WE'VE all heard of placing a microchip beneath the skin of pets. The practice is common in cats and dogs. Even tortoises and fish can be "chipped".

But what about using the same technology to monitor the performance of professional footballers?

As far-fetched as it seems, microchips may soon be used to monitor footballers' ability during games.

By keeping tabs on things like workrate, speed and skill, a computer chip will be able to pinpoint areas that need improving during training. It will also tell a coach exactly who is pulling their weight and who needs a kick up the backside.

Trials have already started, with Liverpool and Everton players acting as guinea pig for the chips.

Unlike their animal counterparts, however, there is no need to insert a chip beneath the skin. In Michael Owen's case they have been placed in his boots and shirts during matches.

Other clubs are watching developments closely and academics believe the use of microchips may be commonplace within a couple of seasons.

The idea has applications beyond the football field.

Formula One racing drivers may benefit from chips that can monitor their heart-rate and reaction times.

Although sophisticated electronics can tell if a driver is lifting his foot off the accelerator on difficult corners, it has been impossible to directly monitor the driver himself because the cramped cockpit design makes it difficult to add the necessary equipment. And, in a sport where low weight is everything, the prospect of filling a car with monitoring devices has turned teams off.

But a couple of microchips about the size of a postage stamp would be much easier to accommodate.

Atheletes like Jonathan Edwards could also use chips in their trainers to analyse how they jump and how to improve.

As with all technology, if it works we can expect it to hit the high street in a few years' time.

Gyms could use microchips to show people how they can maximise a training routine to get the best results.

Chips with your aerobic exercise? It may only be a matter of time.

THERE'S something a bit special about giant mechanised robots. Ever since the first title in the Mechwarrior series exploded onto PCs six years ago, gamers have lapped up the concept of controlling a 40-ft high battle suit with its awesome firepower.

To date, the highpoint of the series has been Mechwarrior 2 which mixed strategy with action (on the PC at least, the console versions were dumbed down for PlayStation and Saturn consumption).

The first sign that Mechwarrior 4: Vengeance is more than a straightforward 3-D blast 'em up comes when you open the box and out come two CD-ROMs.

Then you flick through the reference manual and discover that to fully control your Mech requires the use of every button on the Microsoft Sidewinder joy-stick.

You can take part in a campaign (the usual nonsense about upholding family honour and defending the planet) or dive into some instant action.

Unlike Mechwarrior 2, you can also control your robot battle suit from a third person viewpoint - perfect for gamers like me who suffer motion sickness caused by the first person perspective.

As you'd expect from the demanding system requirements, the visuals are superb and, provided your PC has enough memory, the frame rate holds up well, even when there's a lot going on.

To get the best from this game, you'll need a PC that's less than six months old and a state-of-the-art graphics card.

The rest of you need not lose heart, though. The Microsoft connection probably means there's a version for the X-Box console waiting in the wings for console lovers.

Let's just hope it isn't dumbed down like its illustrious forefather.