FutureWire - futurism and emerging technology

Friday, September 29, 2006

"Speaking Books" Promote Health in South Africa

Long a favorite of children learning how to read, "talking books" are being used to help disseminate important health information to populations of varying reading skills.

In South Africa, the South African Depression and Anxiety Group has developed a series of such books through Books of Hope. These short books are produced in multiple languages and address such topics as HIV, malaria, diabetes and suicide prevention, and are being distributed to that country's rural and disadvantaged communities. By pushing buttons, the reader can listen to the content as well as read it.

Source: Springwise

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

"Talking" Surveillance Cameras Scold Bad Behavior

Big Brother is not only watching you... he's publicly reprimanding you, too.

Residents of cities in the US and Europe have gotten used to surveillance videocameras that allow law enforcement to watch the streets. But in Middlesbrough in the UK, cameras are now fitted with loudspeakers through which control room operators can scold people for anything from littering to fighting.

Says camera manager Jack Bonner, "It is one hell of a deterrent. It's one thing to know that there are CCTV cameras about, but it's quite another when they loudly point out what you have just done wrong. Most people are so ashamed and embarrassed at being caught they quickly slink off without further trouble." Bonner notes that operators are instructed to address people politely.

Naturally, the cameras are controversial, with those who argue that they are no substitute for police on the beat, and those who worry about the psychological effects on a populace that is not only being watched constantly, but also publicly judged and corrected.

Source: Daily Mail

Restaurant Touchscreen Ordering a Hit With Patrons

Bytes, a new cafe in the UK town of Canterbury (of Chaucer fame), is making a name for itself with its high-tech ordering system. Each table is equipped with a 15-inch touchscreen, from which patrons can place their orders.

Aside from helping Bytes save money on wait staff and menu printing, the touchscreens allow the restaurant to build a database of customer preferences, and to change items and prices on the fly. The touchscreens also double as game consoles, keeping the kids occupied.

So far, patron response to the touchscreens is overwhelmingly positive, and the owner is already considering opening a second location. As long as customers respond just as enthusiastically to the food, Bytes appears to have a bright future.

Source: SelfServiceWorld

Monday, September 18, 2006

A Virtual Big-Screen Theatre for Video iPods

If the idea of watching movies and videos on the (very) small screen of the video iPod doesn't appeal to you, consider iWear from Icuity. The 4-oz. "videoshades" produce a high-resolution virtual 44-inch screen... all without undue wear on the iPod battery life. The iWear currently retails for about $300.

Source: LiveScience

Friday, September 15, 2006

Kissinger Warns of a "War of Civilizations"

Instead of being at odds over Middle East policy, the US and Europe must unite to prevent a possible "war of civilizations" between the Western and Muslim worlds, according to former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.

In an op-ed piece in the Washington Post, Kissinger wrote: "A common Atlantic policy backed by moderate Arab states must become a top priority, no matter how pessimistic previous experience with such projects leaves one," referring to disagreements over the war in Iraq.

"The debate sparked by the Iraq war over American rashness vs. European escapism is dwarfed by what the world now faces," he continued. "Both sides of the Atlantic should put their best minds together on how to deal with the common danger of a wider war merging into a war of civilizations against the background of a nuclear-armed Middle East."

Kissinger argued that the coming challenge for the West is to come to terms with transnational groups such as Al Qaeda and Hezbollah, which are gaining power in the Mideast, typically at the expense of struggling democracies in the region.

UPDATE: Dr. Kissinger's comments have taken on even more prescience as a result of the recent controversy over Pope Benedict's comments about Islam. The more radical Muslim groups are rejecting the pope's apology, and some observers are becoming concerned that Catholic groups and landmarks could be targets of terror attacks.

Source: AFP

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Thought-Controlled "Bionic Arms"

Researchers at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) have developed prosthetic arms that are controlled by electrical signals from the brain. The artificial limbs recreate the subtle motions of actual arms, and allows for a greater level of control than traditional prostheses.

Whereas a human arm is capable of 22 discrete movements, this new generation of artificial arms is capable of four -- rotating the upper arm, bending the elbow, rotate the wrist and closing of the hand.

Jesse Sullivan, who lost both arms in an electrical utility accident, and Claudia Mitchell, who lost her left arm in a motorcycle crash, are using these artificial arms to perform everyday tasks. DARPA expects to be able to offer these arms to wounded veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Source: CNN.com

Convenience Stores Without Employees

It might be the ultimate in outsourcing -- convenience stores that employ no human workers at all. Get & Go Express stores dispense food, beverages, basic health items such as aspirin, and DVDs. Between their lack of employees and small size (minimizing real estate requirements), Get & Go stores' profit margins are nearly double those of typical convenience stores.

Customers appear to be embracing the stores, which are essentially clusters of vending machines, for their convenience and reasonable prices. One category of items that Get & Go stores doesn't sell, however, are products that can only be sold to adults, such as tobacco and alcohol. But founder Jeff Parsons is working to automate age verification, and is also seeking unique products to sell through Get & Go stores.

Considering the success of Get & Go stores, it's little wonder that other retailers are exploring "employee-free" stores as a business model. Meanwhile, Parsons is busy franchising Get & Go stores, which offer low startup costs and minimal maintenance in addition to low overhead.

Source: KioskMarketplace.com