend that intense chatroom session while you microwave those frozen burritos.

NCR Corporation has developed a combination microwave oven, television and computer with Internet capability. While food cooks, users can surf the Web, check their e-mail or watch television. It uses voice-recognition software and incorporates touch-screen technology in the door of the microwave -- no keyboard to gum up with liquified processed cheese. According to the company, the system can incorporate voice-recognition security measures, as well as iris scanning, fingerprint identification and password protection.

Additional information is available by contacting Mark McCall of NCR Corp. at 312/240-2640.


Does Goodyear Know About This?

Oh, the connectivity! Blimps are not solely for Super Bowl stadium shots anymore. A new, smaller, computerized model can relay signals, allowing one to do network computing from anywhere. It can be equipped with a digital camera, laptop and wireless modem for remote surveillance that's mobile.

You can float the remote-controlled blimp through your office, living room, or wherever you would want a yard-long digital balloon hanging around. It is safe and easy to fly, no experience or pilot's license required. The blimp can hover, make turns and float from room to room. Consisting of a 38-inch refillable metalloid nylon balloon, twin fan/receiver propulsion system and a two-channel hand-held 27MHz transmitter, the blimp is propelled by dual independently controlled micro-motors powered by a 3-volt lithium cell. The range is 200 feet.

Additional information is available by contacting DraganFly Innovations Inc. at 306/955-9907.


Where Everything and Everyone Is

CensusCD Blocks provide complete demographic and housing data and map boundaries for all 7 million-plus census blocks nationwide. The data comes on CD-ROM, and is accessible via mapping software. Users can quickly and easily see demographics at the most granular level of census geography. It integrates detailed population and housing information with TIGER map boundaries, detailing every land and water block in the country. It provides a cost-effective solution for government, business, library and academic users who need instant access to statistics and map boundaries at a level more detailed than mere ZIP-code or block-group data. CensusCD Blocks also include complete software for non-GIS users, giving them thematic mapping, query capability and statistical tools.

Additional information is available by contacting GeoLytics Inc. at 800/577-6717.


Top Chopper

The U.S. Coast Guard is using the HV-609, a tilt-rotor aircraft designed to mix the speed of a turboprop airplane with the landing capability of a helicopter. The 609 hits speeds up to 275 knots and can range up to 750 nautical miles. It flies just fine over land, too. The aircraft seats up to nine people and is suited for medical transportation, surveillance, training, etc. It requires two crewmembers, and the cabin measures 17.5 feet by 5 feet by 5 feet.

Additional information is available by contacting Bell Helicopters at 817/280-2011.


With This Ring, I Thee Pay

The iButton computer chip embedded in a 16mm stainless-steel MicroCan ring is capable of holding a user's identification and storing cash value for small transactions, among many other tasks. The iButton can be attached to a badge, key chain or watch and is well-suited to a variety of portable applications -- interfacing with desktop, laptop and hand-held computers, as well as controlling access to buildings, vehicles, PCs and other pieces of equipment. Information can be transferred between the iButton and other systems when the user simply touches the ring to a receptor or probe. Information is transferred at up to 142Kbps. Developed by Dallas Semiconductor, the iButton can withstand impact, moisture, dirt, cold and chemicals.

Additional information is available by contacting Dallas Semiconductor at 972/371-4448.


An Easy Pill to Swallow

NASA, in cooperation with the Fetal Treatment Center at the University of California, San Francisco, is developing a "pill transmitter" capable of monitoring expectant mothers and their fetuses following corrective fetal surgery. The device can be implanted in a mother's womb to transmit body temperature, blood pressure and other vital signs to physicians. It is one-third of an inch across and just over an inch long. NASA is planning to develop a smaller version that can be swallowed by astronauts to track their vital signs during space travel.

Additional information is available online


Making the Web Count

Perseus Survey Solutions allows users to create professional surveys and post them on the Web or distribute them via e-mail. It automatically collects responses, analyzes the results and instantly produces effective presentations. Users can easily create and modify questionnaires in a word-processing environment. It includes survey-design tablets, a question library, support for displaying live Web results and an automated posting process. Typical applications include employee and program measurement, course evaluations, Web-site feedback, product-concept testing, etc.

According to the company, the product has completed more than 1 million surveys. It costs $179.

Additional information is available by contacting Perseus Development Corp. at 781/848-8100


Z1 2 Have

The NEC Z1 has the smallest space requirement of any desktop computer on the market. The Z1's "engine" -- processor, motherboard, memory and other key hardware -- is housed in a slim, integrated chassis located behind the 15-inch active-matrix TFT XGA flat-panel display.

Z1 features a 450MHz Intel Pentium III processor, 8.4GB hard drive, 96MB of SDRAM, multimedia keyboard, DVD-ROM drive, 8MB of video RAM and built-in speakers. Its two-tone metallic chassis weighs about 20lbs. It costs about $2,499.

Additional information is available by contacting NEC Technologies