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A Watch That Keeps Watch On The Elderly

A new wristwatch targeted at the elderly does more than tell time. The device, from tech startup Exmovere, uses an infrared laser to measure heart rate and other vital signs. The watch also extracts clues about the wearer's emotional state based on pulse rate, sweat levels, movement patterns, and other physiological signs. Using wireless and location-based technologies (Bluetooth and global positioning systems), the watch automatically syncs with a nearby PC, a cell phone, or an optional pocket PC for use while driving, which then sends e-mail or text message updates to family members on the device that they choose.

"We wanted to automate caregiving for busy people," said David Bychkov, a retired professor of psychophysiology and president of Exmovere. He fine-tuned the watch with the help of 400 elderly product testers. Exmovere recently launched a mass-market version, starting at $1,193 for six months of service. The company will launch a more upscale model within two months as well as a watch for soldiers on active duty.

As any patient with hepatitis C can attest, the standard treatment often feels more dreadful than the virus itself. The drug, called interferon, causes severe flu-like symptoms. What's more, "it's very expensive, and it only works 50% of the time," says Kathy Ordo?ez, president of Celera Genomics (CRA), in Rockville, Md. Now scientists at the company, which is famous for mapping the human genome, are offering a way for doctors to determine which patients would benefit most from the drug.

Comparing the genomes of patients who developed progressive liver disease with those of patients who did not, Celera identified a set of genetic markers. This resulted in a test that reveals how likely a patient with hep C will be to develop cirrhosis, which can lead to liver cancer. Called the Cirrhosis Risk Score, the test could save the health-care system $28 million each year by letting physicians avoid liver biopsies. Targeting treatments to the highest-risk patients could add to those savings, Celera says.

There are plenty of fun things people might do on their cell phones if network speeds were a faster. Kids, in particular, would probably be watching more video clips, downloading more songs, and spending more time updating their pages on MySpace (NWS). Phones that can take advantage of Wi-Fi already cater to this market, but you have to muck around with access codes and other complications.

Tiny Azaire Networks says it has a device cellular operators could use to make this process a lot simpler. Once the device is installed on the network, cell phones would automatically sense that they were in a Wi-Fi hotspot and switch the handset from cellular frequency to much faster Wi-Fi speeds. The next step is persuading U.S. network operators to sign on. Azaire already has deals with carriers in Europe, Asia, and Australia, but so far, the U.S. is a harder sell.

-- In a step that could reduce the use of energy-intensive, man-made fertilizers, plant scientists are helping crops form their own minuscule fertilizer factories. In nature, legumes such as peas and beans have the ability to convert nitrogen from the soil into a growth promoter. When their roots are exposed to soil bacteria known as rhizobia, the root cells grow nodules, which become home to a second kind of soil bacteria that can process nitrogen for the plant. Now geneticists in Britain and Denmark have fiddled with legume genes to get them to form root nodules without any help from rhizobia. If the responsible gene can be swapped into wheat and rice, cereal crops may someday be able to create a welcoming home for fertilizer-making bugs.

-- Boston to Seattle for $3, not including food and lodging? That's what a cross-country trek would cost if you drove the winner of last month's Supermileage race in Marshall, Mich., sponsored by the Society of Automotive Engineers. Built by students at the University of British Columbia in Canada, this year's winner can go 3,134 miles on one gallon of gas. More go-cart than SUV, the three-wheeler relies on ultralight materials, sculpted aerodynamics, and a 54cc engine to max out mileage.

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