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19 March 2010

Trends

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A phone that lets boss snoop on staff A Japanese phone company has come up with a new technology that can track the most minimal movements of mobile phone users and beam the information back to HQ. KDDI Corporation, which has developed the technology, intends to offer the service to clients such as managers, foremen and employment agencies, or whoever may be interested in keeping in check the activities of their staff. “Technically, I think this is an incredibly important innovation,” the BBC News quoted Philip Sugai, director of the mobile consumer lab at the International University of Japan, as saying. “For example, when applied to the issue of telemedicine, or other situations in which remotely monitoring or accessing an individual’s personal movements is vital to that service... But there will surely be negative consequences when applied to employee tracking or salesforce optimisation”, he added. The new system uses analytical software to detect more complex behaviour, unlike sensor

systems. The software is held on a server back at base, to match patterns of common movements. For example, the KDDI mobile phone strapped to a cleaning worker's waist can tell the difference between actions performed such as scrubbing, sweeping, walking and even emptying a rubbish bin. Hiroyuki Yokoyama, head of web data research at KKDI’s research labs in Tokyo, said: “We are now at a stage where we can offer managers a chance to analyse more closely the behaviour of staff”. “Of course there are privacy issues and any employer should really enter into an agreement with employees before using such a system”, Yokoyama said. “But this is not about curtailing employees’ rights to privacy. We’d rather like to think our creation more of a caring, mothering system rather than a Big Brother approach to watching over citizens”. KDDI is presently in negotiation with a Japanese employment agency that gets jobs for

contract cleaners and security personnel. It is not the first time remote spying technology has been enlisted by employers to keep an eye on their workforce in Japan or elsewhere. Lorry drivers are regularly monitored through mobile phones in Japan, while salespeople have been regularly tracked by their employers using GPS since it was introduced to Japanese mobiles in 2002. Critics of such systems accuse the makers of pandering to an overcontrolling, Big Brother-type managerial class and say that with this new technology there comes the increased opportunity for abuse.

Grandma’s right: Hi-cal diet for son Learn parenting with baby robots London: In a finding that adds some credence to grandma’s tales that eat “bacon for boys”, a new research has found that taking a high-calorie diet during the period around conception increases the odds of having a boy from ten to 11 in every 20 births. According to Cheryl Rosenfeld of the University of Missouri, women who eat a full breakfast and a highfat diet at the time of conception are more likely to have a boy, while a low-fat diet with periods of long fasts favours girls. “High-calorie diets generally favour birth of males over females, whereas low-calorie diets tend to favour females over males,” said Rosenfeld. The researchers came to the conclusion after analysing the genes

in placentas of pregnant mice fed diets high in fat or carbohydrates and low-calorie diets. They found that each one had a distinctive effect compared with a third group given normal soybean meal-based food, the Daily Telegraph reported. After 12 days - just over half the animals’ pregnancy term - there were differences in almost 2,000 genes including those involved in kidney function and smell, according to the research. They also found that female foetuses were more sensitive to their mother’s diet and there genes were more likely to be affected or altered. The team concluded that gene expression in the mouse placenta is “adaptive and shaped by maternal diet” with the biggest effect on the placentas of females.

Tsukuba: It giggles and wiggles its feet when you shake its rattle, but will get cranky and cry from too much tickling: Meet Yotaro, a Japanese robot programmed to be as fickle as a real baby. The cuddly baby-bot looks unearthly with a pair of luminous blue eyes and oversized cheeks, but engineering students are hoping it will teach young people the pleasures of parenting as Japan faces a demographic crisis. “Yotaro is a robot with which you can experience physical contact just like with a real baby and reproduce the same feelings,” said Hiroki Kunimura of Tsukuba University. Yotaro’s face, made of

soft translucent silicon with a rosy hue, is backlit by a projector connected to a computer to simulate crying, sneezing, sleeping and smiling, while a speaker can let out bursts of baby giggles. The baby changes its facial expressions and moves its arms and legs when different parts of its face and body are touched. Physical contact is detected by sensors, and Yotaro’s mood changes based on the frequency of touches. Yotaro also simulates a runny nose, with the help of a water pump that releases bodytemperature droplets of water through the nostrils.

Key to obesity: We have a taste for fat Sydney: It’s a theory set to confirm why humans are so fond of fatty foods such as chips and chocolate cake: in addition to the five tastes already identified lurks another detectable by the palate - fat. “We know that the human tongue can detect five tastes — sweet, salty, sour, bitter and umami (a savoury, protein-rich taste contained in foods such as soy sauce and chicken stock),” Russell Keast, from Deakin University, said on Monday. “Through our study we can conclude that humans have a sixth

taste - fat.” Researchers tested the ability of 30 people to taste a range of fatty acids in otherwise plain solutions and found that all were able to determine the taste — though some required higher concentrations than others. They then developed a screening test to see how sensitive people were to the taste and found that, of the 50 people tested, their ability to detect fat was linked to their weight — a finding which could help counter obesity. “We found that the people who were

sensitive to fat, who could taste very low concentrations, actually consumed less fat than the people who were insensitive,” Keast said. “We also found that they had lower BMIs (Body Mass Indexes).” The reverse was happening in people who were not sensitive to the taste. “They are overconsuming and this is creating an energy imbalance, which is leading to higher BMI or development of overweight or obesity”, he added.


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