Lost Packets: Networking news and trivia

Technology helps us all scream for ice cream

Imagine having a nice scoop of freshly made ice cream coming out of a vending machine thanks to a Linux operating system and an interactive GUI. It may sound like a strange mix but the MooBella Ice Cream System uses lots of technology to dispense the cold treat. In addition, the virtual ice cream shop uses database components to aerate, flavour, mix and flash freeze the ingredients to create a customized scoop of ice cream in 45 seconds. If a flavour runs out, the machine’s inventory system tells the GUI not to display that flavour as an option. To re-stock, the machine communicates to company headquarters via a wireless communication system that uses satellite technology. The machine offers customers 96 combinations of flavours and mix-ins such as vanilla, mocha and peanut butter cups, MooBella was part of the Demo 2006 show in Phoenix, Ariz, last February that showcased a mix of enterprise and consumer innovations.

Cell service goes underground

Recent bids submitted by several major wireless carriers in the United States could result in commuters at 227 New York City subway stations being able to use their cellphones. The bids are seen as a way to offer a safe and secure service to riders who lose cellphone service when entering a subway station. Cingular Wireless, Verizon Wireless, T-Mobile and Sprint Nextel Corp. have teamed up to be one of four groups to submit a bid. The current plan would see the winning bidder, in a ten-year contract, wire only the platforms and not moving trains. However, companies are required to discuss how to expand the network into the tunnels. The winner is also required to let other carriers use the network.

Pigeons take to the sky to monitor pollution

This coming August, 20 pigeons will be released into the skies over San Jose, Calif. to monitor air pollution. These birds will have backpacks strapped to them that contain basic mobile phones as part of a Univerisy of California at Irvine study. Each bird will also have a GPS satellite tracking receiver and air pollution sensors that are capable of sensing carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide. Text messages on air quality are beamed back in real time to a pigeon blog that can be accessed on the Internet in the form of an interactive map. Also, aerial photographs taken from miniature cameras around the pigeons’ necks will be posted on the blog.

The ‘Big Brother’ prison

In January, a high-tech prison opened up in Lelystad, Netherlands a town just west of Amsterdam, that is supposed to represent the future of correctional facilities — cheap and efficient. Dubbed “the Big Brother Prison” by local media, inmates wear electronic wristbands that track their every movement. Prisoners can also manage their own schedules with a touch-screen monitor at the foot of their beds. Detainees are kept in a six-man cell equipped with a microphone that is linked to the prison’s control centre. Emotion recognition software analyzes sound volume and rhythm to alert guards to any violence. Unlike the Big Brother TV show, camera surveillance is restricted only to public spaces and not bunk beds or bathrooms. Because monitoring has become easier, the jail requires fewer guards with only six for 150 prisoners versus the usual 15.

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