Tech toys tempt Congress

Representative Mike Honda, a California Democrat, intently watches an online military equipment tracking demonstration. The server retrieves a table of supplies, then generates a map of its routing.

He asks the developer, GeoDecisions, whether its representatives have talked to the Coast Guard about their technology. The army uses the database already, they say. They're meeting with the Coast Guard shortly and gathering congressional support, manager Alan K. Beiagi responds.

One-Stop Tech Shop

It's a typical scene from the Congressional Internet Caucus' Technology Fair, an opportunity for technology vendors to showcase their products for elected officials, staff, and government agencies. At the sixth annual fair Wednesday night, hundreds of technology executives and government officials networked over some of the newest gadgets and services in the sector.

Around the crowded hall, about 30 tech companies offered a range of products, from biological identification card systems to soap opera downloads.

"We went through a selection process and chose companies that we thought members of Congress would like to see," says Megan Kinnaird, project manager for the Internet Education Foundation, the nonprofit group that organizes the event. "These companies deal with a lot of the issues that are going to come up in the 108th Congress this year."

Tech firms are increasingly getting access to lawmakers and agencies through such events. Last fall, several members of Congress sponsored the first Homeland Security Expo, which featured security products and services.

Stretching Cell Phones

Industrial-strength versions of existing tech wares were among the products showcased.

For example, Panasonic Consumer Electronics Inc. demonstrated a new cellular phone with both a built-in camera and worldwide range. The handset, dubbed GU87, has a small shutter on the top of its flip top. Users can capture an image and then e-mail it or add it to an image phone book.

The GU87 can also record conversations, access the Internet, and create its own ring tones. It will be in the field by March 10 and cost less than US$400, the vendor says.

Digit Wireless showed off one of the event's most pragmatic ideas: cell phones with a separate set of alphabetical keys. The Fastap keypad is designed to eliminate the need to scroll through letter choices.

Chris Hare, vice president of Digit Wireless LLC, said his company has a development agreement with Panasonic, and the phones will be available for a "premium" by year's end.

Smart Searching

A number of companies were eagerly promoting security services. Among them were EagleCheck Ltd. and CoreStreet Ltd., both hoping to turn the evening's networking into government contracts. Both firms said they have a number of patents pending on technology designed to improve the effectiveness of identity security checks.

CoreStreet, which already has some government commitments, pushes a system that uses mathematical proofs to code IDs. The technology can clear the ID holder for certain activities or access--such as boarding a plane or buying a gun--without requiring a real-time background check, says Phil Libin, the company's president. Rather, CoreStreet can verify the individual's credential for a specified period of time.

The EagleCheck system, which has been in development since August 2001, is a software engine that checks an individual's ID against a number of government databases, including immigration records and FBI files.

EagleCheck engine would be more efficient and less susceptible to hacking than a single government-wide database for security checks, says David Akers, the company's president.

Copyright-Friendly Downloads

Apparently to demonstrate digital entertainment methods that enforce copyright, several services were on display.

FullAudio Corp. demonstrated a licensed musical site featuring the latest version of Microsoft Windows Media Player accessing tunes through Earthlink's digital music service.

The site provides 200,000 songs, says spokesperson Chris Gladwin. FullAudio features collections and playlists, such as a special compilation of Woodstock music, he adds. Most consumer subscribers are about 40 years old and "upper-income," according to Gladwin. A subscription to FullAudio ranges from $5 to $17 a month.

Representatives of the Web site SoapCity pushed commercial-free episodes of The Young and the Restless and As the World Turns.

The soaps will be available online starting February 26 for access by subscribers with a broadband connection. The service costs $10 a month for 20 episodes, or $2 for a single episode.

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