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MIT Technology Review

Infotech Briefs

September 1, 2004

UPGRADE

The Roomba vacuum cleaner from Cambridge, MA-based iRobot is already the most successful home robot ever, with more than half a million units sold since its 2002 debut. Now iRobot has made the $250 flying-saucer-shaped gadget smarter, adding a feature that causes the Roomba to linger over especially soiled spots and new software that automatically guides the device back to a charging station when batteries are low.

GADGET

Steve Jobs steadfastly declines to build a video version of the Apple iPod, so Microsoft and Creative Labs of Milpitas, CA, have done it for him. The Zen Portable Media Player has a 10-centimeter screen and a 20-gigabyte hard drive and plays video and audio files in Microsoft’s Windows Media format. A similar device is expected from Samsung this month.

ADVANCE

PointShot Wireless thinks people shouldn’t have to go without Internet access just because they’re riding trains. Installed in a railway car, the Ottawa, Ontario, company’s RailPoint server connects to the Internet via cellular and satellite signals and relays data to passengers’ laptops via Wi-Fi. PointShot is testing the service on lines between Toronto and Montréal and in northern California.

EXIT

Both Yahoo! and America Online have scrapped the business versions of their instant-messenger programs. Millions of U.S. workers have installed free instant-messaging software at the office to keep in touch with fellow employees, and the companies had hoped to charge employers $30 to $40 per user per year for centrally managed versions of the programs. Customers didn’t bite. Left standing in the enterprise instant-messaging market: Sun Microsystems, IMLogic, IBM’s Lotus division, and Microsoft, which recently announced technology that will let office workers send messages across the boundaries that separate the AOL, Yahoo!, and MSN instant-messaging networks.

IPO

Now investors can get a chunk of Freescale Semiconductor, the former chip-making division of Motorola. The Austin, TX, company, a leading maker of processors for cars, cell phones, PDAs, and cellular base stations, raised $1.6 billion on the first day of public trading of its shares on the New York Stock Exchange on July 16.

MILESTONE

The light-emitting transistor will be the focus of a new lab at the University of Illinois, where the versatile device was recently invented. Researchers at the Hyper-Uniform Nanophotonic Technology Center will work on improving and exploiting the transistor, which can pump out both electrical and optical signals in response to an input and could make it possible to replace the electrical wires in circuit boards with much faster optical pathways.