Message to House Robots: Be Stupid

Europe in Brief

New technology from the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH) in Stockholm (Sweden) is teaching household robots a more efficient way to get around the house.

A major problem for household robots on the move is that they have very little knowledge about their surroundings. A chair that has been moved or a person standing in the way can easily puzzle a robot. Several earlier attempts have involved programming an enormous amount of map data: The more data needs to be processed, the slower the robot becomes. Nor is a robot particularly good at improvising when unexpected obstacles turn up.

Swedish researcher Philipp Althaus describes a whole new concept in his thesis, defended last Friday: Just make robots stupid. The idea is to clear the brain of the robot from unnecessarily information as much as possible. Obstacles the robot encounters on the way can be forgotten immediately. Works like a charm, it seems. Just wish we could do this with our brain.



Netherlands - Instant S.O.S.

Dutch company Netpresenter released its ’Emergency Alert’ software this week to meet terrorist threats faced by organisations everywhere. It is the first commercially available software that instantly broadcasts evacuation and other urgent messages immediately overriding employee’s PCs.

Key personnel enter messages into a simple browser interface. Planned scenarios can be set up in advance, or quickly added to meet the threat. Then with one mouse click, the Emergency broadcast hits every PC, TV or Plasma screen targeted in the buildings concerned.

Netpresenter say their software is already in use at Amsterdam Airport and several petrochemical companies.



Norway - hiring foreign ICT expertise virtually impossible

Norwegian companies Opera and Trolltech are complaining that they can't hire foreign workers. The problem is the UDI, Norway's Directorate of Immigration, according to the national daily newspaper Aftenposten.

Browser company Opera has employees from about 20 countries, but many new applicants have to wait six months before they can get a work permit. To hire foreign outsiders for short-term assignments is virtually impossible. Fast Search and Transfer are employing people abroad instead.



Portugal - improving road safety by satellite

A new system currently under development in Portugal may improve road safety. Each year in Europe, 40 000 people die and 1 700 000 are injured in road accidents. Statistics show that one in three Europeans will become road accident victims during the course of their lifetime.

A new satellite project named ARMAS (Active Road Management Assisted by Satellite), developed by the European Space Agency in corporation with Portuguese companies Skysoft and INOV and with the support of Auto-Estradas do Atlântico and Lusopont, will bring about changes on many levels.

A receiver located inside a vehicle calculates its position in real time and enables information to be exchanged with a regional control centre. The system also allows a car to send back information about problems that may occur while traveling. An S.O.S. alarm can be sent in an emergency. It is also possible to alert nearby motorists to slow down.

Real time tests are currently conducted on the Vasco Da Gama Bridge above the Tagus, one of the longest bridges in Europe. To learn more, watch this videoclip. ®

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