For the fifth year in a row, computer maker IBM has earned more U.S. patents than any other organization. Of the 120,000 utility patents the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office issued last year, 1,724 went to IBM inventors. The company says more than 500 of the inventions are already in products. Among them: U.S. Patent 5,675,329, which doubles the usefulness of each computer keyboard key depending on how hard the key is struck. Force sensors attached to the keys can differentiate between a normal level of force and a greater force, performing two different functions with each different depression. Behind IBM in the number of patents received in 1997 are Canon with 1,378, NEC with 1,095, Motorola with 1,058, and the U.S. government with 923.
Two researchers from Cornell University have won a $100,000 grant from NASA to continue work to develop an energy-harvesting robotic eel the space agency aims to use to explore oceans on one of the moons of Jupiter.
Is the factory smarter than it used to be? From recent buzzwords, you’d think we’ve entered a new dimension in industrial plants, where robots run all physical functions wirelessly and humans do little more than program ever more capable robotics. Some of that is actually true, but it’s been true for a while.
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