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Intelligent Machines

TR: Running on Empty, RFID Medical Tags and the Week in Review

Search for the better battery…Harvard tests RFID medical implants…and hospitals use Bluetooth to track patients…and more in the Week in Review.

Battery Bombs:

Remember when the only batteries you had to worry about were the AAs for your remote? The truth is that with all the technical problems that come along with the convenience of mobile devices, the biggest pain continues to be a short battery life.

The Associated Press reported last week that Nokia is temporarily dropping development of fuel-cell batteries that would run off a refillable stash of methanol. The fuel cells – which could have applications for both laptops and phones – would provide plenty of juice for new power-zapping video applications and would do away with the need to plug into an outlet.

The problem is that the highly flammable methanol would have to be specially packaged because of new air transportation regulations that soon will outlaw even disposable lighters on planes.

However, the regulations don’t appear to have dismayed other companies. Big laptop makers such as Toshiba and IBM are still working on this type of fuel-cell battery. The San Jose Mercury News reports that a small New Jersey company called Millennium Cell has teamed up with Dow Chemical to develop a fuel cell that uses a hydrogen reaction – the same principle that could soon power cars.

That technology is at least two years away and might first be used for military applications.

A more reliable way of extending battery life could be around as early as next year. PC Magazine reports that Intel’s next-generation Centrino platform, dubbed Napa, will be designed to draw less power from hardware components, especially CPUs. But questions remain about how well it will be able to tame laptops’ biggest power hogs, Liquid Crystal Displays.

RFID, Under Our Skin:

Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) is so common these days that certain factions in Europe are starting to protest the proliferation and the European Union is starting to develop privacy guidelines for the tags’ use.

And they may be just in time. Forbes reports that Harvard Medical is developing a line of grain-of-rice-sized RFID smart chips that can be slipped under a patient’s skin to carry all his or her important medical information. Harvard Medical’s CIO lists the chip, which he’s had implanted to help pilot-test the line, as his favorite gadget.

Reach Out and Touch Someone:

Technology Review recently caught wind of IBM’s expansion of the Mobile Health Tool Kit. The set up uses a patient’s mobile phone to collect data from devices that constantly monitor heart rate, activity, and even how much medication the patient is taking. The phone keeps records of the data and sends off reports to doctors at regular intervals. Researchers at the University of Florence and elsewhere are encouraging hospitals to build entire data networks based on this type of constant monitoring.

Of course, there’s a problem if the patient loses his or her phone. In that case, the new feature from FusionOne  might come in handy. It’s a “self destruct” command that would allow a user to send a message to a stolen or lost phone to erase the device’s memory.

In other cell-phone news, The Courier-Mail reports that the Australian government will begin to loan out cell phones to jobseekers, citing a recent study that showed mobile phones increased a person’s chance of securing a job by 30 percent. And, the tech blog Engadget is reporting that Virgin Mobile’s streaming radio service is generating enough hype to raise the question of whether it will become a threat to the growing popularity of satellite radio.

Sharing and Caring:

The Associated Press reports that Intel and Dell are both urging the Supreme Court and Congress to stay out of the battle between the entertainment industry and proponents of file-sharing. They urge the government to work with both factions to develop fair standards, instead of imposing “artificial barriers” that could stifle technological innovation.

In the meantime, Sony paired up with the original Napster himself, Shawn Fanning, and his new song-swapping venture Snocap, which will allow record companies to use peer-to-peer networks to sell and distribute music files.

I’ll Be Watching You:

The robots are watching you. Microsoft unveiled a teddy bear with a built-in wireless camera, good for spying on the kids. Flower Robotics Inc. revealed Palette, a moving, posing mannequin that records information about anyone who stops to take a look – including age, gender, and what type of shopping bags you might be carrying.

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