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Wouldn't you rather play tech futurist than Scrabulous?

Hereâ''s an online game that may just tear the people sitting around me at Demo 08 away from their Scrabulous games (which is what happens when you have decent internet access at a conference; people arenâ''t just taking notes on their laptops). HubDub introduced a news prediction site; you track stories youâ''re interested in and compete on the accuracy of your predictions. One hot topic right now is the fate of the U.S. spy satellite, do you think itâ''ll hit water, the Americas, Eurasia, Africa/Australia, or simply disintegrate? You can make your prediction here.

Detonating an IED in Iraq

IEEE Spectrum executive editor Glenn Zorpette reports from Iraq, where he is on assignment for an upcoming story about counter-IED technology. This is Zorpette's second visit to Iraq. He traveled there in late 2005 to report about reconstruction efforts in his award-winning feature "Re-engineering Iraq."

1-29-2008

I got to blow up an IED yesterday.

It was very satisfying. It smoked afterward.

I went out with a Navy EOD team to do "route clearance" on what the coalition calls Main Supply Route Tampa.

It was my second route clearance. I'd gone out Saturday but it was cut short because fog rolled in and the medevac status went "black," meaning the medevac helicopters couldn't get to us if we needed them.

MSR Tampa is what the coalition calls the main north-south highway through Iraq. We started at COB Speicher, where the team is based, and went about 90 kilometers north and then came back.

There was a briefing in the predawn darkness, eighteen of us standing around in a circle in the light of our huge armored vehicles. The EOD team I was with went out with 16 Army "engineers" (not really engineers) who were in RG-31s and Buffalos, armored and equipped with optics, robot arms, or other systems to help them spot and manipulate IEDs. The briefing covered recent intelligence on insurgents in the area, procedures if we were to be attacked, if medevac were necessary, if we found IEDs. We got our call sign ("trip wire.")

Then a tall African American soldier said a prayer. All the soldiers looked like high school students. They were prancing and talking sh#t like it was a pep rally. By contrast the Navy EOD guys looked like grizzled veterans. Then I realized I was old enough to

be their father.

We got in the trucks and rolled out. The two EOD operators and I were in a Joint EOD Rapid Response Vehicle (JERRV. Google it.) We listened to loud thrash metal on an iPod plugged into a fairly amazing sound system. No, the $740,000 JERRV doesn't come with a HiFi system; the operators put them in themselves because route clearance takes 9 -- 10 hours, you go about 20 mph, and you would lose your mind without a sound system. After 20 minutes, I would have traded $500 for the opportunity to listen to Mildred Bailey or Frank Sinatra.

I asked the EOD team leader why he became a Navy EOD operator. He said, "I wanted to dive and blow sh#t up." Indeed. Who doesn't?

After about an hour we started skirting the sprawling city of Bayji. To a middle class Westerner, it seems sort of decrepit and depressing, trash strewn in parts, like most of the Iraqi cities I've seen so far.

About 40 minutes after we hit the outskirts of Bayji we held up because the lead vehicle, one of the RG-31s, spotted something suspicious in the road. It turned out to be a big metal box with two bricks in it and some wires attached; apparently a standard dummy IED. Word came back over the radio, and wecontinued to hold up while the engineers searched for other devices. The Navy guys noted that the insurgents often place fake IEDs for several reasons: (a) to videotape how route clearance teams deal with IEDs, in

order to refine their methods of attack; (B) to halt the teams so they can fire a rocket or

rocket-propelled grenade or EFP at one or more vehicles; (c) to distract the teams from a real, better concealed IED nearby.

A while later we heard over the radio that Iraqi Police detained five men in a car shortly after we were there-- they had the standard kit- long-range cordless phones (used to trigger IEDs), assault rifles, and video camera. There was also apparently a sixth man, who escaped, who supposedly had an IED. How the police surmised what he had without catching him I could not pin down.

The fake IED was near the intersection with a route that bypasses Bayji; the coalition calls this route the Hershey Bypass. It's notorious for many large IEDs. (There's a 10-sec. video of a big blast bareley missing a humvee.) When an IED detonates, the Army engineers fill in the blast crater with concrete, because the insurgents used to use the same craters to plant new IEDs. Parts of Hershey bypass are pocked with concretem patches. As we went by various patches, the EOD guys gave me a guided tour of some of the more notorious

blasts.

We got to the top of our route around mid day. We turned around and came back down and dropped in for lunch on a forward operating base called FOB Summerall. It was not a relaxed place; there are few people stationed there and the surrounding area is still pretty hostile. But the food at the DFAC was good.

We dropped off a coffee machine for the EOD team there. The operator we met there had that "really happy to get company" demeanor. The pathway leading to their tactical operations center was a line of captured brass artillery shells, laid side by side.

We continued south on Tampa. More thrash metal and hip hop. Besides the music blasting in the cabin, we were wearing headphones that let us talk to each other and also to the other vehicles in our group. So sometimes you were hearing three different things: thrash metal, an internal conversation, and an external one. It gave me a headache, but the EOD guys seemed used to it and could somehow process all three noises separately.

There was a bit of a weird dynamic in the JERRV, because the driver/team leader was actually a lower rank than the robot operator, who was a college-educated lieutenant. But the team leader was on his third deployment to Iraq; had been on more than a hundred IED missions, had seen more than a dozen vehicles hit by IEDs, and had himself survived a hit on his vehicle. The officer/robot operator was basically almost as new to all this as I was.

About 20 km north of Speicher we heard on the radio that the lead vehicle of a supply convoy had seem something that looked like a possible IED in the road and had held up the convoy (and all other traffic on the highway).

We went by two donkeys grazing in the median and arrived at the scene around 2:45. Some of the other vehicles in our caravan blocked traffic. Our team leader leaned out the window where a soldier was standing and said, "what's going on?" He said the thing looked like two 120 mm artillery rounds in a burlap bag with wires coming out of it.

We were about 125 meters north of the thing. The robot operator sent the robot out; it has a video camera sensitive to three different spectra. On the screens in the JERRV we saw a burlap bag with two bags of something inside it, and 2 wires running to the west. Each of the bags was too big and heavy for the robot to push. "That's UBE or sand," the operator said.

"We'll find out when we blow it." UBE means unidentified bulk explosive.

He steered the robot back to the JERRV. The team leader tied a big knot in some detonation cord and taped it up with three blocks of C4. He put it in the robot's manipulator and the operator steered the robot back to the IED. Manipulating the controls inside the back of the JERRV, he commanded the robot to put the charge in between the two bags. Then they let me pull the pin on the igniter.

There was a big orange fireball, a thump that felt like a punch in the chest, and then acrid-smelling black smoke. "Yep, that was definitely some sh#t," the team leader said. The initiator kind of sparked and sizzled in my hand, so I threw it down, and it left burn marks on my sweater (souvenirs!).

The black smoke was a hallmark of homemade explosive, the team leader explained. Military explosive usually gives off white smoke when it blows up.

Then he informed me that according to Navy EOD tradition, I owed him a case of beer. He keyed the iPod, and blasted "Play that Funky Music, White Boy," while the two of them played air drums.

It was a big enough blast to damage a Humvee, maybe even kill someone inside, they guessed. We found frag in the road around the blast, which meant that there was also almost certainly an artillery shell in among the bags of UBE, to create shrapnel.

We gathered up the command wires, which were the standard enamel-covered copper wire that the insurgents use all over Iraq; it seemed to me to be the wire used to wind coils in motors and transformers. I think it might be called Litz wire. It's thin and easily concealed but sufficiently conductive to carry the power needed to pop a blasting cap.

The wires from the IED we detonated went off quite obviously to a 1-story building, about 25 meters square, about a kilometer away. The driver and the robot operator got into a slightly tense discussion about what to do. The operator wanted to go kick in the door, but the more experienced team leader (but remember, he's junior in rank to the operator) thought it wasn't a good idea. The engineers we were with weren't really trained for that kind of fight, if it came to that. And we had no interpreter with us, so if we found people in the house we couldn't ask them why there were copper wires leading to their residence. Plus, unspoken, was the fact that I was there, I guess, another encumbrance.

In the end, the team leader's will prevailed. He said to the lieutenant, "Are you disappointed in me? Did you want to go out there and kill somebody?" But the lieutenant agreed in the end that it was a job for a QRF (quick reaction force) team, which is specially trained for that sort of thing.

The team leader mused aloud, I guess for my benefit, "Where do you turn off your aggression level?" He'd been in several situations like this one, except in those cases there was also a combat-trained team, the commander of which was "basing his decision on what you say--whether they destroy a house or knock down a building."

My happiness was short lived. When we got back to the Navy EOD tactical operations center at Speicher, we learned that five soldiers in a Humvee were killed in an EOD blast and coordinated ambush from a mosque in Mosul, north of where we were.

I'm in Kuwait now, on my way out. See y'all soon.

E-learning meets iTunes at Demo 08

Iâ''ve attended several Demo conferences over the years. The Demo format gives people with new companies, products, or technologies six minutes on stage, to introduce the audience of journalists, investors, and other entrepreneurs to their innovation.

Inevitably, as I chat in hotel halls and elevators with people getting ready to present at Demo, someone will ask me for â''tips.â'' I havenâ''t uncovered one sure route to Demo magic over the years of observing, but I have one thing I always say (itâ''s my pet peeve, anyway). That is, whereâ''s the money? How are you going to support the business and eventually show a profit?

Way to many entrepreneurs tell me they envision â''multiple revenue streams,â'' a â''three-legged stool,â'' or â''all sorts of ways of generating income.â'' Bzzzt! Wrong answer. Thatâ''s telling me youâ''re hoping you can get money somehow, but really, you donâ''t have a clue.

Thatâ''s why meeting the team from iVideosongs was so refreshing. They may not be using the flashiest new technology, but they know where theyâ''ll be looking for that revenue stream. And since my family will likely be sending some cash their way, Iâ''m qualified to say, theyâ''re looking in the right place.

IVideosongs is, at its most basic, selling e-learning. Ho hum, nothing new there, e-learning has been around for a long time, typically nichy stuff. Ivideosongs, however, has picked a hot nicheâ''music, in particular, amateur musicians looking to learn hit songs. (Clearly a lot of them need lessons, browse some YouTube videos of people imitating their favorite stars; theyâ''re not all virtuosos.) IVideosongs licensed the publishing rights to a wide range of popular music, theyâ''ve convinced artists (like John Oates) to give the lessons, theyâ''ve hired musicians to make the videos when the artists arenâ''t available. And each package is downloadable, music plus lesson, DRM free (that is, it can be moved from a computer to any device, burned to a CD, whatever). The price is $4.95 for downloaded lesson from a no-name artist, $9.95 for a lesson from the original artist.

My 16-year-old son is in the target market; aspiring musician who goes to the Web whenever he wants a new song, looking for guitar music, performances on YouTube; both often has errors, making learning the song a struggle. IVideosongs is in Beta; heâ''s already downloaded two lessons, Heaven (Los Lonely Boys) and Sweet Home Alabama (Lynryd Skynyrd). He reported that the downloads took a while, 30 minutes for one, nearly 40 for the other; the way the lessons are presented seem to be the way he wants to learn, and heâ''s eager to get started. Iâ''ll give you an update once he gets a break from homework.

MEMS in Hems: Is technology the new fashion statement?

nanofashion.jpeg

Last week, I helped run a conference with the London College of Fashion , earnestly entitled â''Micro and Nanotechnologies for Fashion and Textilesâ''. But I prefer the title used by one of the speakers for their presentation: â''MEMS in Hems."

I have helped organize other conferences that focused specifically on the impact of nanotechnologies on the textile industry. But this was the first time we tried to really hone in on the idea of how micro and nanotechnologies are impacting the way fashion designers and retailers approach their craft and business.

The guiding principle was if technology is the new fashion statement (with the understanding that people purchase iPods as much for their fashion qualities as for their technological capabilities), what new directions is this opening up for fashion and fashion designers.

While noted fashion designers like Helen Storey offered their latest work that brings together the disparate worlds of science and fashion: Wonderland, the question of how nanotechnologies are changing the way designers approach fashion is still somewhat unanswerable.

Technical textiles, such as stain resistant and odor resistant garments, offer new functionality, and ski jackets with an MP3 player built in are becoming increasingly de rigueur, but it has not quite reached the point where designers are imagining new styles, they merely see more functions.

In other words, we are not going to see on the runway soon biomimetically inspired coats that change color depending on the weather. But measured by the enthusiasm of students, who presumably will be the next generation of designers, we may very well see such things in the future.

Pen computing: not just for kids

The clever pen computing technology developed by Anoto, a Swedish company that developed a system that combines a digital camera and paper covered with a dot pattern, is enabling two new consumer products, both launching at Demo 2008 this week in Palm Desert, Calif.

The Tag Reading System from LeapFrog Enterprises and the Pulse Smartpen from Livescribe, in some ways, couldnâ''t be more different.

IMG_1748.JPGTag is for kids. It talks. A child uses the pen-like reader to touch spots on a childrenâ''s book. The book itself looks like an ordinary hardcover book; the dot code, for the most part, is well hidden. The pen responds by reading whole pages, saying individual words, scoring learning games, or chiming out sound effects. The reader will sell for around $50; the hardcover titles for about $14 each.

IMG_1751.JPG

The Pulse Smartpen is for adults. It listens. It actually functions as a pen, and writes on any kind of paper. When you write on the dot-covered paper, it stores what youâ''ve written in digital form. (This has been done before). The new twist: the Pulse also can record speech while youâ''re writing, and files that recorded speech with your notes. So, in a meeting, you can take abbreviated notes and use these to navigate a sound file later. A USB connection lets you move the notes and the sound to a computer for long-term storage. Because the Pulse does optical character recognition as you write, it also can do simultaneous translation, displaying the translation on a tiny screen on the side of the pen. The Pulse Smartpen will sell for around $200 for a 2 gigabyte version, $150 for a 1 gigabyte version. The special coded paper, in various notebook forms and in single sheets will, the company says, cost about the same as comparable unencoded office supplies.

Besides being connected by the Anoto technology, these two technologies share another bond. Tag is the second pen computing product from LeapFrog; it follows the Fly Pentop Computer, a product used for notetaking, calculating, and learning games. Electrical Engineer Jim Matggraff designed the Fly for LeapFrog; in 2005 he left that company to start Livescribe as a subsidiary of Anoto; the company spun out in 2007.

My kids have outgrown the picture books that make up Tagâ''s world; I think itâ''ll be a successful product, but I wonâ''t be buying it; I'm sure my friends with young kids will, however. The Pulse Smartpen I want now. Actually, last week. I can immediately see just how much time it will save me, just how useful it will be. And, to judge by the hum around me in the conference ballroom as Livescribe concluded its demo, and from the crowd around Livescribeâ''s booth later; Iâ''m not the only one who wants to record meetings and then instantly go back and find the two minutes I really want to listen to again without trying to scan the entire file.

Unfortunately, while the PC version will be available in March, Livescribe says Iâ''ll have to wait for the Mac version until summer.

Where Will U.S. Spy Satellite Fall?

By now, if you're even the least technically inclined person, you've heard that a large U.S. satellite in orbit above us has lost the ability to control its position and is slowly drifting back to earth. U.S. officials conveyed the information to major news outlets, such as the New York Times and the Associated Press, on Saturday under anonymous conditions. Though the officials were cautious to categorize the nature of the machine, independent space experts quickly pegged it as a crippled spy satellite.

"Appropriate government agencies are monitoring the situation," Gordon Johndroe, a spokesman for the National Security Council, replied when asked about the matter after the news was leaked. "Numerous satellites over the years have come out of orbit and fallen harmlessly. We are looking at potential options to mitigate any possible damage this satellite may cause."

Beyond that, he would not comment on the status of the satellite or what measures might be employed to control its descent.

However, one intelligence expert who would go on the record, John Pike, told an AP reporter that spy satellites typically are disposed of through a controlled re-entry into the ocean to render the spacecraft inaccessible and he discounted any notion that the U.S. would try to destroy the object in orbit with a missile, as that would create an even more uncertain outcome for it.

Pike, the director of the defense research group globalsecurity.org said the vehicle in question is most likely an NROL-21 earth imaging satellite, which failed in its mission shortly after lift-off a year ago. For purposes of comparison, he told the AP that the slowly descending object is about the size of a small bus.

On its Web site, globalsecurity.org described the situation in these words:

A Delta II lifted off from Vandenberg Air Force Base on 14 December 2006, carrying the NROL-21 USA-193 satellite. The NROL-21 spacecraft failed within hours of its launch. By January 2008 the satellite was expected to reenter the Earth's atmosphere in late February or March. Although some of the spacecraft would burn up on reenty, the uncontrolled reentry could result in some heavier pieces of debris reaching the Earth's surface. The odds were about three in four that the debris would hit an ocean area. Although the safety hazard of the impacting debris was small, there was some concern that secrets of the spacecraft could be compromised if the debris were recovered by a hostile intelligence agency.

As to why the satellite failed in the first place, another expert told the New York Times it was essentially a matter of communications. "Itâ''s not necessarily dead, but deaf," said Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

In light of the toxic substances spy satellites use in their missions, he added: "For the most part, re-entering space hardware isnâ''t a threat because so much of the Earth is empty. But one could say weâ''ve been lucky so far."

With a timeline of a month or so before the orbit of the NROL-21 decays to a point where it plummets through the atmosphere, there will be plenty of opportunitiy for scientists to calculate its probable crash site. The odds are good, though, that it will not be situated near your neighborhood or anyone else's.

Out of Africa: every (digital) picture tells a story

Digital photography remains relatively expensive in Africa. An American graduate student, Eric Green of the University of South Carolina, has found a way to introduce the power of documented visual images to among the poorest children in the world.

Green is studying psychological reactions of people living in â''displacement campsâ'' in northern Uganda. The camps are usually clusters of traditional huts built along roads and in the center of villages in a remote, impoverished part of Uganda. As a sideline, Green loaned two digital cameras to 12 teenagers in the Opit camp, about 45 minutes outside the provincial capital of Gulu. Last fall, the teens took thousands of pictures of their peers, parents and environment.

â''So many people study refugees and speak for them,â'' Green told me by phone. â''My idea was to let the kids speak directly.â''

Green calls his project â''Photovoice.â'' None of his kids, ages 12 to 16, had ever used a camera before. The dozen teenagers took turns taking shots over a period of weeks.

I met several of the Opit teens in a school classroom near their camp earlier this month. On a hot and dusty day, I found them pining away for the chance to take more pictures. Green paid for the project out of his own pocket, and only loaned cameras to the youths, who last took photos in September.

Catherine Achan, one of the kids I met, clearly grasped the power of photography, an old technology undergoing rapid change of late.

â''Pictures are factual,â'' says Achan, who is 16. â''We can use pictures to fight deceit.â''

Peter Oola, another youth in the project, talked about how he could capture the everyday labor of ordinary people in his camp. His favorite photo is of a man selling boiled maize, a tasty dish that goes for a few pennies.

Oola, who is 14, says his photos â''give clues to other people about how we live.â''

At the end of September, about a thousand photos were projected on a wall in a community center. The Ugandans watched the images for hours. â''What was most remarkable to the adults was that children took these photographs,â'' says Jimmy Bentham, who coordinates the project.

Putting digital cameras in the hands of poor African youth, while a modest initiative, highlights the way that information technologies alter the self-image of those who use them, especially in the developing world. â''I felt special with a camera,â'' Achan says. When other children, and even adults, followed her around while she snapped photos, â''I felt important,â'' she recalls.

Achan misses not having a camera. She wants a camera in her hands â'' and to feel important again.

Big Brother and Nanobots

big%20brother.jpg

Do you ever get the feeling that all the interest groups that have positioned themselves in opposition to nanotechnology are doing so more out of perceived threat of authoritarian governments, or worse, big business, than any real concerns about the specifics of nanotechnology?

It would probably be a worthy study, but in the meantime, let me offer you the latest in a paranoid dystopian future where â''advances in nanotechnology will allow swarms of nanobots (or â''nanoidsâ'')â'' to search our private property.

Thereâ''s not much here in terms of specifics of nanotechnology, but there is plenty of rant on the recent warrantless surveillance conducted under the Bush administration.

Spurred by the potential for the future that is predicted by 2040, the Foresight Institute urges the drafting of guidelines for responsible use of these nanobots, I suppose just regarding privacy issues.

Is self-parody in their lexicon?

If you donâ''t think this is funny enough, take a read of the comments section where by coincidence just such a study is being proposed for the National Science Foundation.

I am not sure which I should be more perturbed by as a taxpayer that the government in cahoots with the telecoms is eavesdropping on my international phone calls or that the government would fund research into nanotechnology and privacy issues.

Bluetooth Offers Wounded Veterans a Leg Up

Doctors with the U.S. military are using prosthetics equipped with Bluetooth transceivers to help badly injured combat veterans walk again. A news article on CNN online today reports that rehabilitation specialists at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, in Washington, D.C., are fitting soldiers and marines who have lost both lower limbs in fighting in Iraq with artificial legs that use Bluetooth (an IEEE standard) to communicate their relative position and momentum between each other. The result is greater effectiveness in controlling their new legs for the recovering vets.

The CNN article focuses primarily on the status of Marine Lance Cpl. Joshua Bleill, who lost both his legs above the knees when a bomb exploded under his Humvee while on patrol in Iraq in October 2006. He has 32 pins in his hip and a 6-inch screw holding his pelvis together, according to the news service. Medical engineers created innovative prostheses for Bleill that employ wireless communications chips that use Bluetooth to signal one another about what the marine is doing as he moves his upper legs. The chips then send instructions to motors in the artificial joints of the legs so that their knees and ankles can move in synchronized fashion.

"They mimic each other, so for stride length, for amount of force coming up, going uphill, downhill and such, they can vary speed and then to stop them again," Bleill told CNN. "We've compared walking several laps in both sets of legs and one, your legs come out burning and tired and these, you know, you sometimes are not even breaking a sweat yet."

Bleill has not mastered the new technology sufficiently to walk without the help of a cane, but he says he is determined to do so as soon as possible. Plus, he has offered some important feedback to the prosthetics researchers on ways they can improve their invention.

"It's only going to react to how I move," Bleill noted. "Unfortunately, sometimes I don't know those reactions, I don't know what I'm doing to make it react. So sometimes the leg kicks harder than I want it to, or farther, and then I start perpetuating, and I start moving faster than I really want to."

While he's far from being a bionic man, Bleill understands the opportunity he's been given to return to a semblance of normalcy after his war experience and rehabilitation. He plans to look into ways he can "give back" to his country once he returns to his home in the Indianapolis area by seeking work for a charitable organization and to "just carry on a normal life."

It sounds like he's well on his way to that goal already, with a little help from skilled doctors and technicians.

[Editor's Note: IEEE Spectrum Executive Editor Glenn Zorpette toured Iraq in late 2005 to report first-hand on the reconstruction of the war-torn nation's infrastructure and published a series of award-winning accounts on the facts on the ground at that time, such as "Re-engineering Iraq". He currently is revisiting the scene as an embedded reporter with the U.S. Army and is filing updates on the renewed recovery effort in our Tech Talk blog. Look for further updates from Zorpette as they become available, as well as future feature-length reportage once he returns to the United States.

Plus, next week, look for a Spectrum report on inventor Dean Kamen's latest marvel, the Luke Arm. Named for the sci-fi prosthesis Luke Skywalker was fitted with in the "Star Wars" saga, Kamen's innovative artificial arm is now pending approval (and research funding) from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency as a technology suitable for military personnel returning from combat with lost upper limbs.]

American Superconductor Secures Project Hydra Contract

Last year, the best-known and hardest-charging company commercializing the so-called high-temperature superconductors, American Superconductor Corporation (AMSC), came under fire in connection with a contract to upgrade the New York City power system. The basic idea, which was new and untested, was that by using superconducting cable in the New York distribution grid, not only could the capacity of the system be increased up to ten-fold, but the intrinsic properties of superconductors could be exploited to damp excess currents.

AMSC and its subcontracting partner in the plan, New Yorkâ''s Con Edison, obtained a commitment to fund the project from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. DHS saw the project, which it dubbed Hydra, as an opportunity to demonstrate technology that could be used to fortify grids against breakdown and attack everywhere in the country. But because of a pattern of sole-source contracting between AMSC and U.S. government agencies, and the role of one person in particular in negotiating such contracts for the government, Project Hydra came into the sights of Representative John Dingell (D-Mich.), surely the most feared investigator on Capitol Hill.

AMSC had obtained contracts to develop superconducting electric motors for the U.S. Navy, when Rear Admiral Jay M. Cohen was Chief of Naval Research, and now this very same Cohen was giving AMSC another big contract as a research director at DHS!

AMSC and Project Hydra appear now to have survived Dingellâ''s challenge. The company announced yesterday that DHS has signed a contract with AMSC to proceed with demonstration of the companyâ''s Secure Super Grids technology in New York, using its second-generation â''344â'' cable. DHS, having already paid AMSC $3.8 million under a letter agreement, will now pay up to a total of $25 million to complete the project, contingent on demonstrated performance, step-by-step.

What Dingell may have missed, as emphasized in the analytic story IEEE Spectrum published about Project Hydra last November, is that this is basically a research and development project: as it proceeds, new technology will be developed and tested, and only if it pans out at each stage will the next phase of the project be funded. But if Dingell is confused, heâ''s not to be blamed. The company itself, seeking to project a confident image and to persuade the world that this is a wholly done deal, has obscured the projectâ''s experimental character.

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