Originally created 10/10/05

Techbits: Sniper detector, TV wars and more



Battlefield robot can detect snipers

BOSTON - The maker of a track-wheeled robot used in Iraq and Afghanistan is developing a version designed to locate the source of sniper fire.

IRobot Corp.'s joint project with Boston University's Photonics Center could protect soldiers by helping them quickly locate snipers and either steer clear of them or fire back.

Although the robot is meant solely as a defensive measure, its ability to calculate the target's distance using laser and infrared light could ultimately lead others to build a new generation of robots that can fire weapons.

The sniper-detecting technology, paired with iRobot's track-wheeled, bomb-disarming PackBot, made its first public appearance this week at the Association of the U.S. Army's annual meeting in Washington, D.C.

In field tests last month at a firing range, the system located the source of gunfire from over 100 meters away 94 percent of the time, its developers say.

The system pairs optical equipment from Insight Technology Inc. with acoustic sensors from BioMimetic Systems. The devices are built into in a book-sized metal box weighing about 5 pounds and mounted atop an arm extending from a PackBot.

While the system isn't yet ready for deployment, Cambridge-based BBN Technologies produces a sniper detector called Boomerang that already is deployed in Iraq.

That system uses acoustic sensors attached to a Humvee vehicle or at a site such as a guard post to track sources of sniper fire.

-Mark Jewell, AP Business Writer

Nearly a third of Americans offline

NEW YORK - Despite progress getting Americans online - particularly through high-speed connections - 32 percent of adults remain unconnected, some of them by choice, a new study finds.

While nearly a third of nonusers cite lack of access as the reason for not using the Internet, about the same number say they simply aren't interested in going online, according to the Pew Internet and American Life Project. Furthermore, 15 percent of nonusers live in households with a connection - used by a child or someone else.

"There's always going to be a group of people who are nervous about it," said Susannah Fox, an associate director at Pew. "They might read stories about viruses and spyware and feel like they don't want to go online."

Others say they are too busy or find access too difficult or expensive.

The unconnected tend to be older. Seventy-eight percent of those age 70 and older are offline, compared with less than half of the 60-69 group and less than a quarter of adults under 70.

Other groups that lag in online usage include blacks, those without high school education and those without a child living at home.

The random telephone-based survey of 2,001 adults was conducted May 4 to June 7 and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 2 percentage points.

-Anick Jesdanun, AP Internet Writer.

Battle of flat-screen techs on display

CHIBA, Japan - An intensifying rivalry between Panasonic and Sharp underscores an underlying battle over the technology behind flat-screen TVs.

Matsushita Electric Industrial Co., which makes Panasonic products, is showcasing the advantages of its plasma-display panels at the CEATEC consumer electronics exhibition this week. Sharp Corp. is pushing liquid-crystal display panels.

One booth makes no secret of its message: Matsushita placed a PDP TV right next to an LCD TV to demonstrate how PDPs appear to be delivering more dazzling images. Matsushita also highlighted research by an Osaka City University professor who found that people said viewing plasmas is easier on the eyes.

But in another corner, Sharp is showing off upgraded LCD panels that aren't fuzzy even when viewed from an angle, a past drawback.

Earlier in the week in Tokyo, Sharp unveiled a new LCD that delivers excellent contrast even in dark places. It will target professional use in TV studios, though, figuring such dazzling contrast would be wasted and unnecessary in living rooms.

The rivalry comes as more people are switching from old-style cathode-ray tube to flat screens.

-Yuri Kageyama, AP Business Writer

Phone reminds Muslims of prayer time

THE HAGUE, Netherlands - For Muslims, it's a high-tech call to prayer.

A new cellular telephone generates five automated reminders a day at prayer time, points Muslims in the direction of Mecca and contains a copy of the Islamic holy book, the Quran, in both Arabic and English.

Already available in the Middle East and Asia, Ilkone - Arabic for universe - recently went on sale in the Netherlands for its European debut.

It will be followed by launches in France, Germany, Italy, Denmark, Belgium and Bosnia in coming months, said Peter Suyk, the managing director of Lebara BV, the phone's European distributor.

Some Muslims were skeptical.

"I wouldn't buy one," said 15-year-old Mohammed Bouyeri, sitting outside Rotterdam's largest mosque, the Mevlana. "It might be useful for someone at home or traveling, but not at the mosque. Everyone here already knows what time prayers are."

-Anthony Deutsch, AP Writer.

Games aim to stop - not start - bleeding

BALTIMORE - Somewhere in cyberspace, the streets are running red with blood - but the name of this game is mercy not mayhem.

The health-care profession is increasingly turning to computer games for training.

One, called "Code Orange," helps doctors learn to manage mass casualty incidents where normal operations are suspended to deal with a large amount of patients.

"If you don't manage the situation properly, people are going to get missed," said Lucien Parsons, who produced the game for BreakAway Ltd.

Trainees can play a variety of management roles and deal with directing staff and monitoring supplies, he said.

Video games already have been found to improve marksmanship among military personnel, said Claudia Johnston, a Texas A&M-Corpus Christi researcher who is heading a Navy-funded project to develop a game to train doctors.

"If you can do that, why can't you learn to start an IV online," Johnston said.

The goal is to produce software that will allow civilian and military health care professionals to practice clinical skills in order to better respond to catastrophic incidents, such as bioterrorism.

-Alex Dominguez, AP Writer