Robot traffic cones coming to a closed lane near you

IT SOUNDS like a driver’s worst nightmare. Or it could be a highway worker’s saviour.

Herds of robotic traffic cones swarm on to motorways, closing down lanes and slowing traffic to a snail’s pace.

But it is no bad dream. US designers have developed self-propelled traffic cones which can open and close traffic lanes faster and more safely than humans. The deployment of a fleet of these robots would be controlled by laptop, which sends GPS co-ordinates of the point where a lead marker should be positioned.

Developed by Shane Farritor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the prototypes cost $700, with the aim of reducing that to $200 using cheaper motors.

Frighteningly, Andrew Howard, the head of road safety for the AA Motoring Trust in the UK, has welcomed the idea.

Beat the Pain

IT COULD be a bad omen for the manufacturers of painkillers.

A small US study by researchers at Northwestern University in Chicago suggests that you can teach people to suppress their own pain by showing them the activity of the pain-control region of their brain. While enduring painful heat on their hand, volunteers were able to vary their brain activity level, developing control over their pain sensations.

It took just three 13-minute sessions in the scanner for the eight volunteers to learn to vary their brain activity level, and thus to develop some control over their pain. This "biofeedback" technique could also turn out to be useful in treating illnesses where brain activity is altered, such as depression, according to the researchers.

Chatty cards

FORGET signing on the dotted line, or even entering your PIN number at the ATM machine.

Researchers are developing a credit card that will not work unless it hears its owner’s voice, and say it could become an important tool in the fight against fraud.

The card requires users to give a spoken password, which it authenticates using a built-in voice-recognition chip.

A prototype, built by engineers in Santa Monica in the US, represents the first attempt to pack a microphone, a loudspeaker, a battery and a voice-recognition chip into a standard-sized credit card.

However, the engineers are not quite there yet. Although the card is the same length and width as ordinary credit cards, it is about three times the thickness.

Beepcard, the inventors, say they now plan to use smaller chips and components to slim it down to normal thickness.

Sources: New Scientist.

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