AM Update
9:00 am
Thu March 15, 2012

AM Update: Voting Rights Act Challenged, UT's 'Cyborg' Research, SXSW Thefts

Texas Challenges Voting Rights Act

Texas is challenging the constitutionality of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act that requires the state to get pre-clearance from the Justice Department for any change to voting procedures. Yesterday Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott filed that petition to a three-judge panel in Washington.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott states on his website that the U.S. Supreme Court has already upheld the constitutionality of laws requiring voters to provide a photo ID.

For the Department of Justice to now contend that Texas cannot implement its voter ID law denies Texas the ability to do what other states can rightfully exercise under the Constitution.

As recently as two months ago, Justice Kennedy stated from the bench that Section 5 places Texas at a disadvantage compared to other states. The Department of Justice is using Section 5 to deny Texas the right to enforce a law that is allowed under the U.S. Constitution. Section 5 cannot trump the Constitution.

On Monday, we reported on the Justice Department's announcement that it would not pre-clear Texas’ photo voter ID law.

UT Professor Creates Cyborgs

Voice of America reports that a UT Austin chemical engineering professor's pioneering technique for turning living things into electronic "cyborgs" is now being used by scientists at Clarkson University, with funding from the U.S. Defense Department. The idea is to create bio-powered sensors for remote environmental monitoring and military applications. 

In 2003, UT Professor Adam Heller's team implanted grapes with tiny biofuel cells that could draw and store electrical power from the organism's metabolic processes. The biofuel cell produced 2.4 microwatts of electricity.

Heller originally envisioned using implanted biofuel cells for medical applications, for example, as thermometers located at wound sites to monitor increases in temperature caused by inflammation, or as targeted nerve stimulators.  But the devices were never developed. 

But the Clarkson scientists have taken Heller's research in a new direction and chosen a new host: small brown snails.

The idea is to tap the energy of the snail to power a variety of micro-devices, some with military applications, such as remote sensors that can monitor environmental toxins or transmit images of people coming and going.

Another team at Case Western Reserve University is testing implanting biofuel cells in beetles and cockroaches.

APD Searches for SXSW Burglary Victims

The Austin Police Department reports having recovered stolen electronic/technology items linked to approximately a dozen burglaries at various hotels in Austin. Officers were able to track down the stolen items because some were equipped with GPS software.

In a press release, APD says they have several "persons of interest," but they haven't filed charges.

Detectives believe the suspects were possibly taking advantage of the large number of visitors in town for SXSW who would likely possess a significant amount of technology related items.

APD's Burglary Unit says some of the victims left town without filing police reports, which is making it difficult to return the property. APD encourages anyone who has been a victim of theft or witnessed suspicious behavior, especially at local motels, to call 9-1-1 immediately or contact the APD Burglary Unit.