Notebook > Technology

Buddy system


Issue: "An evolving debate," May 21, 2005

IBM is rolling out new computerized shopping carts that alert customers to sale items and let them scan groceries as they place them in their baskets. Known as the Shopping Buddy, it includes a laser scanner and a touch-screen computer with a wireless connection.

IBM touts this invention as a personalized shopping assistant on wheels. The Stop & Shop chain in New England is testing these carts now to see if its customers like them.

The Shopping Buddy interacts with the same technology that runs self-checkout aisles. The computer can pop up a customer's shopping list, purchase history, or favorite items, and announce personalized offers when approaching certain items.

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Customers can prepare their shopping lists online before they visit the supermarket, then scan their preferred customer card to pull up their picks. Special sensors track the carts as they travel through the store.

The Shopping Buddy may slice low supermarket profit margins even thinner, as the system costs $160,000 for the average grocery store. Yet it may be worth it, if the owners believe the computers and sensors can help their supermarket stand out and build customer loyalty.

Tooth decay

Nokia, Motorola, Intel, and other wireless developers plan a combined effort to push Bluetooth as a vital technology for the future. They want to combine it with ultra-wideband (UWB), a new standard for high-speed wireless transmissions, to create a system that can send large amounts of data over a short distance using small amounts of power.

Bluetooth is a handy protocol that lets portable devices, such as cell phones, PDAs, laptops, mice, and headsets communicate with each other and share data. A person can use his phone to read office e-mail or send a document to a Bluetooth-enabled printer, for example.

Bluetooth is finally becoming mainstream after years of struggling-but some predict it will soon be outmoded by other innovations. So the new Bluetooth Special Interest Group intends to give the technology a boost.

Both Bluetooth and UWB work over small distances of 10 yards or less. But while Bluetooth transmits data at speeds of up to one megabit per second, UWB allows speeds of 100 mbps and higher.

The trade group intends to maintain backward compatibility, so that current Bluetooth devices (used by an estimated 250 million people) can interact with the new Bluetooth/UWB standard.

Bits & Megabytes

· A computer virus overloaded the computers of the World Cup soccer tournament's organizing committee, burying the systems under an avalanche of spam. The malicious program, a variant of the Sober worm, hid as attachments in messages (with bogus German addresses) that claimed the recipients won free tickets to next year's contest. Once it infected computers, it sent copies of itself to other addresses found on the victimized machines.

· A disgruntled eBay user pleaded guilty to threatening senior executives at the auction site, following a dispute over affiliate program payments. Authorities claim Florin Horicianu sent numerous menacing messages, including contemplations of suicide and threats of violence. EBay told the court he was a mentally disturbed man who created phony user accounts. He faces up to five years in prison and at least $250,000 in fines.

· Yahoo officially launched its new search tool for finding video clips, with an index that includes sources such as CBS News, the Discovery Channel, and The Food Network. This database, located at, is meant to draw the growing population of broadband users with news clips, interviews, and movie trailers.


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