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Science & Technology
In the News of Technology

From Diana J. Choyce
Apr 09 -15, 2001

As in science, the world of technology has grown in leaps and bounds. Man's desire to control the world around him has driven technology to a frenzied level. Pentium 4 computer chips whizz along at amazing speeds. Doctors can operate remotely from the other side of the Earth. And of course there is the race to see what really is out there beyond Earth. One has to wonder if man can keep up with his own pace. And if all that he is creating is really beneficial to his fellow man. Here are a few items of interest in the world of technology.

Researchers at Stanford University have developed a cutting-edge device that may help you realize your wildest dreams while you sleep comfortably in bed. Stephen LaBerge has spent years studying lucid dreaming, defined as the experience of dreaming while knowing that you are dreaming. He founded the Lucidity Institute at Stanford, where research subjects are taught to understand their dreams as a state of consciousness where anything is possible, and all is within their power. "What makes a good lucid dreamer is someone who has inner awareness," says LaBerge. "You've got to sleep with the intention of having a lucid dream." In order to assist dreamers have more lucid dreams, LaBerge engineered the NovaDreamer, a high-tech mask with sensors that detect Rapid Eye Movement while you sleep. Lights embedded in the mask flash on and off to encourage a heightened sense of awareness while remaining in REM sleep. After a while, the mind becomes trained to understand the visual cues as a subconscious alarm clock that awakens the mind to a lucid dreaming state. Once in a lucid dream state, users can better understand and manipulate the context, or dream "reality" that surrounds them. The result is a richer dream experience. He sees exciting future applications in therapeutic treatment of nightmares, self-confidence, mental health, experimental learning, and also for a general exploration of our consciousness. "After all," says LaBerge, "dreaming is a powerful manifestation of our consciousness." (ABC News).

"Robodog," developed by RoboScience, is the Labrador to Aibo's Chihuahua, some might say. Robodog can walk, climb and even read e-mails through its synthesized activated voice. Through camera lenses and microphones hooked up to the Internet, the dog can even "hear" and "see," allowing it to act as a guard dog by letting its owner know if it sees movement. "It's a PC on legs," says designer Nick Wirth, who formerly designed Formula One race cars. Wirth refers to the Microsoft Windows program that acts as a brain to power the Robodog. Strong enough to lift a 5-year-old child, Robodog looks fierce but is amazingly light. Influenced by Formula One engineering, designers used carbon fiber to construct the dog. Being lightweight is considered crucial for future developments of human life-size robots, which if too heavy could pose a danger to its human owners. Only 200 dogs are being built because of a $30,000 price tag. However, RoboScience sees its dog as an investment into the future dog-eat-dog world of robotics. (ABC News).

Diabetics won their first painless way to measure blood sugar, as the government approved a wristwatch-like device to do the job. Cygnus Inc.'s GlucoWatch checks glucose levels every 20 minutes by sending tiny electric currents through the skin. The GlucoWatch won't completely replace those finger-prick blood tests that diabetics perform because it's not perfect, sometimes giving erroneous readings, the Food and Drug Administration warned. But it will supplement finger testing, providing the more frequent blood monitoring that can help keep diabetics healthier, the FDA said. Better, it sounds an alarm if blood sugar hits dangerous levels possibly life-saving if glucose plummets while they sleep. (Associated Press).

The Ford-GM Crash Avoidance Metrics Partnership in cooperation with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and Electronics Systems has developed a preliminary version of a forward collision warning system. Researchers hope the device will make a big dent in rear-end collisions, which NHTSA says about 23 per cent of all police-reported crashes in the United States. The alarm involves radar that measures the distance, relative speed and angle between cars. Researchers determined that bringing a car to a normal stop involves a very specific amount of force. "Once you need more braking than that to avoid hitting something, we decided to give a warning, so there's still time to brake hard and avoid the accident," said Dr. Michael Shulman, a technical specialist at Ford Research Laboratory. Much of the research has been devoted to calibrating the system. The timing of a near-collision can be tricky, and scientists are still experimenting to find the system's sweet spot. If the alarm sounds too late, it won't prevent a crash. However, if klaxons blare every time the car nears a bumper while parking, the result will be annoyed drivers and disconnected systems. In a controlled environment, the crash alarm has performed well. At the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, 104 of 108 drivers in a braking test stopped the car in time to avoid a crash. (Wired News).