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Illustration by Emilio Rivera III.

Roll Your Own Robot
The truth about e-pets, Asian women snub the Net, and a first look at finger phones

It was cute when people programmed their Palms to change TV channels and hotwire the electronic door locks on luxury automobiles. But this incessant tinkering with a perfectly utilitarian personal digital assistant, or PDA, is getting out of, er, hand. Palm fetishists at Carnegie Mellon University have created the world's first PDA-powered robot — and posted step-by-step instructions on the Internet so that anyone with a soldering iron and $250 to blow on parts at the local hardware store can do likewise ( Mind you, an army of kitchen-table-built PDA-bots is unlikely to destroy Silicon Valley. By mating a Palm with three tiny wheels, optical sensors and servo motors from model airplanes, the university's Robotics Institute
spawned dim

Photographs by Asiaweek Pictures.

devices that can do little but whir around a room without bumping into walls. But researchers hope the exercise will help other developers build bots for real chores like dusting — hurrah! Another suggestion: Palms that wander conference rooms gathering virtual business cards. Anyone who has ever lost a pricey PDA should think twice before giving it instructions to run out and fetch a latte from the neighborhood coffee bar.

Asiaweek Pictures.
From the editors of Asiaweek.

Mod bod phone
NTT DoCoMo's prototype Whisper phone reminds us of a trip to the Ouija board. First you feel the vibrations. Then you hear the voice traveling through your body. Only this time it's not your deceased Uncle Walter (R.I.P.), it's a real live caller and you're listening to him through your finger. The wrist-mounted phone consists of a speaker pressed against your skin, a microphone facing outward that you talk into, and a device that converts audio signals into vibrations. Those vibrations travel through your bone and cartilage and into your ear via your finger. To answer the phone you just tap your thumb and index finger together. Eventually, dialing will also be a snap. Yeah, well, they laughed at the first "wrist clocks" too.

Illustration by Sonya O.Wu.
The net's female disconnect
It's a man's cyberworld, according to, a business-to-business website linking Asian and North American businesswomen. It says only 22% of the Internet users in the region are female — compared to the U.S., where more than half of all Netizens are women. Actually, some individual Asian nations are approaching that balance. Korean women represent 42% of the the Net users there. But in poorer countries, the figure is far smaller. Only 12% of the 15,000 members of Indonesia's largest businesswomen's association even have e-mail addresses. Given that Asia's workforce is close to 50% female, the gender divide could seriously hamper the region's productivity. And it's not necessarily the lowest-ranking workers who know the least. "Management-level women may sport fancy computers on their desks, but are often not comfortable or knowledgeable enough to use them," says Rosemary Brisco, CEO of WomenAsia. "If she's lucky, she has a secretary who prints out her e-mail so she can dictate a response." Brisco's solution: employer incentives and publicly-subsidized corporate training for women.

Upgrade unleashed
Aibo, left, until now the alpha male of the virtual pet pack, has met his match. Sony's new upgrade, named Aibo ERS-210 ("Sparky" was taken), has a bigger motion range and more touch sensors so it can express "intimate interaction with people." We hope that doesn't mean we'll be prying it off of our legs. The souped-up successor also can recognize up to 50 spoken words and imitate the intonation of human speech. And it has a digital camera in its nose. All those new tricks make Aibo Sr. look like one old dog. Perhaps it's time to take the ol' feller out back and — you know. Thing is, this new hotdog isn't even canine. It's modeled after a lion cub in an effort to make Aibo a unique creature. At $1,500 Sony is also trying to make the robot more affordable (the first model was $2,300). It reckons at that price folks will be lapping them up. Orders begin in Japan in November.

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