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Businessweek Archives

Putting All Radios On The Same Wavelength

Developments to Watch


FOR DECADES, THE MOBILE RADIOS used by taxi dispatchers have been plagued by a problem that troubled older generations of computers: different makes were incompatible and couldn't "talk" to each other. For the computer world, change came with Intel-based PCs. Now Motorola Inc. has come up with what it hopes will be the PC of the radio world: digital modular radio.

The new device is a 40-pound digital computer with a radio transmitter and receiver built in. The radio's bandwidth, modulation, and other features can be reprogrammed so it can communicate with other radios. The U.S. Navy has said it will buy up to $337 million worth of the radios over five years.

While sales in the beginning will be confined to the military and public safety organizations, Durrell W. Hillis, senior vice-president at Motorola's Systems Solution Group, says that fleets of trucks, taxicabs, planes, and ships all could employ the technology.EDITED BY CATHERINE ARNSTReturn to top


A NEW ANALYSIS OF POPULATION, CLIMATE CHANGE, pollution, and disease concludes that mankind has nothing to fear but mankind itself. In a study published in the October edition of the journal BioScience, a team of researchers from Cornell University report that 40% of the world's deaths are due to human degradation of the environment.

David Pimentel, an agricultural sciences professor at Cornell, headed a team of 11 researchers who analyzed data from a variety of international sources, including the U.N.'s World Health Organization and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. He acknowledges that the data are not exact, noting that it is difficult to "decide whether death is from malnutrition or a waterborne disease." But his team, says Pimentel, stuck strictly to the death classifications used by official government bodies. Among their conclusions:

-- Cigarette smoking causes 3 million deaths worldwide each year, with two-thirds in developing countries.

-- About 3 million human pesticide poisonings are reported globally each year, leading to some 220,000 deaths.

-- Smoke from indoor cooking fires causes the death of an estimated 4 million children a year globally.

-- Lack of sanitary conditions contributes to approximately 2 billion diarrhea infections and 4 million deaths annually.

-- There are 1.2 billion people in developing nations that lack clean water, and waterborne infections account for 90% of all infectious diseases in those countries.

-- An estimated 1.7 million children in the U.S. have dangerously high levels of lead in their blood.

-- Radon radiation in the U.S. is considered a significant cause of lung cancer, leading to 14,000 deaths a year.

Pimentel says humans are, more than ever, living in crowded urban centers that are ideal for the spread of disease, exacerbated by malnutrition and an unprecedented increase in air and water pollution.EDITED BY CATHERINE ARNSTReturn to top


THREE PROFESSORS AT THE UNIVERSITY OF NEW MEXICO AT ALBUQUERQUE have come up with a fast, portable method for testing bacteria such as E. coli and salmonella in meat and produce before the food hits supermarket shelves--and not a moment too soon. Some 9,000 Americans die each year from food contamination, a circumstance that caused President Clinton to issue an executive order in August requiring improved inspection efforts.

Right now, tests of perishable food are far too time-consuming. The most common method places food samples in high heat in a laboratory until the bacteria multiply to the point where they can be easily spotted with a microscope, a process that takes about 48 hours. By the time the results are known, the tested products are on store shelves.

Ebtisam Wilkins, Plamen Atanasov, and Andrey Ghilindis, chemical engineering professors at the University of New Mexico, have come up with a shoebox-size device that they say detects contamination in 10 to 20 minutes. It is based on a chemical test, called ELISA, that uses antibodies to detect bacteria. The antibodies are attached to enzymes that can be quickly detected and counted electronically. BioDetect Inc. in Albuquerque has licensed the detector and expects to have it ready for market in two years, at a price of about $1,500.EDITED BY CATHERINE ARNSTReturn to top

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