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Businessweek Archives

3 D Images That You Can Step Into

Developments to Watch

3-D Images That You Can Step Into

The tentacles, spears, rocks, and other objects that jut out at you in 3-D IMAX theaters are first-rate illusions. But the spectacle is canned and grows less realistic if you move around the theater. You see exactly the same image regardless of where you sit. And you can't interact with the objects.

There are no such constraints in a new virtual-reality theater at Iowa State University. You can walk around a 3-D simulation of a tornado, for example, view it from all sides, and even step inside. In this 10x10x10-foot wireless environment, a computer generates the pictures, which are projected on all four walls, the floor, and the ceiling. The images on these panels serve as backdrops for 3-D objects that materialize in space.

Like IMAX theaters, this one creates 3-D objects by projecting separate images to the right and left lenses of the virtual reality goggles that each visitor wears. But here, the VR environment tracks you in real time by means of sensors on the goggles, which interact with the theater's pulsed magnetic field. The computer knows where you are looking, and tailors your view of the world.Edited by Neil GrossReturn to top

Are Those Teeth Growing in That Petri Dish?

Here's a reason to smile: Researchers at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio are learning how to grow teeth from just a few specialized cells. Ultimately, they hope to hijack the genes involved in tooth formation to regrow lost or diseased molars and incisors precisely at the spot in the mouth where they belong. Although it could be 20 years before such high-tech dentistry becomes a reality, preliminary experiments have already yielded some exciting results: teeth grown in a lab dish.

About 113 million American adults are missing at least one tooth. An additional 19 million have no teeth at all. To help such patients, dentists typically make replacement teeth out of porcelain or amalgam--a mixture of silver, tin, copper, and mercury. Although these materials make good stopgaps, they are generally not as durable as the bone that makes up natural teeth. The materials can also result in inflammation or infection at the implantation site. And, in most cases, the patient must submit to tedious and costly procedures.

As proposed by Mary MacDougall, the lead "tooth fairy," tooth regrowth would bypass all that. She has engineered mouse and human cells to make the hard, mineralized tissues of the teeth, including dentin and enamel. By adding chemicals that stimulate tooth formation to dishes of these specialized cells, she has grown a garden of mouse teeth in the laboratory. MacDougall is currently trying to repeat the work with human teeth.By Ellen Licking; Edited by Neil GrossReturn to top

A "Bridge" Chip Gives Intel a Black Eye

Chipmaker Intel Corp. is pulling the plug on an engineering fiasco that has cost it $253 million and produced considerable public embarrassment. The company is abandoning efforts to fix a buggy chip that it designed to translate between two different techniques for connecting computer memory to microprocessors. Instead, Intel is telling PC makers that they have to use just one of the memory schemes, a speedy technology from Rambus Corp.

The story of the so-called Memory Translation Hub, or MTH, dates back several years. Looking to boost the performance of PCs, Intel adopted Rambus technology, which links processors and memory at four times the speed of other approaches. The trouble was that chips based on Rambus technology were expensive and in short supply. When PC makers balked, Intel came up with the MTH chip, as a bridge to older memory chips.

Four months after the translation chip started shipping last November, PC makers reported failures in systems using it. The cause turned out to be an esoteric bug that occurred only under rare conditions. But the damage was done: About one million motherboards had to be recalled. And a new, low-cost processor code-named Timna, which uses the translation capability, has been postponed six months until 2001. Intel's financial results probably won't suffer. The chipmaker's bruised ego is another matter.By Andy Reinhardt; Edited by Neil GrossReturn to top

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