TECHNOLOGY Stopping shopping carts In order to end shopping cart theft, a company in California literally has had to reinvent the wheel. Gatekeeper Systems developed The Wheel, a high-tech smart wheel installed on carts that allows stores to keep their carts corralled within a predetermined boundary. Once the cart hits this boundary, an electronic signal renders the cart disabled, stopping it in its tracks. A cart collector from the store simply unlocks the cart and returns it for another shopper.
Inspector micro-robot Imagine a mini-robot that could crawl through pipes and fix any problem it encountered. Japanese electronics companies have developed just that. The box-shaped robot is the size of an ant and can crawl around thin pipes, inspect, and even fix problems at power plants. With a weight of only 0.42 grams, the robot can lift objects twice as heavy as itself and can move at a speed of 1/10th inch per second. The robots will speed up inspection and repairs at electric and nuclear power plants because they can be sent in while the plants keep running.
ENVIRONMENT Cold-trapped ice clouds Silvery-blue ice clouds, known as noctilucent clouds that appear each year in the far northern and southern latitudes, were spotted over Colorado for the first time last week. Some scientists believe the clouds, which float in the middle atmosphere, form from increases in gaseous methane rising through a natural "cold trap" located about eight miles above Earth's surface, says Gary Thomas, a professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder. The rising methane may react with sunlight to form large quantities of water vapor that eventually freeze and circulate to the top of the atmosphere. The cloud formation is likely hastened by increasing amounts of rising carbon dioxide from Earth, according to the American Astronomical Society. While CO2 is thought to contribute to global warming in the lower atmosphere, it aids the cloud formation in the middle and upper atmospheres.