An item in a recent Science Update of Nature could provide significant benefits in widely diverse situations. A new radar device enabling snowplow operators to see and steer clear of obstacles while plowing streets and roads has been patented by a team of engineers in California. The images would be clear enough to show rocks and debris buried under the snow. Additionally, with street curbs visible on the radar, the snow could be plowed right up to the curb.
Conventional radar doesn t work in these conditions because the picture typically is blurry, mostly due to the layers of salt and dirt in the snow. Presenting blurry pictures to plow operators as they drive down the road not only would slow down the plowing process but also potentially cause accidents. Distracted by continually trying to interpret fuzzy images, operators could not pay enough attention to their driving.
According to the update, even though radar waves of about 1 GHz can see through the layers of debris, they provide insufficient resolution to spot small objects. By using special materials as focusing devices that bend the waves in the opposite direction, the resultant beam is effectively narrower than the wavelength of its constituent waves. The narrower beam provides more resolution, hence a clearer presentation. Incorporated as an imaging system in a cab-mounted display, the plow operator would have a clear picture of what's under the snow, including stones, rocks, debris, and curbs.
A portable version of the system might be used to find people buried in an avalanche or locate victims in disaster areas, such as in buildings destroyed by earthquakes or tornados. On the consumer side, the system could be a boon to treasure seekers searching the beaches of the world for lost coins and trinkets.
Sometimes, unforeseen complications overshadow the benefits of new technology. I m referring now to cell phones, not just run-of-the mill cell phones but ones sporting today's must-have feature the camera. Camera phones are hugely popular with teens but are presenting headaches for companies struggling with security protection. According to one industry study, by the year 2006, more than 80% of cell phones available in a large part of the world will be equipped with cameras.
Camera phones are not merely a threat to large companies working on defense contracts or other sensitive programs, but also to small companies developing or owning any kind of intellectual property. Allowing employees or visitors with camera phones and ulterior motives access to proprietary information compromises the security of the organization or worse. Banning camera phones from company's premises is difficult if not impossible to enforce and implementing and managing an effective security program can be very costly. However, consolidating sensitive materials in a small, manageable location could provide the needed security at a reasonable cost. Of course, this presumes that the required consolidation can be accomplished.
And, camera phones aren t the only offenders, according to the report. Those tiny memory sticks that plug into the USB port on PCs allow offenders the opportunity to inconspicuously download megabytes of valuable information in a matter of seconds. Policing these kinds of devices is even a more difficult challenge.Paul Milo
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