Developments to Watch
-- Mechanical engineers at the University of Illinois at Chicago are building a virtual factory (above). By donning special glasses and gazing at 4-by-6-foot displays laid out like drafting tables, plant managers in different cities will be able to convene, inspect moving machinery, and share 360-degree views from any location on the factory floor.
-- NEC Corp. has built a snakelike inspection robot that will slither through the rubble of collapsed buildings to find survivors. An "active universal joint" allows up-down and left-right movement for each of the snake's segments.
-- Catheters and endoscopes let doctors peek inside patients' bodies. But one day, computer software could provide new glimpses noninvasively. Pennsylvania State University electrical engineer William E. Higgins and VIDA Technologies Inc. in Iowa City, Iowa, are creating moving images of patients' airways and digestive tracts by digitally compiling data from CT scans.EDITED BY NEIL GROSS