First Production Self-Driving Car

The Toyota Prius, the Hollywood darling hybrid car, has become the first car to offer robotic self-driving — but only in a limited sense. For an extra $2200, the Japanese version of the Prius can be outfitted with steering motors, sensors and computers that allow the Prius to parallel-park itself. It works by taking a picture of the parking space, then getting some user input about how to place the car within the space. The car then takes over and puts the car in the space efficiently and quickly, though it still relies on the driver to make sure nothing gets run over in the process. This is a really boon to people who have problems parallel parking, as well as to all other drivers who have ever sat behind a person who is trying to fit in too small a space. It also works with too-narrow garage spaces, and can actually remember where in your garage you like to place your vehicle. While the high-tech hybrid is a natural choice to first offer this option, a better choice might have been to offer it in one of those monster SUVs that never seem to be able to park anywhere.

Nuclear Pudding Discovered

Scientists at Brookhaven labs have discovered a new state of matter that exists at the subatomic level: a sort of “pudding” that can spontaneously develop at the center of atoms when gluons (which make up, along with quarks, the neutron and protons found at the center of atoms) suddenly fuse to a gooey, delicious new state of matter between 50 and 1000 times more dense than an ordinary nucleus. While the physics are clearly above my head, the possibilities for new sweetened desserts certainly merit some attention. Read more at the NY Times.

Mars Local Time, Now On Earth

NASA has commissioned a special mechanical watch from a local watchmaker that will keep Mars time. The Martian day is longer than an Earth day, so apparently the folks running the Mars Spirit mission were getting a little off, essentially having to work 24 hours and 39 minutes every day. The new watch may help some folks keep track of Spirit’s schedule, which is linked to the Martian day because of the sunlight it uses to both charge its batteries and also for taking pictures. For most though the watch is just a fun way to commemorate the mission.

The watch is only available to mission employees at this point as the watchmaker ramps up production, but he’s got plans to sell them to the general public as soon as he gets on top of the NASA orders. Hopefully he’ll make it a dual planet zone watch, since most supervisors are not likely to look kindly on the “I’m sorry I’m late, I was on Mars time” excuse.

Netscape/City Year Auction For White People

Netscape’s new $10/mo. dial-up service has teamed up with City Year, a non-profit organization promoting national service, to auction off 200 internet accounts, including an early hold on selected coveted short email addresses. The problem is the names that you can bid on: Barbie, Chas, Willy, Sue, and of course Nate are all listed, but when it comes to names from different cutlures that make up our melting pot there are only two: Luis and Juan. Is there a Satish, Adanna, Huong or Amed? Nope. Sorry.

Update on the Segway Clone

Update: turns out the Zap Q we profiled last week was actually made by Rad2Go and debuted at CES. It is apparently being resold by Zap, but the price from Rad2Go at the show was just $800. And they plan on offering it for between $1000 and $1500, with models with bigger batteries and energy-recovering brakes coming soon with prices up to $1600-$1800.

Fortune Favors the Bold (and the Stupid)

MIT professor Lester Thurow says in the latest issue of Wired:

“If they can’t find some way to lock up music, music is going to end. Eventually, there will be no professional musicians, because there’s no way to make money, and we’re left with a world full of amateurs.”

Preempting Bruce Dykes, Street Tech’s in-house copyright pundit, I’ll have to say this is one of the dumbest things I’ve ever heard about the debate on copyrights and p2p distribution. Did it occur to Thurow that professional musicians existed long before recording technology? Does anyone actually believe the underlying claim that the recording technology has actually led to better music?

Those interested in more of Thurow’s ridiculous claims can check out his new book “Fortune Favors the Bold” available from Amazon for just $19. A bargain at half the price.

RFID Promoter GMA Hires World’s Dumbest Intern

Coca Cola, Proctor and Gamble and Gillette, as represented by the RFID tag promoter Grocery Manufacturer’s Association (GMA) have been caught trying to dig dirt on lead privacy advocate Katherine Albrecht. The firm sent Albrecht, the head of the Consumers Against Supermarket Privacy Invasion and Numbering (Caspian), an email asking her for her biography. When she asked why they wanted the information (as one might expect a privacy advocate would do) an intern reportedly sent an accidental reply, apparently intended for his or her boss and not Albrecht:

“‘I don’t know what to tell this woman! ‘Well, actually we’re trying to see if you have a juicy past that we could use against you.””- Wired News

This might be a good case for firing the intern’s superior as well as the intern.

Mini-ITX Powered Robot

White Box Robotics has an amazing robot platform coming out this summer (hopefully) called the 912. It runs on a mini-itx PC board running Windows XP, can be outfitted with an internal 5″ lcd screen and head-mounted display, and can be programmed to follow you around playing MP3s. Pictured is the “security bot” model. Price of the base model should be “about the same as a decent PC” which means probably between $2000 and $3000.

Ikoo Electric Scooter

More from the alt.transpo file: the Ikoo electric scooter looks very similar to the City Mantis but with a slightly more rugged build. It can zip around at up to 18 mph, with a range of about 18 miles. It has high-end components like front disc brakes and fat pneumatic tires, and it collapses for easy storage. A number of accessories are available as well, such as an extended seat. Base price is $1000.

Revenge of the Portable Audio News

The portable audio news just keeps coming. First, the BBC reported that Sony is still struggling to keep its long-languishing MiniDisc format relevant, this time with its new “Hi-MD” players (pictured right) and media, which store 1GB of music (which they claim equates to 45 hours of music at 48Kbps — does ATRAC really sound decent at 48Kbps? I doubt it) or data (so you can use it as a portable hard drive). Interesting.

Also today, Forbes reported on HP’s announcement that it has licenced Apple’s iPod “technology” as well as iTunes Music Store for their own line of portable music players. It will be interesting to see whether HP actually comes up with compelling features for their iPod-alike or if they’re just starting an idea-recycling recycling operation. Maybe HP will be able to hit the low-end sweet spot that some (this editor included) think Apple completely missed with their recently-unveiled MiniPods.

Thanks to Slashdot for these juicy newsbits.