Roland Piquepaille's Technology Trends
How new technologies are modifying our way of life

dimanche 31 octobre 2004

After several months of procrastination, I decided to take the plunge and to host myself my blog under my own domain name in order to simplify access to it. Of course, this means that some of you -- and certainly myself -- will suffer some inconvenience and I apologize for this in advance. The new address for "Roland Piquepaille's Technology Trends" is Starting tomorrow, you'll be automatically redirected to this new address if you happen to visit the old one. If your browser doesn't allow an automatic redirection, you'll have to click on the link above. Likewise, the addresses for my RSS feeds are changing. The link to the new one for the main stories is now Adjust your bookmarks and read more...

All the former pages will remain available, so there should not be any disruption. But all the new contents will only appear at the new location. So change your bookmarks if you're a faithful reader.

The pages of my former static website -- the former -- are now available through the Personal Infos link on the right part of my blog in its new location.

Likewise, the addresses for my RSS feeds are changing. The link to the new one for the main stories is now and the one for my sidebar stories (one to four per month) is now More on this below.

The transfer of the contents from the old location to the new one went remarkably smoothly, thanks to the FTP capabilities of the Radio UserLand software. I still had to publish twice the entire contents to the new location, but it was just my fault, some links needing an update to work fine. The only surprise came from the size of the blog at its new location. It jumped from about 40 MB to slightly more than 50. Go figure...

I still have to manually update the source files to my archives on the new location -- my punishment for not using the automated feature of Radio UserLand software.

More importantly, I will have to log to all the services I'm using on a daily basis without thinking too much about them, such as Technorati or Bloglines.

This brings me to the most important part of this relocation. Bloglines shows me that about 800 people subscribe to my RSS feed. How can I tell them about the new address for the RSS feed? I know of several automatic RSS feeds redirecters, but I'm not sure if they really work. I would greatly appreciate any clues about this kind of tools. If you were successful using one, please drop me a note or post a comment below. Thanks in advance.

Please also note that today was Daylight Saving Time. I saw several sites jumping back in time today -- in real time, and that was fun. But I also means I had to manually change a bunch of watches, clicks, alarm-clocks, radios, phones, etc... So you can understand why the contents for today are exclusively dedicated to the new address of my blog, and not to a new technology, even if I have some exciting subjects to talk to you about.

I'll still have to check lots of small things in the coming days before declaring the migration is totally successful, like adjusting to new traffic analysis tools. And as I said above, I apologize for any inconvenience this relocation might cause to any of you. As I'm sure I've not anticipated your particular situation, please tell me if something looks broken to you. Many, many thanks...

UPDATE (November 1, 2004): when I use FTP to transfer this single entry to the new location, the whole site is republished. I searched through the various Radio tools and discussion forums, but I didn't find an explanation. Can you help? Thanks.

Source: Roland Piquepaille, October 31, 2004

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samedi 30 octobre 2004

It's very unusual for me to write about politics on my technologically-oriented blog. But the U.S. presidential election is a crucial event for practically everybody on this planet. So, being a reader of Le Monde for about 40 years, I'm pleased to inform you that, for the first time, the French newspaper made an exception to its rule of not supporting a candidate to an election in a foreign country and decided to endorse John Kerry. In "Le choix américain" (free link for a week), the newspaper writes that John Kerry is a statesman much more suited than Mr. Bush to answer the challenges of a post Sept. 11 world. It adds without any ambiguities that a victory of John Kerry is preferable on November 2. If Kerry wins the presidency, Le Monde writes that the team in charge of the White House will no longer be guided by 'Good and Evil' concepts, but instead will return to American democratic values of law and justice. Kudos to Le Monde!

As many newspapers around the world, Le Monde keeps its online articles for free for only seven days. It's the reason why I'm putting their full editorial here -- unless the newspaper asks me to remove the text.

Oussama Ben Laden vote-t-il George W. Bush ou John F. Kerry ? La machiavélique irruption du chef d'Al-Qaida dans la campagne électorale américaine, à quatre jours du scrutin, fameuse "surprise d'octobre" redoutée par tous les stratèges, a brutalement replacé cette élection dans son véritable contexte : celui du 11-Septembre et de ses suites.
John Kerry, le candidat démocrate, estime que la guerre en Irak, en détournant les ressources militaires américaines de la lutte contre Al-Qaida, a empêché la capture de Ben Laden et renforcé la menace terroriste. Le président Bush, lui, joue ouvertement sur la peur de nouveaux attentats, toujours présente chez ses concitoyens, et demande aux électeurs de lui donner quatre ans de plus pour mener à bien sa "guerre mondiale contre le terrorisme". Chacun peut donc exploiter l'intervention d'Oussama Ben Laden à son avantage : M. Kerry en y voyant la preuve de l'échec de la politique de son adversaire, M. Bush en poussant encore un peu plus le facteur peur.
Prendre parti dans une élection à l'étranger n'est pas dans la tradition du Monde. L'enjeu exceptionnel de l'élection présidentielle du 2 novembre, pourtant, et les termes dans lesquels se présente ce choix historique nous ont convaincus qu'une victoire de John Kerry était souhaitable, au-delà des frontières des Etats-Unis.
Car il s'agit bien d'un choix entre deux visions du monde et du droit. George W. Bush propose à ses compatriotes de sortir du système qu'ils ont connu jusqu'au 11 septembre 2001, celui-là même pour lequel il avait fait campagne en 2000, lorsqu'il promettait une politique étrangère américaine frappée du sceau de "l'humilité". La vision du président Bush est celle d'un pays en guerre, une nouvelle forme de guerre aux contours et aux règles impossibles à définir. Une guerre si particulière qu'il faut lui sacrifier des règles de droit sur lesquelles est fondée la démocratie américaine, remplacer la tradition de transparence par l'opacité et la manipulation, et ignorer l'architecture internationale qui est au centre d'un consensus mondial depuis plus d'un demi-siècle.
John Kerry sait que le monde a changé le 11 septembre 2001. Mais il refuse de voir dans le terrorisme quelque force supérieure qui justifie une remise en cause des fondements de la démocratie américaine et de l'ordre international. Son engagement personnel pendant la guerre du Vietnam, son expérience de la politique étrangère et sa vision "internationaliste" du monde, sa capacité à reconnaître ses erreurs, ainsi que la force de conviction dont il a fait preuve au cours des trois débats présidentiels en font un homme d'Etat beaucoup plus apte que M. Bush à répondre aux défis de l'après 11-Septembre.
Pour la marche du monde, une victoire de John Kerry est préférable le 2 novembre. Pour que l'Europe et les Etats-Unis aient une chance de prendre ensemble un nouveau départ. Et pour qu'à la Maison Blanche s'installe une équipe non plus guidée par le Bien et le Mal, mais par le droit et la justice.

If you want to read an approximate translation of this article, cut and paste the link to the original article in your favorite automated translation service on the Web. Try for instance the AltaVista Babel Fish service.

Source: Editorial, Le Monde, Issue dated October 31 - November 1, 2004

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vendredi 29 octobre 2004

Tele-immersion is a technology which allows cooperative interaction between groups of distant people working in the same virtual environment. At the Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society (CITRIS) at UC Berkeley, interdisciplinary teams are deploying this technology. It involves three real-time steps: taking images of a subject with 48 cameras, transmitting the images over a network, and implanting them in a virtual world. For example, it will allow students and professors on different campuses to meet -- virtually -- and discuss -- lively -- while being in ancient sites of Greece or Italy. The technology offers more promises than academics discussions. Imagine a nurse telling a diabetic how to make an insulin injection while being far away from him. Of course, this technology is facing some hurdles, such as the cost involved to model you with so many cameras. But read more...

Here is the inroduction of the Daily Californian article, which really is a news release from the University of California.

UC Berkeley students may soon be able to meet professors at UC Davis in ancient Sicily for lively intellectual discussions.
Recent visual computer science advances by Ruzena Bajcsy, director of the Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society (CITRIS) at UC Berkeley, may make such interactions possible.
Bajcsy’s technology takes pictures of a subject in her laboratory from 48 different cameras and combines them into a 3-D image. The image can then be placed into historical Sicily, one of the three cyberspace environments created so far.

But how does this work?

Tele-Immersion process at CITRIS Here is an illustration of the three-step process of the project: real-time image processing, followed by real-time data transmission and finally real-time image rendering. (Credit: CITRIS)

You'll find more details about this process at the CITRIS Tele-Immersion Project home page, which adds this about the above image.

First, a three dimensional structure and appearance of the scene is captured by processing image data from multiple viewpoints using stereo algorithm. Second, the acquired scene information is then transmitted to remote sites through high-bandwidth networks, where lastly it is combined with the interactions of the user and displayed dichoptically to reproduce realistic scene rendering.

And what can we expect from such a technology?

"Bajcsy has been really visionary with all of this. We’ve imagined these things and she’s been working with us to make them real," said David Goldberg, director of the UC system Center of Humanities, a collaborator on the project. Art historians, anthropologists and archeologists working with Goldberg have imagined a virtual museum using Bajcsy’s technology where both experts and the public could virtually pick up objects and study them.
The new insights could be far-reaching. Bajcsy aims to impact common people, by studying how people behave and trust each other in cyber environments. Specifically, one could study the difference between cyberspace interaction and a face-to-face interaction, or between interactions where the whole body or just the face or hands are visualized.

However, this technolgy faces several hurdles, such as confusing colors between the user's clothes and the virtual environment. But there are others, such as the fact that this technology is not -- currently -- wireless, and that this huge number of cameras invoves a hefty pricetag.

Currently, a cable is required to transmit the large amount of information from the two sites to the digital environment. The cable is expensive and can only be used between the two sites, but Bajcsy hopes to make the technology available to many social scientists who have only meager funding.
"Digitizing (approximately) 50 cameras into the computer is not easy," said Professor Takeo Kanade, a Carnegie Mellon professor who has performed similar research. "Dealing with such large amounts of data is an enormous task -- just to start the cameras you must press 50 start buttons," he said.

Sources: Erica Rosenberg, The Daily Californian, October 27, 2004; and various websites

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jeudi 28 octobre 2004

Robotic speech recognition has made huge advances in recent years, allowing for easy voice interaction with robots. But robotic vision processing is still very rudimentary. Some robots "see," but they need powerful computers and are not very mobile. A team of researchers at the University of Arizona wants to change all this by mixing biology and electronics to create robotic vision. The team has designed a visual navigation system by mimicking insect vision and demonstrated the concept by building a robot named Gimli. Instead of using standard microprocessors, the team devised electronic vision circuits based on a bunch of slower analog processors working in parallel. The next step will be to develop a microchip-based vision system able to do specific tasks, such as following "a moving object like a soccer ball without getting confused by similarly shaped or colored objects." The team thinks the first such microchip might cost $30,000 to produce. But when the price goes down to $20, the market will be huge. Read more...

Charles Higgins, assistant professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) at the University of Arizona, thinks that robots can't compete with humans, at leas today, because their lack of vision.

However, Higgins is working to change that. He hopes to make robots more physical by giving them sight and an ability to react to what they see.
"Right now, robots in general are just pitiful in terms of visual interaction," he said. True, a few of today's robots can see in some sense, but they aren't mobile. These vision systems are connected to large computers, which precludes their use in small, mobile robots.
Outside of these few vision-only systems, today's robots see very little. "Wouldn't it be nice to have a robot that could actually see you and interact with you visually?" Higgins asks. "You could wave at it or smile at it. You could make a face gesture. It would be wonderful to interact with robots in the same way that we interact with humans."

Higgins and other researchers at his lab are trying to reach this goal through neuromorphic engineering, which combines biology and electronics.

Higgins and his students are developing an airborne visual navigation system by creating electronic clones of insect vision processing systems in analog integrated circuits. The circuits create insect-like self-motion estimation, obstacle avoidance, target tracking and other visual behaviors on two model blimps.
These circuits don't use standard microprocessors. Instead, they're based on what's called "parallel processing" -- a bunch of slower, simpler analog processors working simultaneously on a problem. In traditional digital computers, problems are solved in serial fashion, where a single fast digital processor flashes through a series of steps to solve the problem sequentially.

Why did they choose to use parallel processing?

The human eye, for instance, processes information at the equivalent of about 100 frames per second (fps) -- much faster than a movie camera, which trundles along at 24 fps or a video camera that runs at 30 fps.
Each frame is processed for luminance, color, and motion, and the resulting images aren't blurred or smeared. Doing that with a conventional computer is extremely complicated, requiring expensive processors and huge gulps of power, Higgins says. "It requires a lot of data moving at a very high rate of speed and in a very small instant of time."
It's a little like sending a digital computer out to play baseball. It has to continually rush between all nine positions on the field sequentially, catching a fly ball in left center and then rushing to first to catch the throw it made from center field.
Parallel processing -- which mimics the way biological systems solve problems -- would play baseball by stationing a slower processor at every position.
Gimli, a robot with insect-like vision Here is a photo of Gimli, a robot with insect-like vision, which was designed in Higgins lab. (Credit: University Of Arizona)
Adjusting Gimli's eyes And here, a student is adapting Gimli's eyes (Credit: University Of Arizona).

The two above pictures were extracted from this short movie (QuickTime format, 6 MB). (Credit: University Of Arizona)

Higgins now wants to develop a microchip-based vision system. If he can pack enough vision processing power in a microchip, he thinks that possibilities are endless.

"I'd like to give engineers a vision chip set like this and see what they would do with it," Higgins said. "My bet is that they would use it for things we could never imagine now. And I know it would be a really big thing."

I wish him good luck. And for more information about reasearch efforts mixing biology and electronics, please read this former entry, "Biomimetic Robots: A Photo Gallery."

Sources: Ed Stiles, University of Arizona Nes, October 22, 2004; and various websites

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mardi 26 octobre 2004

For 30 years now, Nikon has run its Small World Photomicrography Contest, reserved to photographs using light microscopes. In "The accidental artist," the MIT writes that one of its Ph.D. candidate is the winner of the 2004 edition. Seth Coe-Sullivan "is studying the uses of light emission from the quantum dots in devices such as light bulbs and cell phones." And the quantum dot nanocrystals he filmed showed such elaborate patterns that some of his colleagues suggested him to enter the contest. Not only he won, but his work will be part of an itinerant exhibit in galleries throughout the U.S. in 2005. Read more...

Below is a selection of the winning pictures of the 2004 contest.

Quantum dot nanocrystals deposited on a silicon substrate (200x) Here is the winning picture of the quantum dot nanocrystals deposited on a silicon substrate (200x) (Credit: Seth Coe-Sullivan, MIT).
Differentiating neuronal cells (actin, microtubules and DNA) (200x) The third prize went to this picture of differentiating neuronal cells (actin, microtubules and DNA) (1000x) (Credit: Dr. Torsten Wittmann,The Scripps Research Institute).
A 25-days old turbot larva (6x) The seventh place was awarded to this photo of a 25-days old turbot larva (6x) (Credit: Tora Bardal, Norwegian University of Science and Technology).
A brittle star larva (100x) And the tenth place was attributed to another larva, a brittle star larva, living specimen (100x) (Credit: Wim van Egmond, Micropolitan Museum, Rotterdam, The Netherlands).

Fascinating pictures, isn't?

Some of the winning pictures will also be included in the Nikon's 2005 Small World Calendar. And here is a link to the twenty Nikon's Small World Photomicrography 2004 Contest Winners.

Sources: MIT News Office, October 15, 2004; and various websites

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lundi 25 octobre 2004

If you live in France, and soon elsewhere in Europe and in the U.S., and if you need a dental prosthesis, chances are good that RFID tags are involved in the manufacturing process, according to this article from the RFID Journal. The tag is embedded by the dental lab in the cast which will be used to make the prosthesis. Then it is used to record the whole history of the crown, a process requested by a European sanitary regulation. Before delivering the bridge to your dentist, all the data is copied to a smart card that will be given to you. The company is also studying the idea to put directly the tag inside the prosthesis. Maybe one day, when your dentist installs your new bridge, you'll also be the owner of a deactivated RFID tag inside it. Read more...

Here is the introduction from the RFID Journal article.

French RFID startup Dentalax has launched its RFID-based system to provide a way to reduce errors and improve productivity in the development of dental prosthetics such as crowns and bridges.
By deploying the Dentalax RFID system, the company maintains, a dental lab can cut the time taken to accurately process each item. "With the Dentalax system the time savings for each workstation operator is on average three minutes per job -- that can save up to 45 minutes each day," says Rémy-Jean Cachia CEO at Dentalax.

And the company has a big target: there are more than 50,000 dental labs in Europe only.

The RFID Journal then explains the process.

A dentist makes an initial cast of the patient’s teeth, and then sends the cast to the laboratory. At the lab, technicians use the initial cast to make a second cast, or die, that will be used to create the actual bridge or crown. Before the second cast hardens, a technician embeds a PicoPass chip into it. Once the plaster or resin used to make the die has cured, the tag is locked inside the material. Throughout the prosthesis manufacturing process, each time an operation is carried out on the prosthesis, that action is recorded on the chip inside the die by the technician using a PC fitted with a RFID reader.
The tag inside the cast of your next dental prosthesis Here you can see the real size of the chip which will be buried inside the cast of your new crown or bridge (Credit: Dentalax, France).

All the work done a prosthesis is recorded on the tag, including the patient's name or number, the operator and the maetrials used. All this data will be copied to a smart card that will accompany your prosthesis and delivered to your dentist.

The advantage of such a card is that if a patient requires another prosthesis for other teeth at another stage in his life, he can present it to the practitioner, who will retrieve all the data related to all the prostheses of the patient," says Cachia.
In addition, a European sanitary regulation -- European directive 9342C which was implemented in 1993 -- requires the prosthesis that a laboratory delivers to a dentist be accompanied by a record, either paper or digital, that includes the history of the making of the item. According to Dentalax, the lab technician who made the prosthesis can then wipe out the chip’s data, thereby ensuring confidentiality.

Will we get one day dental prosthesis with deactivated RFID tags inside them? Dentalax ponders over the idea and says the technology is ready. But for many reasons, including privacy, it is postponing its deployment.

Sources: Catherine Ilic, RFID Journal, October 25, 2004; Dentalax website

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dimanche 24 octobre 2004

There are almost 250,000 paralyzed people in the U.S. because of spinal cord injury. Most of them are using electric wheelchairs to move around. But now, Hocoma, a Swiss company, has designed a robotic device, named Lokomat, which can help paralyzed people to walk on treadmills, reports the Associated Press. After training, some of the patients, who rebuild confidence by using the Lokomat, have also regained muscle power and can walk over short distances. Today, the Lokomats are available at a price of about $250,000, which certainly explains why there are only 14 Lokomats in use in the U.S. But prices will certainly decrease in the future. Read more...

Here are the opening paragraphs of the Associated Press story.

With each swish of the robotic device attached to his legs, Chuck Benefield takes a step, smiling easily as he clocks in an hour on the treadmill.
"It feels good to be up there going," said Benefield, who was paralyzed in a motorcycle accident in 2003.
With a harness supporting his weight over the treadmill, Benefield's legs and hips are strapped into a robotic exoskeleton, known as the Lokomat, which simulates a walking motion as he "stands" in front of a large mirror at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas.

As of today, the Lokomats are not in widespread usage.

Dr. Keith Tansey, who coordinates Southwestern's clinical program for spinal-cord injury, said more research is needed before the Lokomat becomes more widely available.
About 14 Lokomats, which cost about $250,000 each, are now available in the United States.
A patient trying the Lokomat Here is a photograph of a patient trying the Lokomat (Credit: Hocoma, Switzerland).
The Lokomat without a patient And this one shows the automated equipment without a patient. (Credit: Hocoma, Switzerland)

Here are more details about Benefield's experience with the robotic device.

"I knew it was going to be a tough road," said Benefield, who could only move one big toe after the accident. "My goal is to be as self-sufficient as I can be." The Lokomat may help him do that.
In May, about a year after his accident, Benefield walked across a room with the help of three therapists and a walker. The process was slow and he needed a lot of help, but he started to move his legs on his own. Benefield still needs the help of therapists and a walker, but he now moves his legs on his own most of the time.
He says working on the Lokomat has helped reduce the swelling in his legs and improve his endurance. He's regained muscle tone and feeling in his legs. His fingers, tightly curled before he started his workout, become more loose after an hour on the machine, Benefield said.

The above images have been extracted from one of the two Lokomat short movies available from Hocoma of Switzerland. You'll find additional information about this technology at Hocoma and Woodway Treadmills who entered a joint venture to distribute the Lokomat.

And if you're really interested by this robotic device, you also can read this story published by swissinfo.

Sources: Jamie Stengle, Associated Press, October 17, 2004; and various websites

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