Steven Lewis

Radio Reinvents Itself

The medium that survived television, the cassette tape, the compact disc and the minidisc looks set to live through the Internet age. Thousands of radio stations have added an online presence, making their broadcasts available around the world, some now exist solely on the Internet. Now radio itself is going digital. The advent of digital radio means the broadcast of CD-quality radio that can be transmitted at the same time as complementary data.

In the US, two companies - one in New York and one in the District of Columbia - plan to make digital radio broadcasts via satellite. Subscribers will pay for the service. Fees are expected to be in the region of US$10 per month, but the question of what benefit digital radio offers to the consumer - beyond the end of whistles, clicks and crackles - is murky. Like its satellite and cable TV cousins, digital radio will, however, mean choices of 100-plus channels nationwide. The technology is expected to allow smaller broadcasters to compete with the current national broadcasters.

Analysts suggests that those who are successful in digital radio will be those who identify and satisfy niches.

Small Power Package Arrives

ON Semiconductor, a United States provider of power management integrated circuits (ICs) for wireless, computing, networking and transportation applications has introduced a DC-DC converter that cuts space requirement by 60% compared with the current generation of battery-powered consumer products.

The NCP1400 is a micropower pulse width modulator (PWM) step-up DC-DC converter with enhanced on-chip features that reduces consumption in handheld games, pagers, cellular phones, digital cameras, industrial equipment and a variety of other consumer handheld products.

The NCP1400 is pin-compatible with competitive products on the market and is a significantly smaller replacement for the popular MC33466, also offered by ON Semiconductor. Designed to operate from input voltages as low as 0.9 volts, the NCP1400 is offered in standard fixed output voltages of 1.9, 2.7, 3.0, 3.3 and 5.0 volts. Other output voltages between 1.8 and 5.0 volts are available in 0.1 volt increments by special request.

Samples and production quantities are available by contacting ON Semiconductor at

Bring On the Intelligent Robot

Mobile telephones and palmtop computers are now small enough that they would not look out of place in an episode of Star Trek, but when it comes to robots, today's technology is far behind the oldest science fiction.

The time has come to build truly intelligent robots argues Professor Juyang Weng, of Michigan State University. In an article in the journal, Science, Professor Weng calls for robots that "live" independently of their masters and learn in a general sense. Previous working robotics has been limited to designing machines to carry out specific tasks.

Theoretically, general-purpose intelligent robots would be designed to go through a long period of autonomous mental development, mimicking the transition in the animal world from infancy to maturity. Some supervision would apparently be required from humans, however. The key is to teach computers to learn as humans learn, which is currently impossible as the underlying principles of mental development in humans are not yet understood.

Professor Weng has built a prototype developmental robot, which has been christened "Sail". The robot explores by itself but, aping a parent, a human supervisor reinforces behaviour patterns by pressing a button when the robot does something "good" and another when it is "bad".