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New Video Camera Follows Voices

For video conferencing to replace face-to-face meetings, participants must be allowed to pay more attention to the meeting and less to the technology.

That's what Massachusetts-based PictureTel Corp. hopes to accomplish with its new Limelight voice-recognition video camera, part of a $40,000 top-of-the line video-conference system.

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The camera points at whomever's talking, no operator needed.

Placed in a conference room, the device has a microphone that attaches to a video camera.

The microphone receives sound to process and steer the camera.

It knows what direction sound is coming from and keeps track of who's speaking and for how long.

If one speaker holds the floor, the camera focuses on her or him.

If another briefly interjects, agrees, dissents, or even grunts, the camera stays focused on the primary speaker; if two or more speakers carry on a dialogue, the camera zooms out to include all of them.

The Limelight system is available as a $5,000 upgrade to some earlier PictureTel flagship products.

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Faster than a speeding credit card.

Nobody likes to spend time pumping gas - not even the few seconds needed to insert a credit card into the pump.

So Mobil Oil Corp. is working to reduce that time even further with its new Mobil Speedpass, an electronic device that attaches to a keychain.

To operate the pump, a driver simply slides the metal cylinder into the pump and back out, and the pump begins working.

As it's pumping, the machine checks for credit-card authorization.

If authorization is denied, the pump quits, and the bill must be settled another way.

If the pass is lost or stolen, Mobil can deactivate it and limit liability to $50, as with a credit card.

The company says Speedpass will be available free, sometime in May, at participating Mobil stations.

Eventually, Mobil hopes customers can bypass the payment process completely.

It has plans to mount electronic transmitters in cars that will automatically relay credit card information to the pump as soon as the driver pulls up.

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