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February 3, 2006 By ,

Helping the Homeless

The University of Southern California Viterbi School of Engineering received a $100,000 grant to study computer-automated construction technology that could help reconstruct areas destroyed by disasters in weeks rather than months or years. The grant, awarded to the school by the Annenberg Foundation in mid-November 2005, supports further research on a technique known as contour crafting, developed by engineering professor Behrohk Khoshnevis.

The school created a contour crafting system that pushes concrete or other liquid building material through a nozzle, much the way toothpaste comes out of a tube, molding the material with trowels as it is expelled. Mounted on a crane or gantry, the machine continuously circles the site, laying down layer after layer of material. The system creates the foundation and structural skeleton as it builds, leaving space for plumbing and electrical conduits.

Khoshnevis said the device should build a full-scale 2,000 square-foot house in one day, rather than in six months or more. -- University of Southern California

Tell All

A new walk-through airport lie detector may prove to be the toughest challenge yet for potential hijackers or drug smugglers.

Tested in Russia, the two-stage GK-1 voice analyzer requires that passengers don headphones at a console and answer "yes" or "no" into a microphone to questions about whether they are planning something illicit.

The software will almost always pick up uncontrollable tremors in the voice that give away liars or those with something to hide, according to its designers at Israeli firm Nemesysco. -- Reuters

Underground Access

Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) is the first transit system in the nation to offer wireless communication to all passengers on its underground trains.

Although not all commuters see the benefit of underground cell phone service, it could help stave off fare increases. BART's deal with the phone companies for downtown San Francisco will bring in at least $408,000 per year. As additional stations, tubes and tunnels are wired, that amount could rise to more than $2 million per year.

BART pays nothing to install the antennas. Sprint Nextel serves as the coordinator -- planning, paying for and overseeing the work, but other carriers have the right to buy in by reimbursing Sprint Nextel for some of its costs and paying annual fees to BART.

Other transit agencies have deals with specific cell phone services, but according to BART officials, the transit system is the first in the nation to make a deal allowing underground access to all wireless companies and their customers. -- San Francisco Chronicle

Traffic Alert

Deployment of a system to mine cell phone data to determine traffic conditions will soon begin in Maryland.

If a user's phone is turned on, the cell phone network notes time of handoff from cell tower to cell tower to calculate vehicle location and speed.

Researchers say the program, created by Delcan, will reduce congestion by quickly delivering road condition alerts to drivers. The company said it will not track individual drivers movement. A staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, however, said tracking might violate federal law, and increases the chances that information will be used for more invasive purposes in the future. -- The Baltimore Sun

Logging Keystrokes

Keyloggers -- silently installed programs that record a victim's keystrokes and sends them to hackers -- put tens of millions of Internet users' finances, personal data and account information at risk. Largely distributed by organized cyber-theft groups, they are typically packaged with phishing e-mails or spyware -- malicious code that tracks victims' online activity -- often eluding traditional security defenses like anti-virus software and firewalls.

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