Holographic video storage
While the battle over which video storage format will replace DVDs rages on, a rival technology set to hit the shops next year could put the leading candidates Blu-ray and HD-DVD to shame - at least in terms of performance.
According to a report on NewScientist.com, Holographic memory discs are only a little larger than a normal DVD but can hold 60 times more data - about 300GB - and can read and write it 10 times faster. And, theoretically, the storage and transfer rates could be even greater, reaching 1.6 terabytes and 120 megabits per second respectively, developers say.
The discs were developed by InPhase Technologies from Colorado with Japanese partner Hitachi Maxell and, at 13 centimetres across, are slightly wider than conventional discs and a little bit thicker.
They allow a million bits of data to be written and read in parallel with a single flash of light. This enables significantly higher transfer rates to current optical storage techniques which record one data bit at a time.
Blu-ray and HD-DVD have improved on normal DVD technology - which records data by measuring microscopic ridges on the surface of a spinning disc - by using shorter wavelengths of light to store more information on to a disc’s surface.
Holographic memory instead stores data in a light-sensitive crystal material using the interference of laser light. A single light beam is split in two and then one beam is passed through a semi-transparent material. This is a grid that acts like a filter, changing different parts of the beam to encode bits of information.
The altered beam and the reference beam are then recombined in the light-sensitive material and their pattern of interference provides a record of the encoded data. Because many bits of data can be recorded and read in parallel information can be recorded and retrieved extremely quickly.
The plan is to have the new discs - and compatible drives - in high streets by the end of 2006.
Bionic body parts last seen in a certain 1970s action hero show could be making come back, as European scientists develop a highly dextrous artificial hand that could provide patients with active feeling.
The researchers, who have dubbed the project Cyberhand, have already built a fully-sensitised five-fingered prototype hand - imitating a real human had as closely as possible - which boasts 16 degrees of freedom made possible by six tiny motors.
Each of the fingers is articulated and has one motor which flexes its joint autonomously. The hand also features an opposable thumb so it can perform alternative grasping actions.
Mimicking a real hand, where a muscle pulls a tendon inside a synovial sheath, the device’s finger cables run through a teflon sheath pulled by a motor. Therefore the bones between the knuckles are all driven by the same tendon.
This allows cyberhand to have a self-adaptive grasp, meaning less user effort is required to control the hand.
The prototype includes sensors for tension, force, joint angle, end stroke and contact, through which it can sense where it is in relation to other body parts as well as sensing external factors.
The next stage of the project is to hardwire the hand into the nervous system, allowing sensory feedback from the hand to reach the brain and instructions from the brain to travel in the opposite direction.
So far the prototype uses Longitudinal IntraFascicular Electrodes (LIFEs) to connect the hand to the nervous system, but researchers have also developed a new type of electrode which will improve performance and be less invasive to humans.
The next step is to test the device in humans, although the team warn it could be five to eight years before the device clears all the tests necessary to prove its usability and safety.
The Cyberhand Project: http://www.cyberhand.org/
Fraud-free ballot boxes
Developers of “fraud-free” ballot box claimed it would make the sort of confusion that surrounded the US election of 2000 a thing of the past if it was introduced around the world.
The Basque regional government have been testing an electronic ballot box - called the Demotek E-voting System - in development since 2001 which they say will eliminate flaws like hanging or dimpled chads using the latest mobile communications and chemical technology.
In the Demotek system, voters go to a ballot table and select the party ballot they want to vote. The name of the party is printed on one side of the ballot, and is also printed on the outside in a format that is not visible to the naked eye, but when shown under a light, illuminates the name of the party. In this way, voters can verify that the electronic reading of their ballot is accurate.
The ballot is folded and inserted by the pollworker into a scanner which reads the chosen name. The slip is then pre-validated in a slot on the ballot box, which determines that the voter is entitled to vote at that particular polling booth.
A green light allows the voter to proceed, whereupon the booth official activates the box with a green card and the slip is dropped inside, the ballots first read via a scanner which notes their contents via automatic character reading. A counter at the top of the box shows how many ballots have been accepted throughout the voting day.
A built-in mobile communicator sends a message to a central processor when polls close and the result is then known within minutes.
Although the system - estimated to cost about €1,000 per box - has so far only been tested in small-scale local ballots, the developers say it has received interest from further afield, including some countries.