Google announces first 10 participants in its aerospace competition

Google on Thursday announced the first 10 teams that will compete in its $30 million contest to send a spacecraft back to the moon, Forbes reports. Designed with hopes of gaining greater insights into the solar system and finding new sources of clean energy, the Google Lunar X Prize contest will require each team to build a robotic craft capable of roaming across the moon's surface, as well as sharing video, images and data with Earth. The projects boldest ambition aims to use lunar materials to make solar power collectors that can generate carbon-free energy and transmit it to Earth. Teams cover their own costs to develop the rockets and compete for a top prize of $20 million, which will be awarded to the team that builds a vessel that can successfully complete its mission. Google also will award $5 million to a runner-up and plans to award an additional $5 million in "bonus prizes." While Google reported receiving more than 567 "expressions of interest" from scientists and businesspeople worldwide, just 10 teams have thus far paid the $10,000 registration fee and proven that their space vehicles could be functional. Officials expect another 10 to 20 teams to register. The currently registered 10 teams include Astrobotic, a collaboration between Carnegie Mellon University and Raytheon; Chandah, spearheaded by an energy industry entrepreneur from Texas; Romania's Aeronautics and Cosmonautics Romanian Association; and Team Italia, a consortium of universities in Italy (Tanaka, Forbes, 2/22/08).

AOL shuts down Netscape services

After affording Netscape Navigator a one-month reprieve, AOL LLC on Wednesday released its last update for the browser and encouraged users to switch to Flock or Firefox, IDG News Service reports. To expedite the transition, users received a major upgrade notice to download Netscape 9.0.0.6. When downloaded and run, the new version automatically notifies users of the end of support date and recommends the to switch to the other free browsers with download links to either Flock Inc.'s Flock browser or Mozilla Corp.'s Firefox. Netscape also will automatically transition its settings to the new browser. According to the head of Netscape, users can stick with the browser by clicking "Remind me later" and "Stay with Netscape" buttons, though no new updates, security patches or other support will be provided after this month (Keizer, IDG/New York Times, 2/22/08).

ACS acquires Wisconsin care management services provider

Affiliated Computer Services (ACS) Inc. recently purchased Bowers and Associates Inc., a Wisconsin-based productivity management services and health care data analytics provider, Washington Technology reports. Under an $8 million cash deal, which includes contingent payments based on future financial performance, all of Bowers’ employees will join ACS. Officials note the company acquired Bowers to broaden its government health care business to include delivery of accredited care management services for high-risk beneficiaries (Hubler, Washington Technology, 2/22/08).

AMD releases performance library as open source code

Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) Inc. is releasing its performance library as open-source code, a shift expected to help developers build multithreaded applications for x86 machines, Computerworld reports. Created three years ago, the library contains more than 3,200 software routines that target specific functions, such as handling audio and video data, according to AMD’s director of commercial solutions. The change marks the first time that AMD has released a proprietary library set and released it as open source. Available for immediate download at this site, the AMD Performance Library is now being called Framewave Version 1.0 (Gaudin, Computerworld, 2/21/08).

IBM, German researchers measure force needed to move individual atom

Researchers from IBM's Almaden Research Center in California and the University of Regensburg in Germany have become the first to measure the force it takes to move individual atoms on a surface, United Press International reports. Detailed in Science magazine, the study suggests the force required to move a cobalt atom across a smooth platinum surface is 210 piconewtons, while moving it across a copper surface takes just 17 piconewtons, compared to the nearly 30 billion piconewtons required to lift a copper penny weighing only 3 grams. According to the researchers, the landmark achievement offers crucial information about atomic-scale fabrication and could lead to new miniaturized data storage devices and computer chips by advancing research and development of nanoscale computing and medical technologies (UPI, 2/21/08).

HHS to launch national EHR demonstration project

Announced in a release, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is planning a new demonstration project that will offer Medicare incentive payments to physicians that adopt certified electronic health records (EHRs) systems to boost patient care. Designed to involve small- and medium-sized primary care physician practices, the project will include 12 community sites across the nation. Under the plan, HHS will award incentive payments across five years to as many as 1,200 physician practices that demonstrate improved care quality using specific clinical quality measures linked to EHR use. HHS also may award bonus payments based on data from a standardized survey measuring the number of EHR functionalities incorporated at each physician practice. In total, the demonstration project may provide up to $58,000 per physician or $290,000 per practice. According to the release, the initiative will launch in 2008 in four communities and the final eight will join in 2009. The project also will specifically target locations where the project would enhance existing or planned private sector efforts to advance health information technology and care quality data reporting. To be eligible, communities must demonstrate active involvement from stakeholders such as providers, consumers, health plans and employers and be geographically large enough to recruit 200 physician practices to participate. In addition, communities cannot already be part of similar demonstration projects managed by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. HHS will accept applications from eligible communities through mid-May (HHS release, 2/20/08).

U.S. voters want a president who backs health IT

According to a recent survey commissioned by Computer Sciences, 70 percent of U.S. voters reported being more likely to vote for a presidential candidate who supports the creation of a Nationwide Health Information Network (NHIN), Government Technology reports. Designed to gauge voting tendencies and attitudes related to health information technology (IT) during an election year, the survey included 1,000 U.S. residents and was conducted by Kelton Research between Jan. 31 and Feb. 5. Data suggests that 84 percent of respondents ages 18 to 24 said they would vote for a candidate who supports the creation of an NHIN, compared with 68 percent of residents older than age 25. In addition, 67 percent reported that they have never heard presidential candidates discuss health IT or electronic health records; 60 percent said they believe that quick, secure access to EHRs can improve patient care, particularly during an unexpected crisis; 48 percent said they believe EHRs will reduce hospital costs and hassle; and 36 percent said they believe EHRs will lead to fewer hospital errors. Moreover, 77 percent supported the notion that a national EHR system could address some of the nation's most critical health issues such as shortcomings in care quality and medical research. (Government Technology, 2/19/08; Merrill, Healthcare IT News, 2/19/08).

Report warns patients against posting PHRs on outside Web sites

The World Privacy Forum on Wednesday released a report warning consumers: third-party Web sites that consolidate personal health records (PHRs) might not be subject to federal privacy and security regulations, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. Such third-party hosts that keep PHRs are not covered under HIPAA, the 1996 federal law that sets basic privacy and security standards, officials note. The report does not cite specific companies or examples of consumer problems but offers questions consumers should consider before signing up for a PHR service. According to a World Privacy Forum executive, the most important consideration in signing up for an online PHR service is to determine whether the vendor is covered by or compliant with HIPAA. Other news sources, meanwhile, point out that Google and Microsoft are among the Internet firms moving into the PHR market that are not covered by HIPAA. However, the Chronicle notes that there are other protections such as California's Confidentiality of Medical Information Act, which restricts companies from marketing medical information without informing consumers and allowing them to opt out (Gage, San Francisco Chronicle, 2/20/08).

Commercial industry slow to accept hydrogen fuel cell technology

The Washington Times on Wednesday reported that experts say hydrogen fuel cells have major hurdles to overcome before U.S. consumers will accept the technology in their cars, according to United Press International. Though every major car company is exploring fuel-cell technology, most hydrogen-powered vehicles are still in testing or development. Speaking to the Times, the vice president of Horizon Fuel Cell Technologies in Singapore said hydrogen fuel cells are still considered "very futurist." Currently, the technology is mainly limited to industrial uses. Major obstacles to more commercial use include the costs of both labor and materials. Plunkett Research of Houston, for instance, notes that one 200-horsepower fuel-cell system costs roughly $75,000 to make. In addition, companies have to appease consumer concerns about safety. Meanwhile, the Times reports that California became the first state to embrace the technology, with more than 175 fuel-cell vehicles already on the road and 24 hydrogen refueling stations (UPI, 2/21/08).

NASA launches new research project

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) recently announced a request for research projects associated with its subsonic rotary wing project, United Press International reports. Specifically, NASA’s Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate is soliciting research proposals that would advance the state-of-the-art in engine compressor technology, transmission noise modeling, low-frequency noise effects and rotorcraft icing methodology. According to officials, the challenge is to "develop validated physics-based multi-disciplinary design and analysis tools for rotorcraft, integrated with technology development, enabling rotorcraft with advanced capabilities to fly as designed for any mission." They add that achieving that goal will require innovative strategies that leverage integrated, multi-disciplinary, first-principle computational tools specifically related to the unique problems of rotary wing aircraft. NASA expects to award the project to educational institutions, non-profit agencies and industry leaders engaged in foundational research (UPI, 2/20/08).

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