How do you make a diamond even more valuable? Tony Holden and Matee Serearuno, of the University of Cambridge’s Institute of Manufacturing, believe they know. Their automated system for stonecutters, called iGem, works out the best way to cut a rough stone to maximize its value and reduce wastage. Descriptions of stones, which could eventually be derived from x-rays or surface scans, are fed to iGem, which classifies the stones according to size, shape, and clarity, based on variables identified by expert stonecutters. It then uses an optimization process to see, for example, whether the value of a borderline stone could be increased by a different cut that removes imperfections; in some cases, a smaller, clearer stone winds up being more valuable than a larger one. “Even small improvements can yield significant increases in profits,” says Holden. In tests, the system boosted gems’ value by up to 23 percent. The researchers’ next goal is to integrate the system with a desktop x-ray scanner; they are discussing commercialization with a South African firm.
Trying to use keyboard shortcuts in an unfamiliar software program is like trying to use a physical shortcut in an unfamiliar neighborhood: you’re likely to get lost. San Jose, CA-based United Keys will soon release technology designed to make shortcuts – and therefore software – more usable. The startup is developing small liquid-crystal displays that are built into the keys of a PC keyboard. Each screen displays an icon that indicates the function of its key for whatever program is running. The system can also sense what users are doing within a program, anticipate which functions they might need next, and assign those functions to handy keys. Similar keyboard displays exist but are now limited to industrial applications, like cash registers, because of their high cost. United Keys says that by making its technology more compatible with PC keyboard industry standards, it can cut costs by more than half and broaden the tech-nology’s reach. The firm says enhanced keyboards could be available this year.
The Web isn’t as anonymous as you might think: website operators, Internet providers, and hackers can track your activities if they really want to. So for those who want to search medical, legal, and other potentially sensitive sites but don’t want anybody to know what they’re looking for, computer researchers at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, in Beer Sheva, Israel, have developed a new search system. When a user conducts a search on a medical site, for instance, the system generates extra, decoy queries – requests for information about other ailments, say – to mask the user’s true interests. That may sound suspiciously like Internet saboteurs’ methods for flooding websites. “Yes, it does generate more traffic,” says Yuval Elovici, who created the system with Bracha Shapira, “but with no malicious intent. That is the price you pay for privacy.” Elovici and Shapira are currently using the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office website to test their system, which could be available for public use later this year.
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U.S. Corporate Research
One-fifth of the more than one million U.S. corporate and federal R&D scientists and engineers work on computer hardware and electronics. Another 16 percent develop software, design networked computer systems, or provide computer consulting, meaning more than one in every three U.S. corporate and government R&D employees works in information technology. Industries often considered R&D intensive, such as pharmaceuticals and aerospace, actually employ comparatively fewer workers and spend less overall. Aerospace companies, however, spend the most per worker.
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