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Volume 5, Issue 517: Wednesday, July 9, 2003

  • "Antispam Legislation Hits Rocky Road"
    Medill News Service (07/08/03); McKinney, Leonadis

    Several antispam proposals being considered by Congress are dividing lawmakers, as demonstrated at a July 8 hearing by the House Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security Subcommittee on the Reduction in Distribution (RID) of Spam Act. The RID Spam legislation would require email marketers to clearly label their emails as advertising and accompany them with legitimate return addresses, while allowing consumers to opt out of receiving commercial email. RID Spam also authorizes ISPs as well as state and federal law enforcement officials to prosecute and sue purveyors of spam. Consumers Union legislative counsel Chris Murray says the measure lacks teeth, and supports a revision that would enable consumers to opt in for commercial email rather than opt out. "Consumers should have the ability to say no to all spam, even when that spam comes from companies that are not engaged in fraud," Murray declared. Murray also criticized RID Spam for not allowing consumers to file individual and class action suits against spammers. Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) was opposed to Murray's suggestion, and argued that spam regulation should be handled by existing criminal legislation, while Rep. Robert C. Scott (D-Va.) insisted that a distinction needs to be made between valid and invalid email business communication. The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade, and Consumer Protection and the Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet will meet on July 9 to discuss proposed spam legislation.
    http://www.pcworld.com/news/article/0,aid,111487,00.asp

  • "Dissertation Could Be Security Threat"
    Washington Post (07/08/03) P. A1; Blumenfeld, Laura

    The doctoral dissertation of 29-year-old George Mason University (GMU) geography student Sean Gorman poses a serious threat to national security, according to government and private sector officials who have seen the work. Gorman has devised a computer program that maps the U.S. fiber-optic infrastructure, traces the origin and end points for different communication links, and pinpoints critical junctions that, if severed, could create massive disruption in U.S. financial, air traffic control, Internet, cell phones, and utility management systems. Former White House cybersecurity advisor Richard Clarke suggests Gorman should submit his paper, get his degree, and then destroy his research.

    Notably, Osama bin Laden urged his followers in a taped December 2001 address to "try to find the joints of the American economy and hit the enemy in these joints." Gorman's advisor at GMU, John McCarthy, says the dissertation has spurred dialogue between government, the private sector, and academia about the availability of sensitive information. At a conference of financial services executives, it was suggested that Gorman and research partner Laurie Schintler not leave the building with their presentation; the gathering instead decided to conduct an exercise in an undisclosed Midwestern city to test the impact of terrorist attack on their supporting infrastructure.

    The first director of the National Infrastructure Protection Center, Michael Vatis, says Gorman's work forces consideration of what should be disclosed and secured and what should be kept secret, though he does not think obscurity alone is a good security strategy. The Department of Homeland Security is looking into federal funding for the GMU research in hopes of keeping it clandestine, which Stanford Law School dean Kathleen Sullivan says is an alternative to outright censorship.
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A23689-2003Jul7.html

  • "Talking Computers Nearing Reality"
    CNet (07/09/03); Kanellos, Michael

    Upcoming products from IBM and Microsoft aim to bring the dream of conversational computers closer to reality and move the technology out of niche markets. Microsoft will issue on July 9 the first public beta of its Speech Server software, a back-end offering that seeks to lower the cost of deploying automated phone response systems. The software has three components--a speech-to-text engine to make oral commands comprehensible to computers, a prompt engine that helps guide callers with pre-recorded responses, and a text-to-speech engine to translate unfamiliar computer responses or inquiries into oral communications. Meanwhile, IBM announced plans to bring computers that can support conversations between two people speaking different languages out of the laboratory by the end of 2003, and the company's Super Human Speech Recognition Project aims to make commercially feasible, exceptionally accurate speech-to-text transcription systems a reality by the end of the decade. Researchers have redirected their efforts away from creating machines that can actually converse to systems that can understand speech as a probabilistic function. For example, Microsoft's Alex Acero explains that the Yoda speech-to-text engine currently in development converts voice into written text by analyzing user habits and picking up on specific sound patterns. Chalapathy Neti of IBM expects many new systems to be equipped with cameras that can help computers better understand what people are saying despite heavy background noise by studying lip movements and facial cues. Companies see much greater potential in embedding speech technology into cell phones and other devices rather than PCs, a strategy that speech proponents claim is better aligned to user needs and serves growth markets.
    http://news.com.com/2100-1008_3-1023966.html

  • "New Memory That Doesn't Forget"
    Wired News (07/09/03); Borin, Elliot

    Motorola and IBM are backing magnetoresistive technology for the next generation of computer RAM, allowing users to access data up to six times faster than static RAM and skip tedious boot-up and load waits. Cell phones and PDAs will be the first to incorporate MRAM in 2004, but eventually PCs will also have non-volatile RAM enabling them to boot up and power down at the push of a button. Altis Semiconductor CEO Elke Eckstein, who leads the joint venture sponsored by Infineon Technologies and IBM, says the company's timetable for MRAM has accelerated, and that it wants to be first-to-market with MRAM chips. Magnetoresistive technology stores binary bits using magnetic polarization of two microscopic magnetic layers insulated from one another. Because no electric charges are needed to store data, proponents say power usage is considerably lower. Brian Way, CEO of 4 All Memory, also points out that users will be more likely to power down their computer instead of keeping it running in between work sessions, saving additional energy costs. Way adds that MRAM technology also means denser memory chips and more functions possible on integrated chips. "Researchers have been trying for years to find a 'universal' RAM replacement, a device that is non-volatile, inexpensive, fast and low-power," Way notes. "DRAM (dynamic RAM), flash and SRAM (static RAM) all have one or two of these characteristics, but MRAM appears to offer the best hope of an overall solution." Way explains that the wide adoption of MRAM-empowered systems will make deactivating the computer between work sessions more viable.
    http://www.wired.com/news/technology/0,1282,59559,00.html

  • "Group To Simplify Linking Digital Devices"
    Investor's Business Daily (07/08/03) P. A5; Angell, Mike

    Most downloading via broadband is handled by PCs, but the recently inaugurated Digital Home Working Group aims to better facilitate home networking by developing universal standards for linking digital products and digital media. Collaborative standard-setting by technology firms is a formidable challenge, given that many firms want to maintain profitability by keeping consumers locked within specific brands. "Certainly manufacturers try to drive short-term market share gains through the use of proprietary standards," notes Intel's Gary Matos. The consortium, which counts Intel, Nokia, Sony, and Microsoft among its members, plans to make home networking devices interoperable through the most popular network standards in use today, such as Internet protocol, plug and play, and Wi-Fi. Matos explains that adoption hinges on the standard being accepted by international standards bodies, as well as being licensed either cheaply or for free. Preventing digital files from being unlawfully copied is perhaps the biggest problem the Digital Home Working Group will have to solve. "Unless there's a standard way to protect files from being copied, then the group has just made it inconvenient to copy files, not prevented it," observes International Data analyst Jonathan Gaw. The group wants retailers to be selling consortium-certified products within a year.

  • "'Augmented Reality' Speeding Assembly and Service Tasks"
    EE Times (07/07/03); Hammerschmidt, Christoph

    Augmented reality (AR) systems that relay context-related data as images are expected to accelerate productivity in prototype and small-volume assembly, service tasks, complex system maintenance, and product development. Siemens' Automation and Drives division is leading an industrial consortium to develop Arvika, a research project designed to yield prototype portable and fixed-location AR systems that can be applied to the automotive and aircraft industry. One Arvika-derived system employs data goggles programmed to display information that a worker can follow to assemble systems, even if he is unfamiliar with them; such an innovation promises to significantly cut paperwork and training time, according to AR advocates. Some 18 Arvika members--DaimlerChrysler, Airbus, Zeiss, and the Fraunhofer Institute among them--presented findings on AR system designs in Nuremberg on July 3. One proposed AR solution, designed to speed up cable harness manufacturing, combines a head-mounted display with speech input and output, and corresponding software embedded within a PC. The technology still has drawbacks: Hans Lukasser of European Aeronautic Defense and Space (EADS) noted that data goggles cannot be used all day, while Airbus Germany's Bernd Luhr commented that the tracking technology required to keep the data display's position from the worker's point of view constant is also problematic. Luhr added that a device-specific interface capable of displaying large volumes of data on small screens needs to be developed, while improved language control is "critical for acceptance among users." Siemens' Wolfgang Friedrich said that truly wearable computers must be devised, and these units must run faster if they are to support a diverse array of graphic-intensive applications.
    http://www.eetonline.com/story/OEG20030707S0066

  • "Finally, a Purpose for Nanotech to Turn on Average Joe: Big-Screen TVs"
    USA Today (07/09/03) P. 3B; Maney, Kevin

    Nanotechnology is moving from the realm of scientific dream and nightmare into the living room of normal people. Motorola announced a breakthrough fabrication process that uses carbon nanotubes in a large, thin-panel TV. The company said the technology could make it possible to sell a 50-inch thin display for the cost of a current 32-inch CRT TV, and that existing manufacturing lines could be modified to make use of the innovation. Motorola will not build the TVs itself, but plans to license the technology to other firms. Motorola scientist Jim Jaskie explains the process is like growing a field of carbon nanotubes, a long-sought goal called self-assembly. The carbon nanotubes carry electrons to the phosphorus screen to create an image. Previously, nanotubes had to be grown then attached individually for such purposes, but the advance in self-assembly promises a day when material can simply be poured onto a surface and form the requisite nanoscale structure. IBM Research chemist Chris Murray and colleagues described in the June issue of Nature how they created repeating, 3D patterns at the nanoscale with various materials; the discovery means different material components could perhaps be mixed and self-assembled together, making manufacturing processes much more simple. The use of nanoscale self-assembly for mundane manufacturing purposes disregards previous warnings about "gray goo," which are reminiscent of the worries of early nuclear scientists.
    http://www.usatoday.com/usatonline/20030709/5307598s.htm

  • "Researchers Use Lab Cultures to Create Robotic 'Semi-Living Artist'"
    Georgia Institute of Technology (07/08/03); Bowie, Larry

    A robotic machine that can draw pictures based on the neural activity of several thousand rat brain cells in a petri dish is the result of a collaborative venture between American and Australian researchers. The robot, which resides at the University of Western Australia, is linked via a two-way Internet connection to the rat neurons, which are cultured in a Multi-Electrode Array (MEA) at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta. The robot itself consists of a mechanical arm that holds three colored markers above a canvas, and can respond to instructions from the neuron network in real time thanks to a data exchange system. The neuro-electrical activity triggered by the MEA determines whether the arm will draw on the canvas, or how many markers the robot will use at one time, and what colors the robot will select. "We're attempting to create an entity that over time will evolve, learn, and express itself through art," explains Georgia Tech researcher Steve Potter. The international research team hopes this "semi-living artist" will be a significant step toward the goal of creating a machine that can equal the intelligence of even the most basic organism through the marriage of biological and artificial systems. The groundwork for the robotic artist project was carried out by Guy Ben-Ary's SymbioticA Research Group at Western Australia, which had developed a robotic arm controlled by cultured fish brain cells stimulated by music. Meanwhile, Potter's team pioneered the development of a robotic device directed by a cultured neural network capable of adaptive behavior and learning. Potter hopes that this learning will be triggered by transmitting data gathered by the robot's sensors to the neural network as electrical stimulation. "The goals [of the project] are both to learn more about how brains work and to apply what is learned to designing fundamentally different types of artificial computing systems," says Ben-Ary.
    http://www.gatech.edu/news-room/release.php?id=160

  • "Researchers Tinker With Tangled Webs"
    New Jersey Star-Ledger (07/06/03); Coughlin, Kevin

    Princeton University is the epicenter of an academic and commercial consortium researching novel ways to strengthen the Internet and eliminate spam. The PlanetLab group is funded mostly by member institutions Rutgers, Stanford, Harvard, Cambridge, and Princeton, as well as private-sector participants Intel, Hewlett-Packard, and Google. All the projects done through PlanetLab use Internet network infrastructure, but connect to Linux-based server nodes operated under PlanetLab. PlanetLab co-founder and Princeton computer science chairman Larry Peterson says this network "overlay" protects the general Internet from side affects of PlanetLab experiments. Projects include Content Distribution Network (CoDeeN), which is similar to edge-caching services offered by Akamai Technologies for businesses and by America Online for subscribers; but CoDeeN differs in that it is user-driven, meaning users browse the Web through PlanetLab proxies, which store sites they visit for faster delivery to others on the CoDeeN system. CoDeeN also captures errant spam messages that are drawn into its "honeypot," a decoy relay network of the type spammers often hijack--Princeton associate professor of computer science Vivek Pai notes that CoDeeN recently captured 2 million pieces of spam in one day. CoDeeN is accessible to the public at cs.princeton.edu, though users should be advised it is a beta application. Internet2's Greg Wood, whose group focuses on high-speed application testing and shares members with PlanetLab, says other groups in Canada and Europe are also researching improvements to Internet infrastructure.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "Tech Giants Try to Convince Girls It's Chic to Be a Geek"
    Associated Press (07/06/03); Konrad, Rachel

    Summer camps and programs run by the likes of IBM, Intel, and others aim to interest girls in science, engineering, and math in the hopes that they will pursue technical careers and reverse a growing shortfall in the male-dominated U.S. tech workforce. The Information Technology Association of America estimates that the percentage of women in the tech sector declined from 41 percent in 1996 to 34.9 percent in 2002, while research from IBM indicates that women accounted for around 47 percent of the U.S. workforce in 2000 but made up just 22 percent of computer science and engineering undergraduates. IBM's Excite program sponsors a Silicon-Valley based tech camp where young girls engage in technology-related activities with the assistance of female engineers; 30 cities around the world will host Excite camps this summer. Meanwhile, Intel's Geek Chic program pairs up third-grade girls with mentors for a few days at facilities near Portland, Ore., while Texas Instruments is sponsoring a Dallas-based camp where 50 girls are learning advanced placement physics this summer. However, Catalyst's Kara Helander is concerned that these camps do not encourage women to pursue senior positions in the technology industry. Furthermore, the United States' liberal arts-based educational system is thought to be responsible for the country's profound shortage of scientists, in comparison to Russia, China, and India's burgeoning scientific ranks.
    http://www.chron.com/cs/CDA/ssistory.mpl/business/1980937

    To learn about ACM's Committee on Women in Computing, visit http://www.acm.org/women.

  • "European Software Patents Row Continues"
    VNUNet (07/07/03); Ballard, Mark

    Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) have come into conflict with the Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure (FEII) over the European Commission's Proposal for a Directive on the Patentability of Computer-Implemented Inventions. The proposed law would supposedly establish clear limitations on software patent approval by the European Patent Offices (EPO), as well as prevent the creation of a U.S.-style system that impedes innovation and competition, according to MEP for North West England Arlene McCarthy. The proposal would additionally seek to reconcile current national patent laws across the European Union, thus clearing the way for free trade among EU member nations. McCarthy and other proposal advocates insist that they share the same goal as the FEII, which has been lobbying the EU on behalf of both open-source and proprietary software engineers to ensure that the patent law has a certain inflexibility. However, FEII President Hartmut Pilch claims, "[McCarthy] presented her proposal as saying what we want to achieve, but in her small print is the exact opposite of what she says she wants to achieve." Software engineer Tim Jackson attests that small software companies are opposed to the proposal, which was originally slated to be voted on in late June. The vote has been pushed back to September in order to give both sides more time to work out a compromise.
    http://nl2.vnunet.com/News/1142086

  • "The Lure of Data: Is It Addictive?"
    New York Times (07/06/03) P. 3-1; Richtel, Matt

    Psychology experts such as Harvard University's Edward M. Hallowell and John Rately are studying a new form of addiction: Pseudo-attention deficit disorder, a malady that affects highly wired types--executives, businesspeople, consumers, and others--who develop short attention spans in order to keep up with technology and the frenetic speed of contemporary life. Behavior typical of such people includes conversing via digital devices while in a meeting, and multitasking. David E. Meyer of the University of Michigan reports that multitaskers' behavior can actually slow down their productivity; he estimates that people who flip back and forth between two tasks may spend half as much more time on those tasks than if they carry them out separately. Meyer postulates that multitasking could be attractive for several reasons--it makes multitaskers feel they are being productive, provides a "macho" display of efficiency, and carries a chemical stimulation akin to an amphetamine buzz. Charles Lax of GrandBanks Capital adds that multitasking is a cure for boredom, which people characterized as "Always On" seem highly prone to. Sprint PCS' Jeff Hallock argues that technology providers should not be blamed for problems associated with multitasking, and posits that gadgets that facilitate multitasking are designed to help users stay organized. "We're enhancing people's lives so they can have more control of the flurry of activity that's seemingly coming in," he insists. Assistant commerce secretary for technology policy Bruce P. Mehlman also discounts the data addiction theory, and contends that using multiple gadgets offers people more balance, claiming that executives now enjoy more family time thanks to technology.
    Click Here to View Full Article
    (Access to this site is free; however, first-time visitors must register.)

  • "Recommenders Can Skew Results"
    Technology Research News (07/09/03); Patch, Kimberly

    University of Minnesota researchers ran several experiments to determine the accuracy of online recommender systems, and the results indicate that the way the systems are set up can influence user opinions. Using the Movie Lens recommender system, the researchers discovered that the presence of other film ratings onscreen affects user ratings, even if the recommended ratings are incorrect. These findings reflect many psychology studies concluding that people change their opinions as a way of conforming with larger groups, notes University of Minnesota computer science and engineering professor Joseph Konstan. He argues that such recommender systems may have a short-term influence on the products users purchase, but will eventually lead to a long-term erosion of consumer trust in the system. This illustrates the need to be careful not to introduce bias in such interfaces, Konstan says. Eliciting recommendations that are as independent as possible requires a recommender system that does not expose users to previous ratings, and that features a fine-grained rather than coarse ratings scale. For example, a film recommender system in which users are allowed to rate a film using a one-to-five-star scale offers more accuracy than a "thumbs up/thumbs down" scale. Konstan explains that recommender site improvements could be realized immediately using the results of the researchers' experiments.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "P2P's Little Secret"
    CNet (07/08/03); McCullagh, Declan

    Keeping peer-to-peer (P2P) file-swappers anonymous is difficult, because P2P networks are designed to maximize efficiency rather than cloak users' identities. Directly swapping files between computers with unique Internet Protocol addresses makes it easy to track down the ISP, university, or corporation supporting the P2P network, which can be cajoled into unmasking swappers by subpoenas issued by copyright holders under a provision of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA); such was the case with Verizon Communications, which exposed a Kazaa user under a court order. Complicating swappers' lives even further is a recent pledge by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) to sue individual P2P users for flagrant copyright infringement, but this action could trigger a resurgence of interest in anonymizing products for P2P networks. Still, not every distributor of anonymizing tools and services will offer such products to P2P networks: Anonymizer.com President Lance Cottrell says his company would rather not risk incurring the wrath of deep-pocketed copyright holders and advocates such as the RIAA. Privacy-shielding Internet services could also be targeted by copyright owners under legal precedents such as a recent ruling in the Aimster case, in which Judge Richard Posner wrote that service providers could be liable under copyright law even if they have no knowledge of their subscribers' unauthorized file-swapping because of encryption. Freenet inventor and architect Ian Clarke notes that his online service, which maintains anonymity of both file distributors and downloaders, has drawn more visitors since the RIAA announced its intention to target file-swappers, but Freenet possesses less content than regular P2P networks and is harder to search. Clarke is also ethically conflicted, because Freenet was designed to be an outlet for political dissidents.
    http://news.com.com/2100-1029_3-1023735.html

  • "Calling Via Internet Has Suddenly Arrived"
    USA Today (07/07/03) P. 1B; Davidson, Paul

    Internet-based telephony is likely to ripple throughout the telecommunications industry and lure many customers away from traditional phone services with its advantages. The pluses of Internet phone service include cheaper service rates because physical location is immaterial; voice mail, phone number updating, and other phone-related services accessible through a PC; and much improved voice quality thanks to the growth of broadband and technological advancements. "[Internet telephony is] beginning to transition from something only a real Internet-savvy person would do into something ordinary folks can do," notes Jupiter Research analyst Joe Laszlo. Power outages render Internet-based phones inoperative and 911 dispatchers cannot automatically view the Web-based caller's number and address, but despite these drawbacks, In-Stat/MDR predicts that the number of American households making Internet calls with standard phones will skyrocket from roughly 100,000 now to 4 million in four years. Experts add that almost all telephone calls will be Net-based within two decades. The cable industry is expected to be a heavy adopter of Internet telephony--Comcast, Cablevision, Cox Communications, and Time Warner Cable intend to roll out Net-style voice service over the next several years, and Cablevision VP Tanya Van Court remarks that the relative cheapness of Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) calling will increase the attraction of local phone service. She adds that real-time, PC-customizable phone features and integrated text- and voice-based chats will be among Web-based calling's biggest selling points. Phone taxes such as universal service fees are for the most part inapplicable to Internet phone service, but the FCC is expected to institute a tax on Web calls as the market expands.
    http://www.usatoday.com/tech/news/2003-07-06-netphone_x.htm

  • "Net Hacks Just Starting"
    Australian IT (07/08/03); Jenkins, Chris

    MIT Professor of applied mathematics Dr. Tom Leighton, a member of the U.S. President's Information Technology Advisory Committee (PITAC), says that recent hacker attacks have been relatively benign and that more malicious attacks could be forthcoming. He says most attacks, such as the one on the Internet's 13 root domain servers, show the holes in the security of IT infrastructure. He blames infrastructure weakness for the probes' damage and warns that "we are at the very beginning of problems like that...the technology is there to do it, as is the will among some." Leighton says PITAC will focus on systems design, high-performance computing, and large networks.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "Researchers Power Up Server Clusters"
    Network World (06/30/03) Vol. 20, No. 26, P. 21; Mears, Jennifer

    Jeff Chase of Duke University's Department of Computer Science is developing "Cluster-on-Demand" software that allows users to share computer clusters by tapping a single group of servers to build multiple virtual systems. Such a breakthrough could help pave the way for self-managing systems that can be resized according to user demand, a technology known as utility computing. "We want to allow companies to be able to view their clusters as a multipurpose, modular dynamic resource, rather than as a brittle computing resource bound to specific software environments," Chase explains. Cluster-on-Demand isolates the operating system, applications, and the rest of the software environment from the servers; this allows the servers to boot up through the network and connect to a database that tells the servers which operating system, software, and policies they should use or comply with. It is feasible for corporate data centers to use a Cluster-on-Demand strategy, though whether the approach currently suits business objectives is a matter of debate. IBM Research's Web server farm automation initiative, Oceano, was the inspiration for the Duke project, Chase reports. IBM, Hewlett-Packard, and the National Science Foundation are underwriting Chase's effort. Chase says that he wants to turn Cluster-on-Demand into an open-source application so that universities, research labs, and businesses alike can manage and partake of cluster resources. Illuminata analyst Gordon Haff acknowledges that utility computing will remain impractical until the technology matures, but notes that network managers who wish to adopt state-of-the-art technology should watch projects such as Chase's.
    http://www.nwfusion.com/news/2003/0630cluster.html

  • "RFID Finds Its Place"
    Electronic Business (06/15/03) Vol. 29, No. 9, P. 42; Stackpole, Beth

    Many believe that radio frequency identification (RFID) technology will make a splash in the supply chain management sector thanks to the convergence of increasing technological sophistication, standardization, and falling prices. The Auto-ID Center consortium is promoting the Electronic Product Code (EPC) standard so that RFID technology can become widely applicable to supply chain management, and EPC has progressed considerably in the development of an open product tracking network. EPC, the result of collaboration between 87 companies, outlines low-cost, read-only passive RFID tags that need no additional batteries and store only a unique EPC identifier, as well as a network architecture that would connect the bare-bones data contained in the tags with a Web database storing more specific product and supply chain information. Furthermore, the EPC specification would allow both high-frequency and UHF tags, but complications could ensue because of differences in primary UHF frequencies between the United States and other parts of the world--and the complete lack of UHF frequencies in certain areas. For the technology to catch on, RFID tags will have to fall below 5 cents per unit while RFID tag readers will need to cost only a few hundred dollars; Alien and Smartcode are hoping to drive down RFID tag price by employing novel manufacturing techniques. VDC RFID analyst Michael Laid notes that "Knowing where a product is throughout the entire supply chain can reduce costs, cut down on gray market diversion and counterfeiting and aid in inventory control and item tracking," and RFID technology offers such advantages. Gillette's Paul Fox estimates that U.S. retailers lose almost $70 billion because products are misplaced or lost in the supply chain. Auto-ID Center sponsor Procter & Gamble is field-testing RFID technology "to determine what's the best frequency and technology for different form factors," according to P&G's Paul Rieger. Another goal of such pilot programs is to demonstrate RFID's viability as a replacement technology for bar-code scanning.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "Meet the ZigBee Standard"
    Sensors (06/03) Vol. 20, No. 6, P. 14; Adams, Jon

    The ZigBee protocol and the IEEE 802.15.4 standard it works with could become the core technology of future wireless sensors thanks to an array of advantages. The 802.15.4 specification supports strong data reliability split across 27 channels in a trio of frequency bands (2.4 GHz, 868 MHz, and 915 MHz), while ZigBee makes sensor networks capable of self-repair and autonomous re-routing in the event of network failures or reduced reliability. The high data rate supported by the protocol can save power by enabling the system to deactivate the transmitter and receiver faster, while ZigBee's transmission range can surpass the basic single-hop thanks to the enhancement of the 802.15.4 transmitter and protocol via advanced and limber network functionality. The fundamental 802.15.4 node can extend battery life from a few months to many years through the use of several power-efficiency modes and battery-optimized network criteria, while the ZigBee radio receiver is even smaller than the batteries themselves, making integration easier. IEEE 802.15.4 comes with a suite of security options ranging from zero security to access control lists to 32-bit--128-bit AES encryption and authentication; ZigBee's contribution is a set of tools that facilitate secure remote network management. Cost can be optimized with respect to system performance thanks to the extensibility of both ZigBee and 802.15.4, which ensure greater cost-effectiveness than Bluetooth or proprietary bidirectional wireless technologies. The ZigBee standard is geared toward home and building control, security, consumer electronics, automation, PC peripherals, medical monitoring, and toys. The first ZigBee products are slated to hit the market in the first six months of 2004.
    http://sensorsmag.com/articles/0603/14/pf_main.shtml