Everybody was kung fu fighting,
Fighting arcade games are all the rage, but using a joystick can diminish the
joy of beating the tar out of someone. Sony Corp., Tokyo, Japan, and Holoplex,
Pasadena, CA, have teamed up to replace traditional input devices for video
games with an optical gesture recognition system. Two players face each other
(out of arm's reach) on a strip flanked on one side by a blue screen. A CCD
camera is focused on each participant. Player motion is captured, the image data
are sent to an optical box, where they are converted to laser light and
projected onto an LCD. A detector array picks up the refracted laser light and
the data are processed to recognize the player's gesture. This gesture becomes
the input for the corresponding virtual fighter in the video game. In practice,
a pantomime punch throne by a player is copied by his or her avatar. Likewise a
kick. Duck down and the video fighter ducks also. Start a little jump and the
character leaps into the air like Jackie Chan. A prototype of the system was on
display at the SIGGRAPH 97 computer graphics show in Los Angeles last August.
This writer, ignorant in the martial arts, relied on fencing moves to strike
fear and pain into his opponents, retiring undefeated but extremely sweaty. For
more information, contact Fai Mok, president of Holoplex at (818) 793-9616.
Evidence appears before their eyes
Researchers at Sandia National Lab, Albuquerque, NM, are developing a portable evidence detection system to take the Colombo our of sleuthing. Investigators using the system would wear a vision-enhancement system derived from a set of 3-D video game goggles to locate trace evidence at crime scenes, such as fingerprints, semen, urine, and other organic substances. Sandia's evidence detection technology relies on the fact that all organic substances emit weak fluorescent light, normally invisible to the unaided eye. A lamp on the system's headset flashes 100 times per second. Shutters on the goggles open and close at a slightly different frequency. About twice a second, the shutters open when the lamp is off, and this seems to make fluorescent materials "flash." The Albuquerque Police Department's crime lab hopes to test a prototype sometime in 1998. For more information, contact Dave Sandison, Sandia, at (505) 844-9644.
NASA searching for a solid solution
Single-stage-to-orbit vehicles and high-flying, suborbital aircraft may one day employ scramjet engines to propel them into the upper regions of the atmosphere. In order to solve fuel mixing problems in these power plants, NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center is examining how solid hydrogen fuel might provide the necessary distribution properties for scramjet combustion. Thoughtventions Unlimited, Glastonbury, CT, developed the concept wherein a pellet of solid hydrogen is injected into the supersonic airstream of a scramjet combustor. NASA modeled a solid hydrogen particle ablating in a Mach 3 airstream to better understand the physics of the problem and predict parameters such as particle lifetime. So far, studies have indicated that a solid hydrogen pellet injected into a combustion chamber with a little liquid helium would provide superior fuel distribution and mixing while eliminating injector drag. Additional studies may determine the feasibility of the technology for large scramjet engines. For more information, contact Stephen Bates, president, Thoughtventions Unlimited, at (860) 657-9014.
Getting ready for the Big One
Conventional wisdom and modern science agree: It's just a matter of time. Therefore, the Pacific Earthquake Engineering Research (PEER) Center is investigating ways to mitigate casualties and property damage from major earthquakes in urban areas. PEER is one of three new centers funded by the National Science Foundation dedicated to earthquake research and will be headquartered at the University of California-Berkeley. PEER's focus will be on how hazards can be reduced in large urban areas and will pool talent from the disciplines of seismology, engineering, political science, and economics. Other universities participating in the center are the four other University of California campuses, Stanford, Cal Tech, and the University of Washington. The other new centers for earthquake research will be headquartered at the University of Illinois-Urbana and the State University of New York-Buffalo. For more information, contact Helmut Krawinkler, professor of civil engineering, Stanford, at (650) 723-4129.
U.S and Mexican labs sign test exchange agreement
Product certification specialist Underwriters Laboratories (UL), Northbrook, IL, signed a test-data exchange agreement with the Asociacion Nacional de Normalizacion y Certification del Sector Electro (ANCE) and Camara Nacional de la Industria Electronica y de Communicaciones Electricas (CANIECE), its Mexican equivalents. Under the terms of the agreement, UL , ANCE, and CANIECE will exchange appropriate test data for clients seeking product certification in both Mexico and the United States. Once test results have been reviewed by each lab, the manufacturer is eligible to apply for UL certification in the U.S. and NOM certification in Mexico. "We are working to make global product certification a one-step process for manufacturers," says Bob Harris, vice president for external affairs at UL. "Our cooperative efforts with Mexico will make it even easier for telecommunications and electronics manufacturers to access both U.S. and Mexican markets through one submittal process." Product categories covered under the agreement are telecommunications and electrical business equipment. For more information, contact Traci Maloney, UL, at (847) 272-8800 x43436.
Climate prediction delves into the past
While the weather rock remains the only sure-fire way to gauge the weather (when it's wet it's raining, etc.) researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison believe ancient history may help tune large-scale computer models to make them more accurate. Neolithic North Africa was a well-watered grassland with many shallow lakes. By understanding those forces that have transformed it into the desert it is today, scientists hope to make better predictions about the future. According to researchers John Kutzbach and Zhengyu Liu, the tropical Atlantic monsoons strongly influence the climate in this region. "The northernmost reach of the monsoon marks the limit of vegetation," notes Kutzbach, a paleoclimatoligist. "There is a nice boundary where vegetation stops and the sand begins." According to Kutzbach, monsoons were stronger six thousand years ago because the Earth's orbit was slightly different then than it is now and the Northern Hemisphere was closer to the sun during summer. Monsoons are driven by contrasts between the temperatures in the ocean and the land and used to be much stronger. As a result, the moisture-laden tropical air of the tropical Atlantic penetrated deeper into North Africa. By calculating how atmosphere, vegetation, and ocean interact, Kutzbach hopes to incorporate these interactions in computer climate models. For more information, contact John Kutzbach at (608) 262-2839.
WE ARE HERE!!!DNA coding on a budget and a deadline
A new DNA sequencing technology developed by GeneTrace Systems Inc., Menlo Park, CA, promises to provide results hundreds of times faster than current systems and at a fraction of the cost. The process combines DNA probing, sequencing, and sizing reactions with laser-based mass spectrometry. The system identifies the sequence of DNA base chemicals in five seconds rather than the three hours required for gel-based DNA separation methods. In addition, GeneTrace expects the technology to permit screening tests that cost a few dollars rather than the $500 to $3,000 they cost today. Robotic systems handle initial samples. New methods and reagents were formulated to support the automated process. The company developed software to make accurate distinctions among the various subunits of DNA. In all, eight patents are pending relating to the rapid sequencing technology. Research was co-funded by the Advanced Technology Program of NIST. For more information, contact Christopher Becker at (415) 859-3718.
Death of a star
The new Near Infrared Camera and Multi-Object Spectrometer aboard the refurbished Hubble Space Telescope have enabled scientists at MIT's Center for Space Research to pull back the shroud of the Egg Nebula, revealing a dying star. Now, stars die all the time, sometimes with a bang, sometimes with a whimper. What makes this particular star so striking is that it is very much like our own sun, so the image perhaps is a view of the fate of the solar system, several billion years hence. The dying star, located in the constellation Cygnus, is 3,000 light years distant. MIT researcher Joel Kastner says the most interesting aspect of the phenomenon is the cloud of gas and dust being expelled by the star as it burns out. "Studying the death of such stars is important for understanding how two elements crucial for human life--carbon and nitrogen--are introduced to the interstellar medium," Kastner says. "Eventually, these elements become the building blocks of new stars and planets." The Near-Infrared Camera has proven especially valuable in the observations. For more information, contact Elizabeth Thomson, MIT Research Digest, at (617) 258-5402.
Turning fuel into noise
The U.S. Air Force is working with major automobile suppliers to improve the sound quality of automotive exhaust systems. The Armstrong Lab at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio, will develop tools for evaluating the acoustic impact of such systems. The Air Force will use them to study aircraft noise, while Arvin Industries Inc., Columbus, IN, will use the same technology to develop similar tools to analyze car noise. The acoustic analysis systems will quantify human perception of sound quality. Currently, fine-tuning of exhaust systems is accomplished using the trained ears of sound quality evaluators. The evaluators will be used to verify the computer models developed for the automated systems. The project is part of a multi-phase effort; eventually researchers hope to determine whether computer-based models can be used to evaluate human annoyance. For more information, contact Bobbie Mixon, office of public affairs at Wright-Patterson's Aeronatical Systems Center, at (937) 255-2725.