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CeBIT tech fair presents gadgets both hot and weird

A dinosaur-like Pleo "robotic companion" is on display at the CeBIT trade fair in Hanover on March 4, 2008. Pleo is an artificially designed "life form" that responds to stimuli by moving, and has an "evolving personality". It uses 38 sensors and 14 motors. Photo courtesy AFP.

Greenpeace unimpressed at 'green' CeBIT tech fair
CeBIT, the world's biggest technology fair, talks green but the industry has some way to go to improve its environmental credentials, Greenpeace said on Wednesday. "Manufacturers still have a long way to go," Greenpeace campaigner Yannick Vicaire said at CeBIT in Hanover, Germany. "But more and more are now taking the environmental impacts of their products seriously." Some 5,500 exhibitors were taking part in the annual CeBIT fair, with many such as IBM and Microsoft keen to trumpet how they say they are doing their bit to lessen their environmental impact. But Greenpeace was also present at the fair, which runs to March 9, vowing to sort the "greenwash" from the genuine, it says. The environmental pressure group tested 37 products from 14 major electronics brands and awarded them points based on criteria such as the substitution of hazardous substances, energy efficiency and recyclability. It said that Sony's Vaio TZ11 notebook, the Sony Ericsson T650i mobile phone and the Sony Ericsson P1i PDA came out on top in the survey, but these products scored just over half of the possible 100 points available, Greenpeace said. Others at the top of the study included Dell's Optiplex 755, Hewlett-Packard's dc5750 desktop computers and the Nokia N95 mobile phone. Several firms declined to provide Greenpeace with data, however, or failed to do so in time or sufficiently, including Apple, Microsoft, Nintendo and Palm, it said. Greenpeace said it was challenging electronics manufacturers to take responsibility for the entire lifecycle of their products -- from production, through manufacture and to very end of their products' lives. It also wants them to clean up their products by eliminating hazardous substances and replacing harmful ingredients through safer alternatives or design changes while producing energy efficient products, it says. Worldwide Internet use needs the equivalent of 14 power stations to power all the PCs and servers, producing the same amount of carbon emissions as the entire airline industry, according to a recent study from Gartner research firm. But this does not include the emissions created by the manufacture and disposal of the world's millions of computers, Greenpeace campaigner Zeina Al-Hajj told AFP at CeBIT. "Even Gartner will tell you that this is a mild estimation because they are only covering use of the products, not the whole production chain," she said. And Gartner's also says nothing about the amount of waste generated through a lack of proper recycling, which the United Nations estimates at between 20 and 50 million tonnes annually, she says. "All electronic devices contain hazardous components ... We have in our hands a huge hazardous waste disaster." Much of the "e-waste" is shipped "routinely and often illegally" to countries such as China, India and Vietnam -- and increasingly also Africa -- where costs are lower and environmental standards lax, Greenpeace says. Workers, many of whom are chidren, and communities in such countries face "serious environmental problems ... and health hazards" as a result, it said. The pressure group showed images of what happens to old hardware when it arrives, with workers apparently in appalling conditions smashing apart motherboards and burning plastic cables to extract the copper inside. Greenpeace singled out televisions and games consoles such as Sony's PlayStation or Microsoft's Xbox as two areas scoring badly when it comes to environmental protection.
by Staff Writers
Hanover, Germany (AFP) March 5, 2008
If swimming goggles with an in-built underwater camera, a bamboo laptop or a pink crocodile PC case is your thing then Germany's CeBIT IT fair is for you.

The technology fair, with 5,500 exhibitors the world's biggest, opened its doors to the public in Hanover on Tuesday and runs to March 9, allowing thousands of visitors to check out the hottest and also the weirdest gadgets.

A chilly wind was blowing across the vast exhibition centre, but when summer comes Liquid Image thinks its yellow goggles with an in-built digital camera are just the accessory.

On the top of the range model, which sells for 129 euros, the 5.0 megapixel camera and 16 megabite memory allows you to take up to 29 photos or 53 seconds of video up to a depth of 30 metres (100 feet), the firm says.

Also on show for eyeware was a pair of sunglasses from Chinese firm Xonix not only with an in-built camera but also with an MP3 player, while another from Taiwan's Inter Brands includes music and bluetooth so you can use it as a phone.

But forget the glasses -- in the 21st century you can't be seen toting your laptop around in anything other than a pink, fake crocodile skin case, or so French firm Sweetcover would have you believe.

Their cases, which also come in other more traditional colours and materials including real leather, retail for around 70 euros (105 dollars) in Paris boutiques and soon elsewhere, the firm's founder and president Raphael Taieb told AFP.

Not only will you avoid getting hot knees, he says, but the cover's high-tech design, which incorporates 70 different fabrics, ensures the computer will not overheat -- something which other luxury goods makers have failed to achieve with their prototypes, Taieb claims.

The cases will protect your laptop and turn it into a "subtle and seductive" piece of hardware, the company says. It has straps to keep the computer in place, is open at the sides and has holes in the back for cables.

Other bling-bling novelties included a Giorgio Armani mobile phone from Samsung and a Lamborghini laptop complete with the Italian sportscar maker's badge and partly made of leather -- yours to take home for 2,999 euros (4,561 dollars) with an aerodynamic mouse with yellow go-faster stripes.

Its maker Asus was also showing off computers made partly out of bamboo --- to give it an eco-friendly style, a salesman at the Taiwanese firm's stand said. It has not yet decided whether to launch them on the market, however.

On the sillier side, Californian firm Ugobe presented a small, robotic dinosaur dubbed Pleo similar to Sony's AIBO robotic dog that has to be looked after and nurtured like a Tamagotchi.

Pleo can be programmed via a USB cable connected to your computer or with a memory card slotted into its underbelly so it can learn new tricks like barking at intruders or performing a leaf tug-of-war with another Pleo or its owner.

The green and brown pet, which retails for around 300 euros in Europe, is babylike when young and coos and purrs with pleasure when tickled under the chin. But it also gets hungry and can have mood swings, just like humans.

It is based on the Camarasaurus, a late-Jurassic North American herbivore, 20 metres (66 feet) long in adulthood. Members of the online Pleo community can even create their own tricks to upload.

And if you want to keep an eye on your sleeping baby -- or to make sure Pleo isn't bothering the cat downstairs -- China's RDI was presenting a teddy bear with a hidden camera in its left eye.

earlier related report
Apple to reveal iPhone blueprint for outside developers
Apple on Thursday is to unveil a "software roadmap" for outside developers interested in making programs for its hip, hot iPhones.

In trademark enigmatic style, Apple provided scant detail regarding what it plans to debut at an invitation-only event at its headquarters in Cupertino, California.

"Please join us to learn about the iPhone software roadmap, including the iPhone SDK (software developer kit) and some exciting new enterprise features," an invitation reads.

Apple is apparently following through on a promise its iconic chief executive Steve Jobs made in October to open the zealously guarded inner workings of iPhones to computer programs made by outsiders.

Gartner analyst Van Baker expects Apple to skew opportunities in favor of large, established developers and be wary of letting maverick software savants play unfettered with iPhone software.

"I think Apple is going to keep a pretty tight rein on this because the last thing they want is some fly-by-night guy writing an iPhone program that breaks it," Baker told AFP.

Apple is expected to make iPhones more compatible with business applications, such as receiving email "pushed" from company servers, in a move that would challenge BlackBerry devices made by Research In Motion.

Apple wants to let developers tinker with iPhone software while simultaneously protecting against viruses and other malicious code.

Jobs is on record saying he expects iPhones to be "a highly visible target" for malevolent software wizards.

Applications made for iPhones should also work on the new iPod Touch, which is essentially an iPhone without the mobile phone feature.

Jobs said Apple might take a lesson from Nokia, which is not allowing outside applications onto some of their new mobile telephone models unless the software has a "digital signature" from a known developer.

Hackers began prying open iPhones to insert custom applications, and break the exclusive service tie between the devices and telecom giant AT&T, shortly after the mobile phones made their US debut in June of last year.

Jobs said in February that Apple has sold more than four million iPhones, touch-screen mobile devices combining telephone, video, music, and Internet connectivity.

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Microsoft kicks off CeBIT tech fair with green message
Hanover, Germany (AFP) March 3, 2008
Software giant Microsoft called Monday on the IT industry to reduce its carbon footprint as CeBIT, the world's largest tech fair, kicked off in Germany with a focus on climate change.

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