Emotion-detecting robot cars will face off against eavesdropping flying saucers in the English countryside when scientists, academics and schoolchildren compete this year to design the next generation of military equipment. • The British Ministry of Defense's first ever "Grand Challenge" intends to encourage participants to turn ideas into prototypes for machines the army can use in urban environments. • The six finalists, who each received $600,000 to build such contraptions as disc-shaped, remote-control flying robots fitted with heat and motion sensors, were in London recently to display their models. • From Swarm Systems Ltd. comes a set of tiny helicopters that fly in formation into a village and record images and audio tracks to beam back to headquarters. And British aeronautical company BAE Systems teamed up with the University of Manchester to build a self-propelled, remote-control camera. • Finalists will take part in a mock battle in August in Copehill Down, a village built near Stonehenge for military training during the Cold War. • The contest's winner gets a trophy made of metal from a World War II fighter jet. The best designs will also get further financial backing from Britain's defense ministry.
Attack on epilepsy site induces injury
Computer attacks typically don't inflict physical pain on their victims. But in a rare example of an attack apparently motivated by malice rather than money, hackers recently bombarded the Epilepsy Foundation's Web site with hundreds of pictures and links to pages with rapidly flashing images. The breach triggered severe migraines and near-seizure reactions in some site visitors. People with photosensitive epilepsy can get seizures when they're exposed to flickering images, a response also caused by some video games and cartoons.
HP gives grants to boost its research
Trying to boost the output of its research labs, Hewlett-Packard Co. wants to get more help from universities. HP's new research director, Prith Banerjee, believes his company's partnerships would produce better results if they had a more formal structure. HP will solicit applications from researchers, then fund dozens of projects for up to three years. Each grant would cover the cost of a graduate student. Patents from the work done at universities could stay in the schools, but HP would have first crack at licensing the technologies.
Sony's super-thin TV may wear out fast
A Sony TV with display technology that has drawn rave reviews for image quality may actually last little more than half as long as the company claims, private research shows. Sony's XEL-1 uses organic light-emitting diodes, which give a bright image with low power use. The screen diagonal is just 11 inches, with a price of $2,499.99. DisplaySearch ran two XEL-1 units for 1,000 hours, and measured the drop in brightness. Extrapolating, they found it would take 17,000 hours for a display to lose half its brightness. Sony says the display lasts 30,000 hours, or 10 years of typical use.
Broadband, power lines? Never mind
Goodbye, broadband over power lines. Once touted as a possible third option for home broadband that could compete with phone and cable companies, the idea of providing Internet service over power lines now looks dead. A Texas utility company said recently that it is taking control of the equipment that was to be used in the largest planned U.S. deployment of broadband over power lines, or BPL — and won't provide Internet service. The network was to offer Internet service to 2-million electricity customers through their wall outlets.