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Businessweek Archives

Two Way Tv Via The Phone Lines

Developments to Watch


TELECOMMUNICATIONS companies have been searching for years for a means of delivering two-way, broadcast-quality video to desktops and TV sets without having to install expensive new cabling systems. Several schemes under development would transmit interactive TV over the standard copper wires that run into most homes and offices, but the broadcasts are often of inferior quality.

Objective Communications Inc. in Chantilly, Va., thinks it has a better way. It has patented a signal-processing technology, VidModem, that can provide simultaneous two-way video, data, and voice transmissions to a personal computer over the same copper wires already in place for phone calls. Targeted for businesses, the technology can be routed through the office switchboard.

The trick: VidModem transmits via an FM signal rather than the AM signals used to distribute most TV programming through cable or over the airwaves. FM is not as susceptible as AM to interference and distortion but needs 24 megahertz of bandwidth, while copper wires can only carry 20 Mhz. VidModem compresses the FM signal using a modulation system similar to that used in AM broadcasts. Objective Communications President Steven A. Rogers says the company expects to start shipping a commercial system by yearend.EDITED BY CATHERINE ARNSTReturn to top


JUST ABOUT ANYONE WITH A high-tech bent knows about the Westinghouse Science Talent Search, which annually awards a $40,000 scholarship as its top prize. But the 48-year-old International Science & Engineering Fair is relatively unknown, even though it has 1,000 times more competitors. ISEF isn't restricted to U.S. high school seniors. At this year's fair, which runs from May 10 through May 16 in Louisville, 1,200 budding scientists from 40-odd countries will strut their stuff. They're the cream of some 5 million students in grades 9 to 12 who competed in 500 state and national fairs.

Intel Corp. figures it's high time to upgrade the ISEF's image--and get more kids interested in science and engineering. The chipmaker is donating $1 million a year, partly to boost the top awards to $3,000 in each of 15 categories, ranging from biochemistry and computer science to physics and zoology. Recently, the fattest prizes were $500.

Intel has been a modest ISEF booster since 1992. The decision to up the ante was due largely to the zeal of Eugene S. Meieran, an Intel Fellow and perpetual ISEF judge. Intel's reward: Now the competition bears a name at least as illustrious as Westinghouse. Starting this year, it's the Intel ISEF.EDITED BY CATHERINE ARNST Otis PortReturn to top


FULL-SERVICE GAS STATIONS are a vanishing breed. But in the next few weeks, a Shell station in Sacramento, Calif., will begin testing what may be the next best thing: a smart gas pump. All that Shell's 500 test drivers will have to do is pull up beside the pump. Without leaving the car, they'll swipe a credit card or Shell debit card through a card reader and choose a grade of gas. A dispenser on a telescopic arm will then swoop down and fill 'er up.

To work right, the system requires some adjustments to the car. A small transmitter--similar to "E-Z" tags used on toll roads--must be mounted on the windshield. This tells the pump what model the car is, so it knows where the tank is located. The pump's arm can open the fuel door on most new car models. But it can't deal with removable gas caps. So drivers will have to replace those with new caps that have spring-loaded slots in the middle.

Shell hasn't decided what to charge for the new caps and transmitters. "It could be $5 or $15," says Marketing Vice-President Sam Morasca. Or Shell might decide to pick up the tab. Either way, he says, the new cap will work at conventional gas pumps as well. Nationwide testing should begin in early 1998.EDITED BY CATHERINE ARNST Neil GrossReturn to top

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