Zazzle Shop

Screen printing

Monday, August 4, 2008

Power up with Cayman and Boxster S limited editions

STUTTGART, Germany — Porsche has revealed a brace of new limited-edition models, the Boxster S Porsche Design Edition 2 and the Cayman S Sport, and only a handful of each will be offered in North America, starting in October. The Boxster S Porsche Design Edition 2 will be priced at $66,900, while the Cayman S Sport will have a sticker of $69,900.

Porsche said it will build 500 Boxster S Porsche Design Edition 2 and 700 Cayman S Sport models for global markets. Of those totals, fewer than 50 Boxsters and about 100 Caymans, each with a numbered plaque in the glovebox, will make it to the States.

Both cars get a slightly hotter 303-horsepower 3.4-liter six-cylinder engine, as well as a number of mechanical and visual enhancements.

Porsche designed the Cayman S Sport to resemble the 911GT3 RS, including such details as black rims, mirrors and air intake grilles as well as a black cockpit design package. The Cayman S Sport will be available in a variety of exterior colors, including the GT3 RS shades of green and orange, with the model designation Cayman S in black lettering along the flanks.

The suspension has been lowered by 0.4 inch, and Porsche Active Suspension Management is fitted, along with 5mm spacers on the 19-inch SportDesign wheels. Additional features include a sport exhaust system with twin-chamber tailpipe, bi-xenon headlamps, the Sports Chrono package and sport seats. The steering wheel, gearshift lever and handbrake lever are all wrapped in Alcantara.

The Boxster S Porsche Design Edition 2 is painted Carrara White — named for its similarity to the color of Italian marble. The 19-inch SportDesign wheels, side air intakes, center console and instrument dials are also finished in white. The car also gets contrasting gray stripes, a stone gray convertible top and black leather upholstery.

This special Boxster S comes with an Edition 2 chronograph with a white-face dial, from the Porsche Design Dashboard Collection.

What this means to you: You might want to give your local Porsche dealer a call ahead of time, since it didn't take the company long to sell out of the limited-edition Cayman S Porsche Design Edition 1 and Boxster RS60 Spyder.

911 Carrera 4S- the Method Man to my Old Dirty Bastard

The great car journo Dan Pund once called Porsche "the Taco Bell of automakers." He was referring to the way the brand uses a few ingredients to create a variety of items — the same fundamental engines, transmissions, and chassis go into the Boxster, the Cayman, the 911, and the 911 Turbo Bellgrande. The new 911 Carrera 4 and Carrera 4S, on sale this October, are no different: They use the basic shell of the 2009 997.5 and lay in a caulk-gun squirt of all-wheel drive from the 997 Turbo.

We reported on the revised 911, with its direct injection engines and PDK dual-clutch manual transmission, last month; you can read Kurt Braun's masterly shakedown of that car here. And even if the RWD and AWD 911s have many, many things in common, we weren't going to pass up Porsche's invitation to see Berlin from the wheel of the new Carrera 4. I loved that band in the '80s, and still have some of their awesome songs on cassette.


There are a few cosmetic changes that give away the C4s. Each is 1.73 inches wider than the C2s at the rear, where an old-school reflector band runs between the new LED taillights. Also, black trim inserts on the rear let you know that a C4, and not a mere two-wheel-drive Carrera, just passed you. If you were to put the car on a lift, you'd see two NACA ducts on the undertray in front of the back wheels, just as on a 911 Turbo — Porsche is putting them on all current AWD models to increase rear braking ventilation.


But it is the Turbo's Porsche Traction Management (PTM) system that significantly expands the Carrera 4's performance envelope. Unlike the viscous clutch that handled torque-apportioning duties in the 996 Turbo and the outgoing C4, PTM is built around an electromagnetic multi-plate unit. In the old AWD system, any differential in axle speed would activate the viscous coupling, providing a maximum torque transfer of 30 percent to the front wheels. Here, the multi-plate clutch takes inputs from all kinds of sensors — steering-wheel angle, yaw, longitudinal acceleration, wheel speed — drives them through a control unit, which tells an annular magnet to act upon a small mechanical booster, which in turn directs the eight sets of friction plates in the main clutch. All this happens in a maximum of 100 milliseconds, and the system can direct 100 percent of the car's torque to either its front or rear axle.

Porsche's rationale for this arrangement is two-fold: 1) It offers better traction on low-friction surfaces, such as steep, snowy driveways, and 2) it delivers better driving dynamics. PTM is able to shift whatever amount of moment you need, wherever and whenever you need it. In full-on cornering, the system sends all engine torque to the rear (where an LSD manages lateral flow), so that the front wheels can devote their full attention to cornering. If, while in that corner, you induce a large amount of understeer, the car sends the appropriate dose of power rearward to neutralize slip angles. Similarly, if you've cast the tail askew, PTM directs some torque to the front. How much torque is dependent on axle load — in steady-state cornering, for example, the distribution would be something like 40/60 front/rear. And don't worry, would-be drifters of your fathers' cars: The Porsche Stability Management system offers buttons to vary the degrees of yaw intervention, ranging from a bit of slip to fully disengaged. With everything off, this thing is as ass-happy as Seymour Butts.

We drove the Carrera 4S (the one with the always-powerful, always-thrumming, 385-hp, 3.8-liter motor) on the roads north of Berlin. Apparently, the Communist regime that fell two decades ago wasn't too concerned about road maintenance. Even with the notoriously anal Germans tending to them, these narrow lanes are still crappy, which says a lot about their original decrepitude. Also, there aren't many Kommie Karz around here anymore, although some comrade-bicyclists are still in action. Many of them travel these roads as families, and put the weakest among them at the front of the line. With each group we passed, the configurations got increasingly absurd — one kid's bike was laden with luggage; there was a girl of 12 or so riding on her dad's front handlebars; there was a pyramid of babies on a unicycle.

And, as mentioned, the roads were war-torn and tank-battered and would have rattled the fender badges off a Ferrari. But the Porsche just soaked it all up, as Porsches have been doing since time immemorial. Even the cabriolet exhibited no cowl shake. Stunningly, the PASM active suspension kept the car from bobbing up and down, which has long been the major ride criticism of these bottom-heavy cars. And though the PTM system adds 86 pounds to the base 911, it does not dull the car's reflexes or adversely affect its acceleration times. All the weight is set low, so the C4 still delivers the feel-good steering, bodacious stopping power, and spectacular roll control that have characterized 911s forever.


c43_right.gif Our route took us through canopied roads to a disused Russian air base, now a Michelin Driving Center. We gathered in an old MiG hangar — a grass-topped, concrete Quonset hut made from giant, pre-stressed ribs, bolted together at ten-foot intervals. Remind me again why we were so worried about these people's nuclear capability?

Porsche set up a few exercises for us at Michelin, the coolest of which was a "wet-handling" course. It comprised a dozen technical turns on painted asphalt with a mu rating somewhere around rainy. I revved out the 3.8-liter flat-six until its hum calcified to a wail, and purposely cranked it hard into the first left-hander. The tail instantly swung wide, and then, faster than could even register, the front wheels pulled the car tautly back into line. I tried the same technique on the next corner, going in way too hot and turning in way too late. Here the car subtly and gradually dialed out the understeer itself. The feedback curves on this system are so gentle that the car never seems to be wresting control away from you; sometimes it's hard even to feel it working. And trust me, it was working double overtime. I couldn't believe how brutally it attacked a slippery surface, and how utterly fail-safe it felt.

On the second lap, it took all my willpower not to keep driving like a sadist, even though the C4S seemed to enjoy the flogging. Flowing the car into turns and squeezing on the throttle, it still trimmed out whatever over-exuberance of line it detected. The weird thing was, it didn't kill the fun. It made it more fun, communicating its corrections with economy and clarity.

The irony here is that, for all of Porsche's Taco Bell–ish modularity, the C4 is amazingly coherent. It's not just a sloppy assemblage of parts. This is mainly because, after 45 years, Porsche knows what a 911 should be. But it also may be the result of the small, interdisciplinary teams working on these cars. Everyone at Porsche seems to have two or three jobs: The body-in-white guy was also our lead driving instructor. The chassis guru gave me chapter-and-verse on the PDK transmission. These guys don't work in a vacuum; they know how every piece impacts the whole. That said, I'd still like to end this story with a good chalupa joke. Anyone know one?

The downside to falling oil prices.

NEW YORK (Fortune) -- Oil prices are falling sharply, and that's good news. But not nearly as good as you might think.

No doubt the drop, down to $120 by mid-day Monday, gives strapped consumers relief at the gas pump. Prices have dropped below $4 a gallon and could be headed toward $3.50, going by trading in wholesale futures markets. Any decline will be welcomed by Americans struggling under the burden of falling house prices, rising layoffs and stagnant wages.

But falling oil prices also suggest that the recession the U.S. has so far avoided is well on its way, as consumers pull back from the spending spree that drove economic growth earlier this decade. A weakening economy will mean more layoffs, further pressuring already reduced spending.

"There is no doubt that with gasoline prices dipping below $3.90 a gallon we have a bit of a reprieve on the energy front," Merrill Lynch economist David Rosenberg wrote in a report Monday, "but the reality is that this is a chicken and egg game because the decline is reflecting the consumer recession."

Energy use down

Perhaps the biggest factor behind the recent 18% drop in the price of a barrel of crude is sinking North American demand. Federal Highway Administration data show the number of miles driven in the U.S. dropped from year-ago levels for the seventh straight month in May.

May's decline was the third-largest monthly drop on record since 1942, says Stephen Schork, editor of the Schork Report energy and shipping newsletter in Villanova, Pa.

Americans are driving 4% less now than they were a year ago, Rosenberg writes, while energy use in inflation-adjusted terms has dropped 2% - an event he calls "extremely rare."

The pullback comes after the recent crude-price surge - the cost of a barrel doubled between Labor Day of 2007 and July 11 - seriously damaged the industrial economy, which despite its long decline remains a crucial source of better-paying jobs.

General Motors (GM, Fortune 500) on Friday posted a $15.5 billion second-quarter loss, as sales plunged 18% from a year ago. The company and rival Ford (F, Fortune 500) have slashed truck production, laid off thousands of workers and refocused on smaller cars as buyers flee the light trucks that had made the companies so much money.

Americans' decision to drive less comes at a time of rising stress. The economy has been hemorrhaging jobs and real wages, adjusted for inflation, have been flat to lower for a decade. Americans have enjoyed a rising standard of living in the meantime by borrowing - but with banks choking on subprime mortgages gone bad, the loan window is closing. Rosenberg calls a recent rise in the savings rate "a vivid sign that frugality is now replacing frivolity."

Meanwhile, the weak economy is spurring more companies to cut back. Outplacement firm Challenger Gray & Christmas said Monday that layoff announcements jumped 26% from a month ago in July. The unemployment rate recently hit a four-year high at 5.7%.

How low can it go?

One unhappy fact is that a drop in the price of oil won't bring back many of the jobs lost over the past year to the energy-cost surge. Even were gas to fall to $3 a gallon - a move that is by no means assured - no one is going to beat a path to the dealership to buy pick-ups and SUVs that are now, in many cases, being phased out. GM recently announced plans to shut four SUV plants.

On a happier note, there is hope that the decline in oil prices has just begun. While Schork says it's anyone's guess where crude will trade - "By the end of the third quarter, there's a good chance oil could be below $100 a barrel, and a good chance it could be above $150," he says - others see a chance that the commodity, having enjoyed a head-spinning runup, could also drop more than anyone expects. Economist Jim Griffin notes at the ING Investment Weekly that crude's rally earlier this year became "nearly parabolic" - a sign that the decline could be steep.

Now a return to double-digit oil may not rescue the Hummer. But as the government's fiscal stimulus program did earlier this year, it could give consumers a little more change in their pockets, either to spend, salt away - or pay down their debts. To top of page

Leaked: 2009 VW Golf

WOLFSBURG, Germany — Dutch and Belgian Web sites this weekend leaked the first official images of the redesigned Volkswagen Golf , which VW had planned to release on Wednesday ahead of the car's public debut at the 2008 Paris Auto Show.

The images, leaked at and, show that VW's designers were relatively timid in pushing the styling envelope on the Golf VI. The basic silhouette seems little changed from that of the fifth-generation Golf, although the revised face has more in common with the new Scirocco.

The cabin appears to measure up, in style and materials, to VW's usual high standards and is likely to remain a benchmark in the class, at least in Europe.

In Germany, the new Golf is expected to offer a wide range of four-cylinder gas and diesel engines from 1.2 to 2.0 liters, as well as a choice of manual, automatic and DSG gearboxes. VW also is working on a diesel plug-in hybrid variant and expects to introduce new stop-start technology as well.

A high-end turbocharged 2.0-liter engine will be reserved for the new GTI.

Despite persistent rumors to the contrary, VW of America continues to certify the new Golf for sale in the U.S.

What this means to you: Early look at a car that apparently will be coming here

Turn your Iphone into wireless modem


Here at a few of us were excited about turning our iPhones into wireless modems with the $10 NetShare application -- but none of us could get it to work. Fortunately, we got our connections up and running with some help straight from NetShare's maker, Nullriver. So we've created a step-by-step tutorial in case you're stuck, too.

Before we begin, do note that we could not get FireFox 3 to work with NetShare using Nullriver's settings; the company said it only tested the app on FireFox 2. Safari, however, works just fine. Without further ado, here's our tutorial:

Step 1: Download NetShare


Search for NetShare in the iPhone's App Store.* Pay 10 bucks and download it.

Step 2: Create a New Network


On your Mac, click on your Airport icon and select "Create Network." Type whatever name you'd like: We used "iPhone tether" with the channel set to Automatic (11). Then click OK.

Step 3: Open System Preferences --> Network


In the Network panel in System Preferences, select your Airport connection and click "Advanced."

Step 4: Configure TCP/IP


Choose the TCP/IP tab. Select "Using DHCP with manual address" and set your IPv4 Address to

Step 5: Configure Proxies


Click the Proxies tab. Now, checkmark the "SOCKS Proxy" box and enter in the SOCKS Proxy server. After the colon, enter 1080 as the port number. Click OK and then hit the Apply button.

Step 6: Select Your Network on iPhone


In your iPhone's Settings app, choose the network you created and hit the blue arrow.

Step 7: Configure Static Settings


Hit the Static tab and enter for the IP address.

Step 8: Disable Sleep


Don't let your iPhone sleep, because you'll get disconnected. In iPhone's settings, go to General-->Auto-Lock and set it to "Never."

Step 9: Open NetShare


Now open NetShare and run Safari on your Mac. You should be able to start browsing the web.

Step 10 (Optional): Confirm Connection


If you want to double check whether you're connected, load Terminal (in the Utilities folder) on your Mac and type "ping" If you see some activity, you're all set.

Stealth destroyer defenseless says Admiral


Two weeks ago, the Navy canceled plans to build the rest of its hulking stealth destroyers. At first, it looked like the DDG-1000s' $5-billion-a-copy price tag to blame. Now, it appears the real reason has slipped out: The Navy's most advanced warship is all but defenseless against one of its most common threats.

We already knew that the older, cheaper, Burke-class destroyers (pictured) are better able to fight off anti-ship missiles -- widely considered the most deadly (and most obvious) hazard to the American fleet. Specifically, the old Burkes can shoot down those missiles using special SM-3 interceptors; the new DDG-1000 cannot.

But now, a leading figure in the Navy, Deputy Chief of Naval Operations (and Vice Admiral) Barry McCullough, is saying that the DDG-1000 "cannot perform area air defense" at all. Never mind the SM-3; the ship isn't designed to fire any kind of long-range air-defense missile, whatsoever. It's presumably limited to the same last-ditch "point defense" systems (Phalanx guns and short-range missiles) that cargo ships, aircraft carriers and even Coast Guard cutters carry in case a missile slips past their screening Burkes. Those point defenses can't intercept ballistic missiles at all -- and when they destroy sea-skimming missiles, the debris can still strike and severely damage the ship.

In other words, the world's most expensive surface warship can't properly defend itself or other ships from an extremely widespread threat. That, needless to say, is a problem. Not only is the DDG-1000 vulnerable to the ballistic anti-ship missiles that countries such as China are developing, it wouldn't even be particularly effective against common weapons in the arsenals of everyone from Russia to Iran. And it's not like this was some kind of new threat; these missiles have been around, in one form or another, since World War II.

If that wasn't bad enough, the Navy has been saying all along that the DDG-1000 can fire at least some of Raytheon's missile-killing Standard Missiles. In other words, according to the inestimable Galrahn over at Information Dissemination, "the Navy has been delivering a lunchbag of bullshit to Congress regarding surface combatants for three years."

In a 2005 presentation, for instance, the Navy claimed the ship would have a "3X survivability rate" against anti-ship missiles and other threats. The service asserted that the destroyer's new SPY-3 radar would give it a "15X greater detection capability against sea-skimming targets," a "10X increase in maximum track capacity," and a "20% greater firm track range against all anti-ship cruise missiles (improves survivability)." Of course, the fanciest radar in the world doesn't do much good, if there's no way to respond to the threat.

A Navy source tells Defense News that the new destroyers "could carry and launch Standard missiles, but the DDG 1000 combat system cant guide those missiles onward to a target."

And that's not the only flim-flam going on here. For years, the Navy insisted that the DDG-1000 was absolutely crucial, because it could whack targets on land, from far-off at sea. It always seemed like an odd argument; could planes hit those targets just as effectively? But the Navy stuck to it -- repeatedly. Now: Never mind. "With the accelerated advancement of precision munitions and targeting, excess fires capacity already exists from tactical aviation," Adm. McCullough says. Tell us something we didn't already know.

Arsenal_72_2There may be additional threats, as well. Defense News is reporting that the Navy has announced that there's a new "classified threat" against which older Burke-class destroyers are better defended.

One source familiar with the classified briefing said that while anti-ship cruise missiles and other threats were known to exist,those aren't the worst.The new threat, which­ didn't exist a couple years ago,is a land-launched ballistic missile that converts to a cruise missile. Other sources confirmed that a new, classified missile threat is being briefed at very high levels. One admiral, said another source, was told his ships should simply ­stay away. There are no options. Information on the new threat remains closely held.

In light of this, Galrahn says, the DDG-1000 is little more than a renamed, gold-plated version of a shipbuilding scheme that seemingly died more than a decade ago. That would be the 1990s "Arsenal Ship" concept (pictured), which would have put hundreds of land-attack missiles in a simple, cheap, mostly defenseless hull -- perhaps based on a cargo ship. The Arsenal Ship idea eventually was replaced by the Navy's four new SSGN submarines that each carry more than 100 cruise missiles and don't need anti-air missiles, since they can submerge.

"The Navy has not only kept the Arsenal Ship concept alive and well, but they evolved the program from 6 small dependent combatants into a class of 7 independent stealth battleships, then had the program funded and pushed through Congress in plain sight under the pretext of a more capable program," Galrahn writes.

That's insider-speak for a simple truth: The Navy screwed up its premiere ship-building project, big time.

Toyota Winglet personal transporter


Only a year after taking control of Sony's robotics business, Toyota has come up with a vertical, mechanized scooter (or personal transporter, in future-speak) intended to help people move about in public areas.

Called the Winglet because of its fleet nature, it is the first gadget to duplicate the celebrated, and often mocked, navigation system of Dean Kamen's Segway Transporter: self-balancing through gyroscopic sensors detecting the gentle directional tilts of a rider.

However, this personal scooter is probably not up to par to the Segway in speed or ruggedness. The newest Segway model can go up to 12.5 miles per hour (versus the Winglet's 3.7 MPH), and the slightness of the Winglet's frame probably wouldn't survive a Police chase.


According to Toyota, they will begin testing three different models at a few Japanese airports later this year, as well as some popular malls. The feedback received from customers will help determine whether Toyota will mass-market the gadget for sales everywhere else.

Last year, Sony decided to sell off most of its robotics division in order to streamline its overflowing number of product departments (killing off the Aibo dog in the process), and Toyota stepped in to keep pushing the technology.

Check out the Winglet in action after the jump.

Video Microblogging

Credit: Technology Review

In late July, a startup called 12seconds launched an early version of a product that lets people publicly post 12-second-long videos on the Internet about what they are doing. Using a Web camera or a cell-phone video camera, people record themselves doing anything--watching a football game at a bar, telling jokes, buying new shoes, playing with their child--and can upload it immediately to the Web, where others who subscribe to their videos get the update.

12seconds borrows heavily from the concepts of Twitter, an increasingly popular tool for so-called microblogging, in which people write pithy, 140-character updates on the status of their daily lives. A posted "tweet" can be published on Twitter's main page and sent directly to people who are following the person who posted. While initially laughed off as a waste of time, Twitter, founded in 2006, has slowly been gaining traction as more and more people and companies are finding it a useful way to quickly share information with a broad audience.

"Microblogging is really starting to take off," says Sol Lipman, founder of 12seconds. But in some instances, he says, short text updates just aren't as compelling as video. "I think video as a medium is significantly more engaging than text," Lipman notes. "If I'm at the bar with my friends, I want to show us having fun at the bar, not just text it."

The startup, based in San Francisco, was founded about five months ago and has no outside funding. Its ranks fluctuate between seven and ten people, depending on the workload, and about five of those employees work part time, says Lipman. 12seconds launched its "alpha" version of the product (alpha versions typically have fewer features than beta versions) on July 24, by providing four popular blogs, including TechCrunch, with 500 invitations to give out to their readers. Those invitations were snapped up quickly, says Lipman, leading to 7000 video uploads in just the first few days. In the coming weeks, the company will dole out additional invitations to the long queue of people turned away from the first round.

It's unsurprising that 12seconds has had such immediate small-scale success. Millions of people use Twitter, and many of them are interested in testing out new ways to update their status. Liz Lawley, a Twitter user and director of the Lab of Social Computing at Rochester Institute of Technology, says that she has seen a growing number of Twitter posts with links to 12seconds videos.

Infosys's sensor network turns stores into mini-Internets

Credit: Technology Review

Infosys may have solved a $100 billion problem for companies in the retail business: how to tell whether their promotions really work. In the process, Infosys has also created the potential for stores and consumer-goods companies to track things like traffic and inventory in real time.

Consumers like Procter & Gamble and the retailers they sell through spend more than $100 billion per year to promote products in stores, according to Forrester Research. They pay fees for shelf space in stores, including premiums to have their products at eye level. They pay for special promotion stands. And although they pay for armies of checkers to see whether retailers follow through on the deals, it's a system fraught with error, says Forrester analyst George Lawrie.

"Stores make lots and lots of mistakes," Lawrie says, noting that at many retail stores, the people who stock the shelves may have little or no interaction with the people who make the promotional deals. "In the big brands, the CFOs know they've had to hand these funds over to be eye level on aisle number one, and they don't know if it's really happening, and they're beginning to start to ask if the stores can prove it."

So Infosys, which counts 12 of the world's 20 largest retailers among its current customers, has developed ShoppingTrip 360, a hosted software application that can track shoppers and inventory, using wireless sensors placed on shelving, promotional displays, and shopping carts. The sensors, which use the 802.15.4 wireless protocol to connect to each other in a mesh network, can send information such as where shoppers stop in a store, what products they pick up, what they put back, what they put in their cart, and whether a product is out of stock. Infosys has also developed an application to let consumers in the store use their cell phones to get information such as store maps, or to access an online shopping list or collection of recipes.

"This, we believe, is the next wave of innovation in the retail space," says Infosys cofounder and CEO S. "Kris" Gopalakrishnan. He notes the push by retailers in the 1970s and '80s to develop electronic data interchange, as well as the 1990s push into e-commerce. He says that Infosys is trying to usher in the in-store Internet.

Retailers and consumer-goods makers typically get data on a daily basis, from point-of-sale scanners. Getting better data about product sales was a big reason why retailers like Wal-Mart and Target pushed radio frequency identification (RFID) technology, minuscule radio chips that were expected to replace the bar code on individual products. But RFID chips remain too costly to be ubiquitous, and Lawrie says that they may never be. He says that the cost of the chips, coupled with the substantial amount that retailers would have to spend to outfit their stores to work with the chips, have limited interest in RFID.

What's more, RFID raises privacy concerns that ShoppingTrip 360 might not. Infosys says that its system is completely anonymous, unless the consumer agrees via cell phone to tell the system who he or she is (and consumers can opt to identify themselves based on just their shopping-cart number). Infosys says that it will pay to install the sensors in stores, charging retailers only for the data that they want to use.

"I'm charging to tell them when stocks are reduced by a certain percentage, or when a consumer redeems a coupon through their mobile phone," says Sandeep Dadlani, global head of sales for Infosys's retail unit.

Exactly what the data will cost is not yet determined, says Gopalakrishnan. He says that Infosys is piloting the system at a number of large retailers in the United States, Europe, and Asia. Girish Ramachandra, head of the innovations practice for the Infosys retail unit, says that it is no harder to install its wireless sensors than to set up a wireless router in a home. Initially, it will take a week per store to deploy and test the system.

Infosys says that it is ready to offer three things: "heat maps" of stores that show levels of inventory, levels of inventory at the fronts of shelves, and concentrations of shoppers in the store; a smart shelf pad with a built-in wireless sensor that is powered by the store's lights; and a shop-by-cell phone option, which lets consumers get recommendations or coupons on their phones.

Infosys thinks that there will be many other applications it can develop for the system, such as a "perpetual checkout" service that would let shoppers ring up their goods as they put them in their carts, allowing them to walk out of the store when they are finished shopping. For apparel retailers, the company is developing smart mirrors that will recommend combinations of clothing and automatically notify salespeople to bring things for shoppers to try on. Infosys could develop an application to let stores employ the sensor networks to manage energy usage. And it intends to open its development platform so that other companies can create applications for the service as well.

Forrester's Lawrie says that without seeing the system in action in a store, it's too early to say how well it will work. But if the system works as promised, he says, "this would be a huge breakthrough."

A cool fuel cell

larger text tool icon

Conductive crystals: A scanning transmission electron microscope image shows the crystal structure of a new electrolyte material for solid-oxide fuel cells that works well at room temperature.
Credit: Jacobo Santamaria

A new electrolyte for solid-oxide fuel cells, made by researchers in Spain, operates at temperatures hundreds of degrees lower than those of conventional electrolytes, which could help make such fuel cells more practical.

Jacobo Santamaria, of the applied-physics department at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid, in Spain, and his colleagues have modified a yttria-stabilized zirconia electrolyte, a common type of electrolyte in solid-oxide fuel cells, so that it works at just above room temperature. Ordinarily, such electrolytes require temperatures of more than 700 °C. Combined with improvements to the fuel-cell electrodes, this could lower the temperature at which these fuel cells operate.

Solid-oxide fuel cells are promising for next-generation power plants because they are more efficient than conventional generators, such as steam turbines, and they can use a greater variety of fuels than other fuel cells. They can generate electricity with gasoline, diesel, natural gas, and hydrogen, among other fuels. But the high temperatures required for efficient operation make solid-oxide fuel cells expensive and limit their applications. The low-temperature electrolyte reported by the Spanish researchers could be a "tremendous improvement" for solid-oxide fuel cells, says Eric Wachsman, director of the Florida Institute for Sustainable Energy, at the University of Florida.

In a solid-oxide fuel cell, oxygen is fed into one electrode, and fuel is fed into the other. The electrolyte allows oxygen ions to migrate from one electrode to the other, where they combine with the fuel; in the simplest case, in which hydrogen is the fuel, this produces water and releases electrons. The electrolyte prevents the electrons from traveling directly back to the oxygen side of the fuel cell, forcing them instead to travel through an external circuit, generating electricity. Via this circuitous route, they eventually find their way to the oxygen electrode, where they combine with oxygen gas to form oxygen ions, perpetuating the cycle.

The electrolyte--which is a solid material--typically only conducts ions at high temperatures. Santamaria, drawing on earlier work by other researchers, found that the ionic conductivity at low temperatures could be greatly improved by combining layers of the standard electrolyte materials with 10-nanometer-thick layers of strontium titanate. He found that, because of the differences in the crystal structures of the materials, a large number of oxygen vacancies--places within the crystalline structures of the materials that would ordinarily host an oxygen atom--formed where these two materials meet. These vacancies form pathways that allow the oxygen ions to move through the material, improving the conductivity of the materials at room temperature by a factor of 100 million.

The material is still some way from being incorporated into commercial fuel cells. For one thing, the large improvement in ionic conductivity will require further verification, Wachsman says, especially in light of the difficulty of measuring the performance of extremely thin materials. Second, the direction of the improved conductivity--along the plane of the material rather than perpendicular to it--will require a redesign of today's fuel cells. What's more, the limiting factor for the temperature in fuel cells now is the electrode materials. Before room temperature solid-oxide fuel cells are possible, these will also need to be improved.

Yet if initial results are confirmed by future research, the new materials will represent a significant advance. Ivan Schuller, a professor of physics at the University of California, San Diego, says that this represents a major change in the performance of electrolytes. He adds, "It will surely motivate much new work by others."

Say I'm Inside the Large Hadron Collider and It's Revving Up. Should I Be Concerned?

When functioning properly, radiation levels in the LHC's tunnel will be equivalent to a CT scan: Photo by CERN

Well, it's never a great idea to stand next to a machine that could create black holes, but the magnets that steer the proton beams around the planet's most powerful particle accelerator would probably spare you from excess radiation. Then again, there is the off chance that some 300 trillion protons could erupt from the device and kill you on the spot.

Even though the LHC's twin beams will travel in protective isolation through 17-mile-long, two-inch-wide pipes sucked to a near-perfect vacuum, some of those protons—potentially billions—will inevitably wander off the track. When they do, they will slam into the magnets that steer and focus the beam, or hit other hardware, gas molecules or protons. These collisions will generate a mess of secondary radioactive particles, explains Mike Lamont, an LHC machine coordinator, filling the tunnel with a field of radiation roughly equivalent to that of a full-body CT scan. That's not a dangerous amount of radiation to be exposed to for a few minutes, but longer than that, and you might suffer some cellular damage. (It's important to note, though, that the security measures in place at the LHC make it virtually impossible to sneak into the tunnel when the beam is on.)

If engineers were to lose control of the beam, however, watch out. The beam is only one millimeter wide, yet it contains 320 trillion protons moving just shy of the speed of light. (That gives it about the same momentum as a 400-ton train speeding at 95 mph.) It would plow through the magnets and unleash a fatal cascade of high-energy particles and radiation.

And that's just if you were near a runaway beam. If you stood in its way, it would burn a hole right into you, Lamont says. "A human body wouldn't stand a chance."

More on the 09 WRX

First Look: 2009 Subaru Impreza WRX

By Andrew Strieber

By the time it reached U.S. shores in 2002, the Subaru Impreza WRX already had a global reputation as a champion rally car and, more important, a seriously fun drive. That tradition continued as the hot hatch (and sedan) virtually created the American sport-compact market, helping inspire Mitsubishi to bring over its Lancer Evolution, VW to create a sharpened GTI, and Mazda to introduce the MazdaSpeed3. Following years of success Subaru introduced an all-new WRX for 2008, which featured among other things a new platform, more compliant suspension, nicer interior, and 10-percent-better fuel economy. All grown up and easier to live with, opinions on the next-gen WRX were split, as some liked the changes while others felt it had gone soft, abandoning its heritage. However, there was one thing everyone could agree on -- the 2008 Impreza WRX was in serious need of more power.

Despite the new model's myriad changes, surprisingly Subaru decided to leave the previous WRX's 2.5-liter boxer four-cylinder engine and all-wheel drive system virtually unchanged. Though still wicked fast and eager to rev, with just 224 hp on tap the Rex was seriously outgunned by some of its competition. At least it was until now -- for 2009, the automaker has taken its rally rocket to finishing school, giving it a sharper suspension, more aggressive styling, summer tires for better grip, and most important, a serious dose of extra horsepower.

Subaru says its goal when developing the 2009 Impreza WRX was called "Kyo-Ka," which loosely means "strengthening" in Japanese. So to strengthen the car's performance, engineers started off by fitting it with a bigger turbocharger, a larger-diameter exhaust, and low-density catalyst for reduced backpressure. Combined, these extras manage to boost the 2.5L turbo four's output to an impressive 265 hp and 244 lb-ft of torque, an improvement of 41 hp and 18 lb-ft over the 2008 model, respectively. This puts the standard WRX on par with a MazdaSpeed3 and closer to EVO territory (though with a 30-hp deficit that fight is still reserved for the STI), but more important, it blows the doors off the new Lancer Ralliart, which only manages 237 hp.

WRXs have always been willing partners for canyon carving, but Subaru's '08 redesign received a fair amount of criticism for making the car softer and less performance-oriented. To rectify this, Subaru gave the 2009 Impreza WRX a significant suspension retuning, increasing spring rates from 26.5 N/mm to 38 N/mm up front and to 34 N/mm from 24 N/mm in the rear. The car's double-wishbone rear suspension and rigid chassis remain the same, but the front upper-strut mounts are now borrowed from the track-ready STI, the diameter of the stabilizer bars is greater in the front and rear, and a new damper valve on the steering gearbox helps turn-in feel smooth and sharp. Another problem called out by enthusiasts was the '08 Impreza WRX's choice of rubber -- originally fitted with relatively narrow 17-inch all season wheels, this year the Rex comes standard with wider (225mm), lower-profile summer tires, though the overall size remains the same. Additionally, the automaker's Vehicle Dynamics Control stability and traction control systems are now standard across the Impreza line.

Like all Subarus, the 2009 Impreza lineup retains its signature symmetrical drivetrain layout and all-wheel drive, and standard models employ an active torque-split system with an electronically managed continuously variable transfer clutch, distributing power to all four wheels based on acceleration, deceleration, and available traction. As before the WRX employs a slightly different, simpler setup, using a viscous coupling locking center differential to split torque 50/50 between the front and rear wheels. When the car loses traction, power is diverted to the ones with more grip.

Keeping with its new, hard-core theme, Subaru also gave the Impreza WRX sedan and five-door a host of sharp styling upgrades inside and out. 2009 cars feature a new, STI-esque grille, a standard Aero package, front and rear under-bumper spoilers and side ground effects, while WRX sedans receive a low-profile trunk spoiler, and five-door models get the STI's rear spoiler and diffuser. The area between the tail lights is body colored on the hatch and chrome on the sedan, while other distinctions between the two carry over from 2008, such as clear tail-lamp lenses versus red and a single, large tailpipe or dual exhaust. Inside the WRX gets a new dose of sportiness, too -- the seats boast carbon black-checkered upholstery accented with red stitching, which also graces the leather steering wheel. In addition, the aluminum pedal covers are joined by a similarly finished driver's footrest, the instrument panel has electroluminescent gauges similar to the STI, and the optional Premium Package now includes a power moonroof.

The 2008 Impreza WRX represented a major leap forward over its predecessor, featuring more comfortable appointments, new tech, and advanced safety features. With the 2009 version going more extreme, Subaru also wanted to make sure that those who liked the car's softer qualities didn't get left out. With that in mind the automaker is releasing an entirely new model called the Impreza 2.5GT, which features the same 2.5L turbo four from last year's WRX under the hood. Lacking the new WRX's revised spring rates and available only with a four-speed automatic transmission, the 2009 Impreza 2.5GT is only good for 224 hp and 226 lb-ft -- but that's still just 13 horses shy of a Lancer Ralliart.

When the kinder, gentler Impreza WRX was introduced last year, it looked like the current sport-compact king might cede its crown to faster, edgier competitors from Mazda and Mitsubishi. But with more power, a stiffer suspension, and a host of improvements to give it a harder look and feel, the 2009 Impreza WRX is thankfully starting to return to its street-legal rally car roots. Add to that a new, separate model catering to drivers who prefer a little more comfort mixed with their speed, and it's safe to say that Subaru is back in the game.