Oranges That Broadcast and Bionic Eyes

Gina Miller (
Sun, 09 May 1999 00:41:01 PDT

How could we live today without those ubiquitous bar codes on everything from soup cans to traffic tickets! Now, some work being done by Motorola could put those trusty bar codes in the history books. A new kind of microchip being developed combines enough memory to store 110 characters with a radio antenna - all the size of a single coffee ground. This very microchip can be stuck or manufactured to just about anything. Besides more room for the product name, price, coupons, and so on - the chip can use its built-in antenna to transmit this information about of the product it's stuck to. That means no more waiting in line to check out at the grocery store - you'd just walk through the checkout station and a radio receiver would tally up what's in your cart. And since you can store data in the chip too, imagine an amusement park ticket that gets updated each time you go on a ride - and you just pay the total on the way out.

The first product to have a UPC bar code on its packaging was Wrigley's gum.

Your eye doctor might be offering more than contacts in the future - you might be ordering a bionic eye soon. Now don't worry, the idea that cyborgs will be wandering around is a ways off yet - but that far. Up 'til now, the technology wasn't there, and neither was the neuroscience. But now most of the research is complete and it's moving quickly into corporate R&D. The human body is basically a large electric machine- one that researchers say they may be able to repair with electronic hardware. In some cases, they already can: The first device to restore a human sense, the ear implant, has been combatting deafness since the 70s. Today, more than 25,000 people have these bionic ears. And the eye is next. Two startup companies - one in Illinois and the other in Germany - have already formed to commercialize artificial retina designs.

It is impossible to sneeze and keep ones eye's open at the same time.

It's got a simple name - P97 - but to researchers at one Vancouver Canada biotech firm, this special blood protein could change the way we use drugs in the future. The brain has a very selective barrier protecting it, and only molecules that are actively transported across this barrier can enter the brain. Needless to say, with the barrier turning away most molecules at the door, this makes the delivery of drugs from blood to brain quite a challenge. But Synapse Technologies ( believes its research might hold a key. From its labs on the UBC campus, it's been working on P97 to train it to deliver drugs across that protective brain barrier with more success. Down the road, it could spell the end to overdosing the body with toxic drugs just to get a bit to the brain, something cancer patients and other seriously ill people have to cope with.

The average brain comprises 2 percent of a person's total body weight. yet it requires 25 percent of all oxygen used by the body, as opposed to 12 percent used by the kidneys and 7 percent by the heart.

Those fun rubber stamp stores for kids might soon have junion building their own microchips, thanks to a technology quietly in development at Lucent. It's working on a way to use silicone rubber stamps to print computer circuits on flexible plastics, curved surfaces, and, some day, even special clothing fibres. The technique uses a rubber stamp (made of the same silicon gel today's rubber stamps use) to essentially "print" the circuit pattern on whatever surface is being used as the base. {PC Week}

Rubber is one of the ingredients of bubble gum. It is the substance that allows the chewer to blow a bubble.

Think the car of the future is electrical? How about if the car were to use nothing but AIR to propel itself. One French company has developed just such a car. The company is led by an expert in making engines for lightweight aircraft and Formula One racing cars. To power the pistons, the two-cylinder motor uses headed outside air and super-compressed air from tanks stored under the car. The Mexican government has 40,000 cars on order to build a taxi fleet. It takes about three minutes to "fill up" at a tire pump and you can get about 120 miles to the tankful. They'll be released next year with a price tag of $13,000. {Wired Magazine, May 1999}

TODBIT: Cars produce about four times their own weight in carbon dioxide each year. The average home produces 50 tons of carbon dioxide each year.

Your next shoe might have a microchip in the heel. A smart shoe prototype has been developed by MIT that automatically senses the wearer's cushioning needs by adjusting fluid in five bladders in the sole. A microchip in the heel monitors pressure on the bladders, adjusting pressure on the fly -- more cushioning for running, less for walking.

Did you ever wonder what the WD in WD-40 stands for? WD is an abbreviation for Water Displacer 40th attempt.

In my kitchen, I've got one of those under-the-cabinet SpaceMaker toasters but I've always thought that would be a great place to have a flip-down TV. Well now, for only $2200 (ouch) I can. CMI Worldwide of Seattle have come out with a flipdown flat panel screen that is a TV and a full Internet kiosk. You can either watch broadcast TV through a cable port in the back, or hook up a security camera to watch your kids in the back yard. All while making nachos.

TOMORROW'S PARKING METER TO STOP SCAMMING You won't be getting away with quick unpaid stops at the parking meter anymore - not if Fred Mitchell has his way. The Canadian inventor has developed a new meter that can nab drivers that try to avoid paying for parking. The meter is equipped with a digital camera - the camera, in turn, is connected to a cell phone. When a car pulls into the parking spot, the meter knows - and waits for the driver to pay. If no cash shows up within a minute or two, the meter snaps a picture of the car's license plate, and transmits it to a central office where a ticket is printed. And worse, no more using other people's meter time. The meter can tell when a car leaves, and wipes any unused time to zero.

Kilts are not native to Scotland. They originated in France. PLASTIC TO REPLACE SILICON IN SCREENS?
Next time you feel like throwing your laptop out a five-storey window… well, go ahead! Maybe not yet.. but in five years it's expected a new type of laptop screen could make your computer much more resilient. The transistors in today's laptop screens are made of silicon - which, while bright and colourful, might not exactly be the toughest material in the world. Now, researchers at IBM have developed a way to make the same transistors used in LCD screens out of ordinary plastic. Better yet - they'll be cheaper to make and cost less. And it's not just computer screens - one cell phone manufacturer says it's managed to keep electrical properties in plastic… meaning you might not need a battery at all - you'd just recharge the casing of your phone… in the future.

There's a whole lot of money coming down the pipe for e-commerce - and you can thank the year 2000 bug for it. Next year will be a huge year for companies moving into e-business - everything from moving their supply chain online to providing services over the Internet. Why? It's all because computer systems managers in medium- and large-sized companies will have their IT budgets freed up. You see, until now most of their budgets have been bled dry by getting their computers ready for the turn of the century. In fact, it's been like that for a couple of years. In those years, significant improvements have been made in electronic commerce, customer relationship management, and data warehousing.

Camel's-hair brushes are not made of camel's hair. They were invented by a man named Mr. Camel.

It had to happen sooner or later... your church may be going high-tech in the future. It's happening already in Stuttgart, where parishioners who turn up to church without any cash handy for the collection need only insert their smart card into a special bank machine at the back. The machine withdraws the donation, or offers to calculate an appropriate tithe. So far, it's a boon for the church - donations are up more than 20 per cent… most of it because each heavenly transaction spits out a tax receipt - something the donation plate doesn't provide. And the church also likes the fact they don't have to spend an hour counting change after each service.

You've probably been there - in a plane, trying desperately to coax those previous last few seconds of battery juice out of your laptop computer. Well in the future, you might be able to just wind your laptop up to get more power. Freeplay, a U.S. company is said to be quietly in talks with GE to develop a combination wind-up and solar-power pack for notebooks. And this isn't too far down the pipe - you can expect announcements some time next year. They've got history behind them - Freeplay is the company that is putting wind-up radios in developing countries. No word yet how much cranking you'll have to do per email message or spreadsheet calculation, but they're looking into how easy it would be to marry the crank with an "ultra capacitor" - a new kind of storage device that retains its charge far longer than batteries. Even today's early prototypes can be charged and discharged millions of times, compared to just a few hundred cycles for traditional batteries.

Gina "Nanogirl" Miller
Nanotechnology Industries
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