Many ordinary FM and AM stations transmit small amounts of digital data, such as song titles. And nearly 1,800 channels are entirely digital. Radio manufacturers are starting to take advantage of this extra information, creating gadgets that can not only play music, but also take notes, help you shop, or even save your life.
The Zune MP3 player is the first device that lets you instantly buy songs you hear on FM radio. Click when you like a song, and Zune saves the title and artist info. If you’re near a Wi-Fi hotspot, it contacts Microsoft’s online music store and downloads the song. If the player can’t get online, it remembers the details for the next time it connects. Zune 16GB, $200; zuneoriginals.net
Read Your Radio
Completely digital broadcasts, called HD Radio, can carry more information than analog. Some stations, such as National Public Radio, plan to transmit closed-captioned text of talk shows along with the audio. Receivers with screens will display scrolling text, making radio available to the deaf as well as letting people decipher hard-to-hear words and phrases. They should hit the market late this year. npr.org
Get Disaster Warnings
Find out about a tornado before it strikes. HD Radio provider iBiquity is developing a radio that will turn itself on in an emergency. While the speakers are off, the chip inside will still tune in to government-issued weather and security broadcasts. If the receiver spots a digital data tag identifying an alert, it will turn on the speakers so you can hear what’s happening. ibiquity.com
Five amazing, clean technologies that will set us free, in this month's energy-focused issue. Also: how to build a better bomb detector, the robotic toys that are raising your children, a human catapult, the world's smallest arcade, and much more.