Print Edition: Nov 14, 2010

How things work
Cars sans drivers
Recently, Google's official blog declared that the company best-known for its search engine is now working on self-driving cars or driverless cars. Google says that these prototypes have clocked 4,20,000 kms, albeit accompanied by a trained safety driver and a software operator.
The Google cars "use video cameras, radar sensors and a laser range finder to 'see' other traffic, as well as detailed maps (which we collect using manually-driven vehicles) to navigate". Google is not the only one working on driverless cars. General Motors has prophesied that driverless cars could hit the roads by 2018. Sounds like a pipe dream? Not when you realise that a lot of the technology is already in place.
Take sensors. Sensors that monitor tyre pressure have been in place since 1986. BMW's Stop and Go technology in its high-end luxury cars monitors traffic and varies the vehicle's speed accordingly. The Benz S-class uses an infrared camera to provide night vision. Combine that with GPS and the driver in the white uniform is yesterday's news. The problem, though, is getting all these systems working together autonomously, and the price tag of such a car.

Just wondering
In quest of Buddha
Lore has it that Prince Siddhartha left his princely life behind at the age of 29. Six years later he attained enlightenment and became Buddha. The biopic on Buddha that industrialist B.K. Modi announced in 2006, seems to be taking as many years to make. The movie is based on the book Old Path White Clouds by renowned Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh. It was budgeted at $120 million and, in Modi's own words, is an epic picture on the lines of "a Lawrence of Arabia meets Gladiator". Then, all went silent on the Buddha front for a few years. Earlier this year, director Ashutosh Gowariker was roped in for the project. Since then, there has been talk of differences between Modi and Gowariker and a subsequent patch-up. But, to see Buddha in a multiplex, you might have to wait a lot longer.

The Frog Nobel

Most people have skeletons in their closets. But some have frogs, like 51-year-old Andre Geim, who won the Nobel in Physics this year. The Russian-born physicist won the prize for his work with a substance called graphene. What's the big deal? Like the Nobel Foundation puts it: "Imagine a sheet of material that is just one atom thick, yet super-strong, highly conductive, practically transparent and able to reveal new secrets of fundamental physics." But Geim is also the first person to win both the Nobel prize and the Ig Nobel prize. The Ig is like the razzies of the science world - and recognises bizarre scientific research. Back in 2001, Geim had won the Ig Nobel for, er, levitating a frog using magnets. Among this year's Ig Nobel award winners is a team of researchers from Bristol University who dug deep into the topic of how fruit bats prolonged copulation by indulging in oral sex.

Snoot corner
Steiff teddy bears

So, you are a multimillionaire several times over. What do you do with your stash? Fast cars, caviar, a château in France, stables with prize horses, a stamp collection, teddy bears. Yes, last fortnight, a private collection of over 1,300 teddies fetched over �1 million at an auction in London. The collection belonged to disgraced hedge fund manager Paul Greenwood, who had pleaded guilty to charges of duping investors of $554 million in 2009. The costliest teddy went for a whopping Rs 3.93 crore. So, what's so special about these stuffed toys? These handmade toys were manufactured by German company Steiff, which has been in the business since 1880. Steiff toys can be distinguished from fakes by a stitched-in, metal button found in the ear of the toy which has the name Steiff written on it.

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