News

In this issue: plasters to treat diabetes, bringing art to rail travellers, UK prepares for super-fast broadband, portable fuel-cells set for 2009, prisons install biometric ID systems, and more.

Digital gallery brings art to rail travellers

By Lorna Sharpe

A partnership between train operator Eurostar and the National Gallery means that travellers at St Pancras International station can go on a journey of discovery even before their train departs.

The Station Masters digital interactive art gallery uses bespoke hardware and software to let users explore a database of 100 highlights from the National Gallery's collection of western European painting, including masterpieces by Leonardo da Vinci, Rubens, Titian, Holbein, Caravaggio, Constable, Van Gogh and Monet.

Travellers browse the images by sitting at one of six tailor-made coffee tables, which incorporate a touch-foil interface based on capacitive sensors under a robust 12mm glass top. After searching the database, the picture they select is displayed on one of six free-standing LCD screens situated within the brick archways that run along the eastern wall of the departure lounge, thus creating a constantly evolving art gallery for fellow passengers.

Users can zoom in on selected areas in their chosen picture to discover hidden details and artistic secrets that are often impossible to see in a conventional gallery setting. They can also opt to read more about the work they are viewing, in a choice of three languages, and can send an e-card of a favourite painting to friends or relatives using a bespoke keypad that incorporates accented characters for multi-lingual use.

Station Masters was designed by Land Design Studio and Studio Simple, with the hardware specified and procured by Sysco.

Lol Sargent, creative director at Studio Simple, likened the interface to an art book "within the table instead of on it". The table screen has a resolution of 1600 x 1200 pixels for high clarity, with all text in a disability-compliant format. "It's like looking through a lens at the National Gallery," he told E&T, "putting the painting under a microscope".

The wall screens are 46in displays in portrait format - "to get away from the TV screen experience," said Sargent, adding that the images are shown in higher resolution than HD video. Liquid crystal displays were favoured over plasma displays for clarity and longer life.

Speaking at the launch, Eurostar's commercial director, Nick Mercer, said: "St Pancras International is a 19th-century architectural wonder restored for 21st-century use. Now some of the most historic paintings in Britain can also be re-enjoyed and re-examined in a totally new way, using this latest digital technology.

Smart plasters help to treat diabetes

By Dominic Lenton

Diabetes sufferers are to get significant help with managing their condition in the shape of a device that for the first time predicts blood glucose levels rather than just measuring them.

A group of European healthcare and technology experts, which has received more than €7m to develop the system, says it will significantly reduce the cost of treating diabetes. Funding for the four-year project, involving 13 partners from across Europe coordinated by diabetes care specialist Novo Nordisk, comes from the European Seventh Framework Programme. Data gathering and clinical trials are expected to start in August.

The initiative comes at a time when increasing obesity, ageing populations and sedentary lifestyles are being blamed for a massive increase in the incidence of diabetes. Prevalence in the European Union stands at 7.5 per cent and is predicted to grow to 16 per cent by 2025.

The researchers behind the DIAdvisor portable glucose prediction system believe it will provide insulin-dependent patients with much greater control than existing techniques, which are restricted to the analysis of blood glucose history, with almost no ability to predict what levels might be in several hours' time.

At the heart of the device is the Sensium wireless body-monitoring platform developed by UK-based Toumaz Technology. Sensium's 'electronic plasters' incorporate non-invasive sensors worn next to the skin, along with a wireless transceiver that can send data to a healthcare provider via a PDA or smartphone.

By combining blood glucose measurements with information about insulin delivery and other patient-specific data, DIAdvisor will help users to control their diabetes by planning insulin therapy or taking other measures such as eating or exercising. Long-term improvements in therapy will be achieved by using the wireless connection to automatically send data to a doctor or hospital, who can then phone the user to give advice.

Dr Alison Burdett, director of technology at Toumaz, said: "With DIAdvisor, we will be putting a sophisticated treatment advisor into the hands of patients for the first time, empowering them in their own healthcare management and reducing the likelihood of serious complications and recurrent hospitalisation."

'Bird's nest' opens

Beijing's National Stadium has officially opened, ready for this summer's Olympic Games. The stadium, which will seat 91,000 spectators during the Games, is nicknamed the 'Bird's Nest'.

It was designed by engineers Arup, architects Herzog & De Meuron and China Architecture Design & Research Group.

The intricately arranged steel roof is a single 330m long by 220m wide structure, weighing 45,000t.

The pattern follows a complex set of rules from which the geometry was designed. Advanced computer analysis and modelling were used to make sure the building can withstand major earthquakes.

UK prepares for super-fast broadband

By David Sandham

The UK is making "good progress" in developing policies for the introduction of super-fast broadband (20-100Mbps Internet access), says an industry leader.

A year ago, the Broadband Stakeholder Group, a cross-sector forum that advises the government, warned that the UK had just two years to resolve policy uncertainties or its competitiveness would suffer. But BSG chief executive Antony Walker has told E&T that in the past 12 months "we have seen significant progress in a number of the areas we were drawing attention to."

As evidence of this progress, Walker highlighted Virgin Media's commitment to offering 50Mbps to over nine million British homes by the end of 2008, as well as to work by Ofcom (the UK regulator), and activity within government.

In its April 2007 'Pipe Dreams' report, the BSG called on the government to ensure that by 2012 the UK remains in the upper quartile of OECD nations for broadband access and reach. "Part of the process for adopting that target might be a better understanding of the details behind the league tables," Walker commented.

What could the government do, given the not inconsiderable barrier of a £15bn price tag estimated for rolling out fibre to the home in the UK? Tax incentives? "I'm not sure that the industry is asking for tax breaks," said Walker. "It seems highly unlikely to me, especially at a time when there is much less public funding available anyway."

The BSG has been studying models for public sector intervention, and its conclusions are due to be released in about a month. Regional, city-based and community-level models could offer the government options for giving people access to super-fast broadband in locations where it is commercially uneconomic to develop services.

Last month Ofcom CEO Ed Richards said he was confident that most developed markets would have very-high-bandwidth networks "in 10 or 15 years' time" (see E&T, 26 April, p4). However, he warned that government-backed interventions like those that have delivered access speeds of 50Mbps in Japan and Korea might not suit the UK. "The deployment [in some Far Eastern markets] is impressive and highly visible," he said. "More questionable is whether it has yet been proven to be economically efficient."

Rolling out super-fast broadband will involve a major civil engineering project. Ofcom intends to undertake a sample survey of the existing underground telecoms duct network, and to ask whether there is scope to secure commercially viable access for fibre deployment through the networks of other utilities such as water and energy.

The UK government has begun to address its own role by commissioning an independent review of next-generation broadband, which will identify obstacles to progress and set out what actions are needed. It will be led by Francesco Caio, the former group CEO of Cable & Wireless.

Virgin Media has held trials of the 50Mbps service in the towns of Ashford, Folkestone and Dover, all in Kent. BT plans a 100Mbps fibre network to homes in Ebbsfleet, also in Kent.

Fuel-cell portables set for 2009

By Luke Collins

Cellphones and laptops powered by methanol fuel cells are likely to be available next year, say industry insiders.

Peng Lim, CEO of fuel-cell developer MTI Micro, told the recent GlobalPress Electronics Summit in San Francisco that products should be on the market in 2009.

During the conference he showed off prototype power sources for cellphones and digital cameras, as well as a methanol-powered universal charger that could recharge existing battery-powered devices.

Interest in fuel cells is growing due to the failure of rechargeable battery technology to keep up with increasing demands for portable power. According to Lim, in 1980 the average consumer used about 10Wh of energy per year for portable electronic devices.

In 2000 this was more like 3500Wh per year and by 2010 the predictions are that it will be approaching 10kWh per year. "That's a lot of batteries and a lot of energy," said Lim.

The company's Mobion fuel cell is the size of a large microchip and runs on methanol and air to produce electricity. The cell membrane is provided by a third party and is engineered to recycle the water produced during power generation without the use of pumps or fans.

The chip is built using precision injection moulding techniques so that it can easily be mass-produced.

MTI Micro has already partnered with Samsung to provide a fuel cell for its mobile phones, as well as a range of accessories.

It also has a deal with Gillette Duracell to develop a supply chain for methanol cartridges.

He claimed that the energy density of the fuel cell used in a prototype battery grip for professional digital cameras was twice that for a lithium-ion battery.

EU ban on Indonesian carriers extended

By William Dennis in Jakarta

The European Union's ban on Garuda and 50 other Indonesian carriers from flying to the 27-nation bloc has been extended.

A statement issued by the European Commission said Garuda had made progress but the Indonesian authorities had yet to demonstrate they had completed the corrective actions.

"Pending both this demonstration and the completion of remedial action by Garuda and the other airlines, it was decided that none of the Indonesian carriers can be withdrawn at this stage from the list [of banned carriers]," the statement said.

The EU's decision came as a surprise to the Indonesian flag carrier. According to Garuda president and director Emirsyah Sattar, the EU Commission on Transportation was informed of the measures taken by the airline to improve safety and maintenance of aircraft.

"The EU was also informed that Garuda had upgraded the training for engineers and pilots. But EU's decision to extend the ban, especially on Garuda, was unexpected and unfair," Emirsyah said.

He claimed that a high-level Garuda team, headed by himself, met with the EU Committee in Brussels in early April.

"The EU acknowledged the measures Garuda had taken. They were also glad to hear that Garuda was about to receive a certificate from IATA [the International Air Transport Association] for getting through the International Operational Safety Audit," Emirsyah pointed out.

Garuda is the only Indonesian carrier that is a member of IATA. The extended ban puts a spanner in Garuda's plans to resume flights to Amsterdam, which were suspended in 2004 when all European destinations were dropped from the network

Indonesian carriers were blacklisted by the EU in July last year after a series of air disasters involving their aircraft including a Garuda Boeing 737-400, which crashed on 7 March 2007, killing 21 passengers on board.

Garuda and the other carriers had also failed a maintenance and safety audit carried out by the air transport division of the Ministry of Transport in March last year. The US Federal Aviation Authority had downgraded Indonesia's civil aviation safety from Category 1 to Category 2.

The airlines on EU's blacklist include carriers from Indonesia, the Kyrgyz Republic, Liberia, Swaziland, Sierra Leone, Equatorial Guinea and the Republic of Congo.

Honeywell moves production to Malaysia

Honeywell Aerospace, the aviation arm of US-based Honeywell, is investing significantly to set up a manufacturing facility in the Prai Industrial Estate in Butterworth, Malaysia.

The company will relocate a significant part of its activity from Deer Valley in Phoenix, Arizona, to the Malaysian plant. The plant is expected to produce engine controls, aircraft power units (APU), landing systems, propulsion engines (used by smaller jet aircraft), avionics and flight management computers.

Honeywell is a major supplier for Boeing and Airbus aircraft, the latter mainly APUs.

A Honeywell source in Kuala Lumpur told E&T that some production that is currently outsourced to a contract manufacturer, Celestica, in Kulim in the northern state of Kedah will also be moved to the plant.

"The decision to move a significant portion of the manufacturing from the US was to reduce operating costs and to offset the depreciation of the US dollar. Doing away with the contract manufacturer will also help us have better quality control over our products," the official said.

Construction of the plant is expected to start any time now, with completion scheduled for the first quarter of next year, when the first phase of the shift will begin.

The entire move will take between 18 and 24 months. The plant will create about 450 highly-skilled jobs and is expected to expand as production is ramped up.

Honeywell set up its regional sales and finance operations in Petaling Jaya, 12km outside Kuala Lumpur, in 2006.

Prisons install biometric ID systems for drug addicts

By Dominic Lenton

Inmates in English prisons whose heroin addiction is treated with methadone are to have their access to the drug controlled by a biometric-based identification system.

Large prisons can see as many as ten new patients a day requiring methadone and have hundreds on treatment at any one time. Accurate tracking of how the drug is dispensed is vital.

In a five-year deal with the Department of Health, NEC UK will install computer-controlled dispensing systems that will link individual records to biometric features such as fingerprints or iris scans.

The system is already in use at several prisons, including Leeds, New Hall, Lindholme, Stafford, Chelmsford and Wayland, and will be installed in up to a hundred during the course of the contract, which also covers technical support.

NEC is providing a complete system including biometric software, the network infrastructure, computer hardware and a methadone dispenser in conjunction with partners Methasoft UK and Human Recognition Systems.

Prisoners are not obliged to take part, and the company stresses that as the system stores only the coding that allows an individual to be identified and not a physical image of their biometric data there is no infringement of personal security or human rights.

Wounded model helps nurses learn

By James Hayes

A wound-care teaching model developed by academics at the University of Hertfordshire could play a key role in reducing hospital infections.

Around 200,000 people in the UK will have a non-healing wound at any one time. Such wounds often result in patients requiring extended hospital stays - increasing the risk of complications.

Wound care has traditionally been taught through photographs and video. Now, Julie Vuolo, a lecturer in the tissue viability team at the University's School of Nursing and Midwifery, working with Tina Moore, a third-year student of model design, have developed a life-sized three-dimensional model named George. 'He' comes complete with a pressure ulcer, a surgical incision which can be removed to reveal a large abdominal wound and a removable fungating tumour.

George can be used to facilitate discussion about a whole range of tissue viability issues including wound measurement, pressure-ulcer grading, dressing application, and wound-bed preparation.

"The fact that George was designed by wound-care experts with specific wound-care learning outcomes in mind means he far exceeds the standard achieved by existing models on the market," said Vuolo. "George brings tissue viability alive in a way that even the best photographs could never do."

Cross-border science clusters to challenge US

By Pelle Neroth

There's a lot of terminology in EU science that can be baffling. Talk of joint technology initiatives, ERA net, technology platforms, ERC, Eureka, and more just contributes to the image of the EU as remote and boring. This is unfair.

The important thing is to look at the big picture. The EU's science directorate (the second-largest after agriculture) is obsessed with the US, which has a lower gross domestic product and produces fewer scientific papers, yet has a vastly greater influence in global affairs - and wins more Nobel prizes. The reason, officials say, is economy of scale. Europe's many borders and languages, and nation-centred research budgets, mean a lot of similar and low-level science is duplicated, and the best researchers do not rub shoulders, compete, or collaborate, so the global heights are never reached.

The EU vision is to get away from 'subcriticality' at the highest level of academic research (quite good, but not good enough) through a single European research area. The goal is to assemble clusters of specialisation, attracting the best researchers from across Europe in a given field, with a penumbra of start-up firms and industry support: so, the leading European biotech scientists might gather in Copenhagen, experts in another field in Budapest. The parallel is not so much with a premier league as a capital city for each sport.

How to get it going? A new structure, another acronym, but one to remember - KICs (Knowledge and Innovation Communities). The proposal has just been passed by the European parliament.

KICs are virtual institutes, initially in energy and ICT, which hope to bring researchers together from several countries, through Internet, email, and a dollop of European funding. The researchers will be based at their home universities; but the idea is that the cluster of contacts will coalesce and establish physical institutions.

The KICs, with an initial budget of €300m, will be overseen by a new European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT). Likely to be based in a new member state, the EIT will be a purely administrative centre.

It's early days, but how estab-lished universities will react to these cuckoos in the nest, and whether researchers will forego their US contacts, remains to be seen. But IMEC, in Leuven, Belgium, the world's leading research centre for nanoelectronics and nanotech-nology, trickle-funded for decades by the Belgian government and now financed by global industry, offers a model of what the realised KICs might evolve into, and what European research can achieve.

Eurocrats readily agree that there are arguments for and against, and many MEPs, organisations and lobby groups on the inside in Brussels are rather sceptical that the KICs will take off, attract the best researchers, or flourish in their borrowed premises.

But at least they have thought out arguments. As the EU issue reaches British public consciousness, there is a fixation with what the EU is against, rather than a positive sense of what the EU is for. Well, here is an example of what the EU is about.

As yet the KICs make up only a vision for EU science, but for what it's worth, here it is.

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