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IBM: Five innovations that will change lives by 2015

Dec 29, 2010 — by LinuxDevices Staff — from the LinuxDevices Archive — 2 views

IBM has delivered a series of predictions for technological innovations it says will have broad impact and change lives by 2015. They range from 3-D and holographic technology in cameras and cell phones, to batteries that will power devices by “breathing” air, to recycling the energy produced by the world's data centers.

IBM — known for its vast IBM Research unit that helps the systems and services giant look ahead at innovations on the horizon — unveiled its fifth annual "Next Five in Five" list. This list cites innovations that have the potential to change the way people work, live and play over the next five years, IBM said in a press release.

The Next Five in Five list is said to be based on market and societal trends expected to transform lives, as well as emerging technologies from IBM's Labs around the world that can make these innovations possible. The list was gleaned from a survey of 3,000 IBM researchers, the company said.

The list consists of:

  • You'll beam up your friends in 3-D
  • Batteries will breathe air to power our devices
  • You won't need to be a scientist to save the planet
  • Your commute will be personalized
  • Computers will help energize your city

1. You'll beam up your friends in 3-D

According to IBM, in the next five years, 3-D interfaces — like those in movies — will enable users to interact with 3-D holograms of their friends in real time. Movies and TVs are already moving to 3-D, and as 3-D and holographic cameras get more sophisticated and miniaturized to fit into cell phones, users will be able to interact with photos, browse the web, and chat with their friends in entirely new ways.

A depiction of 3D telepresence
Source: IBM

Moreover, IBM said, scientists are working to improve video chat to become holography chat — or "3-D telepresence." The technique uses light beams scattered from objects and reconstructs a picture of that object, a similar technique to the one human eyes use to visualize its surroundings.

In its press release, IBM said:

Just as a flat map of the earth has distortion at the poles that makes flight patterns look indirect, there is also distortion of data — which is becoming greater as digital information becomes "smarter" — like your digital photo album. Photos are now geo-tagged, the web is capable of synching information across devices, and computer interfaces are becoming more natural.

Scientists at IBM Research are working on new ways to visualize 3-D data, working on technology that would allow engineers to step inside of a designs of everything from buildings to software programs, running simulations of how diseases spread across an interactive 3-D globes, and visualizing trends happening around the world on Twitter - all in real time and with little to no distortion.

2. Batteries will breathe air to power our devices

IBM also predicts that in the next five years, scientific advances in transistors and battery technology will enable devices to run about 10 times longer than they do today. And, in some cases, batteries may disappear altogether in smaller devices.

Instead of the heavy lithium-ion batteries used today, scientists are working on batteries that use the air we breathe to react with energy-dense metal, eliminating a key inhibitor to longer lasting batteries, IBM said. If this is successful, the result will be a lightweight, powerful and rechargeable battery capable of powering everything from electric cars to consumer devices.

Meanwhile, IBM is looking at potential ways to eliminate batteries all together. By rethinking the basic building block of electronic devices, the transistor, IBM is aiming to reduce the amount of energy per transistor to less than 0.5 volts. With energy demands this low, it might be able to lose the battery altogether in some devices like mobile phones or e-readers. The result would be battery-free electronic devices that can be charged using a technique called energy scavenging.

Some wrist watches use this today — they require no winding and charge based on the movement of your arm. The same concept could be used to charge mobile phones, for example: just shake and dial.

3. You won't need to be a scientist to save the planet

Also in five years, IBM says, sensors in your phone, your car, your wallet and even your tweets will collect data that will give scientists a real-time picture of your environment. You'll be able to contribute this data to fight global warming, save endangered species or track invasive plants or animals that threaten ecosystems around the world. In the next five years, a whole class of 'citizen scientists' will emerge, using simple sensors that already exist to create massive data sets for research.

Simple observations such as when the first thaw occurs in a town, when the mosquitoes first appear, if there's no water running where a stream should be — all this is valuable data that scientists don't have in large sets today, IBM said. Even an individual's laptop can be used as a sensor to detect seismic activity. If properly employed and connected to a network of other computers, a personal laptop can help map out the aftermath of an earthquake quickly, speeding up the work of emergency responders and potentially saving lives.

IBM recently patented a technique that enables a system to accurately and precisely conduct post-event analysis of seismic events, such as earthquakes, as well as provide early warnings for tsunamis, which can follow earthquakes, the company said. The invention also provides the ability to rapidly measure and analyze the damage zone of an earthquake, helping prioritize the emergency response needed following an earthquake.

The company is also contributing mobile phone apps that allow typical citizens to contribute invaluable data to causes, like improving the quality of drinking water or reporting noise pollution, IBM said. Already, an iPhone app called Creek Watch (above right) allows citizens to take a snapshot of a creek or stream: Answer three simple questions about it and the data is automatically accessible by the local water authority.

4. Your commute will be personalized

In the next five years, advanced analytics technologies will provide personalized recommendations that get commuters where they need to go in the fastest time, IBM said. Adaptive traffic systems will intuitively learn traveler patterns and behavior to provide more dynamic travel safety and route information to travelers than is available today.

IBM is putting its money where its mouth is and its investments in analytics technology — more than $14 billion spent on 24 analytics acquisitions — is paying off. According to the company, its researchers are developing new models that will predict the outcomes of varying transportation routes to provide information that goes well beyond traditional traffic reports  — after-the-fact devices that only indicate where you are already located in a traffic jam, or web-based applications that give estimated travel time in traffic.

Using new mathematical models and IBM's predictive analytics technologies, the researchers will analyze and combine multiple possible scenarios that can affect commuters to deliver the best routes for daily travel. Factors will include: a commuter's location; traffic accidents; current and planned road construction; most-traveled days of the week; expected work start times; local events that may impact traffic; alternate options of transportation such as rail or ferries; parking availability; and weather, IBM said.

For example, said IBM, by combining predictive analytics with real-time information about current travel congestion from sensors and other data, the system could recommend better ways to get to a destination, such as how to get to a nearby mass transit hub, whether the train is predicted to be on time, and whether parking is predicted to be available at the train station. New systems can learn from regular travel patterns where you are likely to go and then integrate all available data and prediction models to pinpoint the best route.

5. Computers will help energize your city

Innovations in computers and data centers are enabling the excessive heat and energy that they give off to be used for things like heating buildings in the winter and powering air conditioning in the summer. Employing these innovations, energy poured into the world's data centers could in turn be recycled for a city's use, IBM said.

Up to 50 percent of the energy consumed by a modern data center goes toward air cooling. Most of the heat is then wasted because it is just dumped into the atmosphere. However, with new technologies, such as on-chip water-cooling systems developed by IBM, the thermal energy from a cluster of computer processors can be efficiently recycled to provide hot water for an office or houses.

IBM said a pilot project in Switzerland involving a computer system fitted with the novel technology is expected to save up to 30 tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year — the equivalent of an 85 percent carbon footprint reduction. In this particular system, a network of microfluidic capillaries inside a heat sink is attached to the surface of each chip in the computer cluster, which allows water to be piped to within microns of the semiconductor material itself.

By having water flow so close to each chip, heat can be removed more efficiently. Water heated to 60 degrees C is then passed through a heat exchanger to provide heat that is delivered elsewhere, according to IBM.

IBM's fifth annual "Next Five in Five" list
(click to play)

Darryl K. Taft is a writer for eWEEK.

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