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Businessweek Archives

Surfing On Shock Waves

Developments to Watch


AVIATION ENTHUSIASTS attending the Experimental Aircraft Assn. show in Oshkosh, Wis., earlier this month got a special treat: NASA and the Air Force rolled out a model of the futuristic LoFlyte Mach 5 Waverider. This is the first plane designed to go five times the speed of sound and survive the extreme stress of a hypersonic shock wave--by actually riding on top of the wave. By comparison, the current speed champ--the Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird--tops out at just over Mach 3, or 2,194 mph.

The current Waverider is only an eight-foot-long, remote-controlled model, and it won't even attempt to set any new records. Instead, it will be used to determine whether an aircraft designed to skip along atop a hypersonic shock wave is also stable enough at low speeds to take off and land safely. NASA will begin the testing in a couple of weeks. If all goes well, a 23-foot piloted prototype will be next.

Because the Waverider will be tricky to fly, the pilot will need the help of a "smart" control system, and Accurate Automation Corp. in Chattanooga, Tenn., has developed one that uses neural networks. By emulating primitive brain circuits, neural networks learn from experience. The system will handle "upsets" that require instant correction--things no human could react to quickly enough. Mississippi State University's Raspet Flight Research Laboratory built the airframe, and SWB Turbines in Appleton, Wis., supplied the jet engine.EDITED BY OTIS PORTReturn to top


OFFICE WORKERS ON LOCAL-area networks usually get flagged when E-mail arrives. But people working at home aren't so lucky. To find out if there's a new item in their mailboxes, they typically have to fire up a modem or leave a phone line continuously open.

Next month, there will be a new option: AirMedia Live from Ex Machina, a software house in New York. Working with CompuServe Inc. and various Internet suppliers, AirMedia will broadcast news alerts to small receivers plugged into PCs. Arriving news flashes--from real-time stock quotes to sports scores to headlines from Reuters--will cause icons to pop up on the screen.

Narrow-band wireless transmissions can't carry a great deal of information. But the icons will work like the ones found on the World Wide Web. Click on one and the computer will dial into the Internet and go to the appropriate site.

AirMedia is planning to give away basic services, including market updates, while charging about $5 a month for a basket of others. Receivers will run about $150.EDITED BY OTIS PORT By Neil GrossReturn to top


THE CHORE OF SEARCHING for new medicines has just gotten easier. A new instrument called Discovery, from Packard Instrument Co. in Meriden, Conn., can screen 50,000 potential drugs a day--five times more than existing technology. The system, which is the size of two file drawers, does not require the radioactive isotopes that are now widely used.

Candidate drug molecules are currently coated with an isotope, and any interaction with a target pathogen or molecule is signaled by minute changes in radioactivity. But Packard's Discovery tool uses phosphorescent chemicals patented by CIS, a French biotech company. A positive effect immediately shows up as a glow, which cuts screening time by 80% or more. Packard has already sold units to a few drugmakers, including Bristol-Myers Squibb, Rhone-Poulenc, and Zeneca Pharmaceuticals.EDITED BY OTIS PORT By Susan JacksonReturn to top

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