Originally created 02/28/05

Techbits: Smart cars, high-capacity drives and more



YOKOSUKA, Japan - To make driving safer, Japanese automaker Nissan Motor Co. is developing a car that swerves back into its lane on its own and features a video system that makes parking a breeze.

"Lane Departure Prevention" combines a camera and computerized devices that control braking for front and rear wheels, nudging the car in the right direction. The feature disengages when you hit the turn signal, so you can change lanes and make turns.

Nissan has a system to make squeezing into parking spots easier. Four cameras in the front, back and on the side-mirrors relay live video.

Images from all sides are shown as they would appear from above, the car displayed as a computer graphic in the middle.

The automaker has yet to decide on when it will offer either system, and rival automakers have similar smart-car features in the works.

Nissan also showed a computerized system that controls the steering of front and rear wheels to stabilize driving when a car switches directions quickly.

-Yuri Kageyama, AP Business Writer.

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NEW YORK (AP) - Demonstrating a deep understanding of what its computer-gaming audience, Sony has built the ability to order pizza into its latest online multiplayer game.

Type the command "/pizza" while playing Everquest II, a fantasy game with 330,000 active players, and get the Pizza Hut Web site, where you can place orders for delivery.

Chris Kramer, spokesman for Sony Online Entertainment, said he believes this is the first time a game accepts orders for real-world items.

Sony plans to integrate the pizza function more tightly into the game, so players can charge pizza to their monthly game subscription bill.

"The goal for the future is to eventually let people do more things like this," Kramer said. "They could type /harry potter and get the new Harry Potter book delivered or /star wars and get the new Star Wars DVD."

Many games incorporate ads and product placements, but such opportunities are limited with fantasy games like Everquest.

Though the new pizza feature might satisfy appetites, caution is required as the game doesn't pause while you're ordering.

"You wouldn't want to order pizza in the thick of combat, but anywhere that's safe is a good place," said Kramer.

-Peter Svensson, AP Technology Writer

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SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) - Two hard-drive makers have expanded the capacities of their 1-inch drives to 6 gigabytes, catering to consumers' growing appetites for more storage in tiny packages.

The new drives by Seagate Technology LLC and Hitachi Global Storage Technologies put the world's top two hard-drive manufacturers in head-to-head competition.

Hitachi, which supplies components for Apple Computer Inc.'s iPod mini portable music players, previously made its "Microdrives" with a maximum capacity of 4 GB.

Seagate introduced its first line of 1-inch-diameter disk drives last fall in 2.5 GB and 5 GB flavors. Its market entry helped spark a crop of iPod rivals.

Taking advantage of the expanded disk capacity, Apple this week released its second-generation of iPod minis - in 4-gigabyte and 6-gigabyte versions.

Within a few months, Creative Technology Ltd., which already uses Seagate's 5-gigabyte drive for its Zen Micro MP3 player, plans to start selling a 6-gigabyte version that plays songs and displays photos.

Demand for the miniature hard drives is fueled largely by the fast-growing market of portable music players but they are also making their way into digital video and still cameras, removable memory cards and cell phones.

-May Wong, AP Technology Writer.

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NEW YORK (AP) - Documents from the early days of computing catalogued as "The Origins of Cyberspace" brought in more than $700,000 at auction, though nearly half the items didn't find a buyer.

Top sellers in the Christie's auction included a 1946 business plan with designs for the first electronic computers. It sold for $72,000 to a private buyer.

J. Presper Eckert and John Mauchly, who wrote the document, were the engineers behind the Electronic Control Co., the world's first electronic computer firm. The two boldly predicted a market for their machines - at a time before venture capital, microchips and software.

The highest-selling piece was a sketch of an analytical engine from 1843. It sold to a private buyer for $78,000.

All told, the sale brought in $714,060 from the sale of 133 out of 254 lots, Christie's said. The papers belonged to a longtime California book dealer, Jeremy Norman, who began gathering this collection of books and documents outlining the history of the digital world in 1998.

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SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - Shock-jock Howard Stern won a renegade award and freelance journalist Kevin Sites got a nod for blogging as Wired Magazine doled out the 6th Annual Rave Awards to technology innovators.

Wired bestowed Stern with the "Wired Renegade" award for his tense battle with the Federal Communications Commission and upcoming switch to Sirius Satellite Radio. Stern has blamed the ever-tightening decency controls for his decision to abandon broadcast radio in favor of an emerging medium that is, at least for now, beyond the FCC's reach.

Sites took home the honor in a new "Blogger" category for helping pioneer a new breed of reporting from the war in Iraq.

Sites, a freelance journalist currently on assignment for NBC News in Asia, also chronicled on his Web journal the tsunami rescue effort in southeast Asia.

Brad Bird won in the "Film Director" category for "The Incredibles," the computer animation story of a family of superheroes.

Other winners included Burt Rutan in the industrial designer category for SpaceShipOne, which last year captured the $10 million Ansari X Prize and energized the quest for commercial human spaceflight.

-Ron Harris, AP Writer.