Lost packets: Networking news and trivia

New cell phones will simply make that call

The next generation of cell phones won’t have a camera and won’t let you play music or games or even let you text-message. This new mobile device lets you do only one thing: make a phone call. Those aged 55+ have become frustrated by all of the new features on the latest cell phones and have been demanding a simpler phone. Cell phone companies like LG and Kyocera are already manufacturing phones targeted to this demographic, dubbed “elderphones”. The stripped-down devices are proving to be popular in Japan. The phones are similar to traditional cell phones but have oversized keypads, smaller screens with larger-than-usual type and fewer buttons than regular cell phones.

Starbucks brews up Wi-Fi across Canada

Starbucks, the Seattle-based company, has teamed up with Bell Canada to bring Wi-Fi to its coffee houses in Canada. Initially, 140 Starbucks stores in Ontario will have wireless hotspots that will let customers access e-mail or the Internet as well as listen to free music clips from Starbucks-featured CDs. Bell will offer the high-speed connectivity and will bill usage to a regular monthly carrier statement or a credit card. The service will expand to over 400 Starbucks in British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan over the next year. Earlier this year, competitor Second Cup teamed up with Rogers Wireless Inc. to bring Wi-Fi to 50 of its coffee shops.

Volkswagen wins the driverless car race

In October, 23 autonomous vehicles, including one Canadian entry, were at the start line prepared to race across the Mojave desert in Nevada in hopes of being the winner of the Grand Challenge. Eighteen failed to complete the 212-kilometre course, but the Stanford University-designed “Stanley the VW Touareg” crossed the finish line in first place at six hours, 53 minutes and claimed the US$2 million prize. The race was part of the U.S. military’s efforts to cut down casualties by having unmanned vehicles. The course was designed to mimic driving conditions in Iraq and Afghanistan and consisted of winding dirt trails and dry lake beds filled with overhanging brush. All the vehicles had sensors, lasers, cameras and radar that fed data to onboard computers to help distinguish dangerous boulders from tumbleweeds and decide whether chasms were too deep to cross.

Satellite TV climbs aboard vehicles

With commuting times on the rise in America, vehicles are starting to become a second home. To help ease the stress of rush-hour traffic, Rhode Island-based KVH Industries is offering the latest vehicle accessory: satellite television. Cadillac is offering KVH’s TracVision satellite system as a dealer-installed option on its Escalade sport utility vehicle and GM is considering pre-wiring its SUVs for satellite TV by 2007. Screens can be placed anywhere on the vehicle, like the dashboard, headrests and the trunk. The TracVision system is a three-foot-wide and five-inches-high circular antennae affixed to the top of the vehicle with a cable inserted through the roof. Safety advocates say satellite TV is just another distraction while on the road, but KVH noted a kill switch is installed to automatically turn off the TV in the front seat when the vehicle starts moving.

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