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Wireless World: Wireless without worries?
Jul 30, 2004 (United Press International via COMTEX) -- A weekly series by UPI examining emerging wireless telecommunications technologies.
CHICAGO, July 30 (UPI) -- A nervous individual investor eyes the wireless device on his desk at the office. The small, crystal ball shaped object -- the stock orb -- is glowing red. That means it is time for him to sell his shares on NASDAQ.
Stock market advice, provided by a telecommuting medieval wizard? Hardly.
The device is an example of "pre-cognitive communications," as its inventor calls it, and it -- and other wireless devices like it -- are designed to help harried humans, overwhelmed by the influx of information today, make important decisions, instantly, without having to think.
"These devices are aimed at the secondary and tertiary tasks that people perform," said Nabeel Hyatt, vice president of product development at Ambient Devices Inc., a spin-off of the famed Media Lab at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass.
Hyatt told United Press International: "A professional trader, who is hooked up to a Bloomberg terminal, probably doesn't need an orb, but the person who is in the market, and who turns on CNBC several times a day, may. Rather than having to do a distracting task at work, like check stock figures, they can build their decisions into their environment, so they do not distract them."
Consumers pre-select the colors they want -- from the entire red, green and blue parts of the spectrum -- that they want to flash or pulse when a news event impacting their stocks occurs. Then they can take action as soon as they receive that news, based on their established strategy, Hyatt explained.
Other, major technology developers, such as Microsoft and Phillips, also are eyeing this market, hoping to ease the anxiety that many consumers feel regarding new wireless devices.
The technology first surfaced at research universities -- Cal Tech and Georgia Tech, as well as MIT -- and at Xerox about a decade ago, but is just now coming to market at Brookstone, Neiman Marcus and other, luxury retailers.
The technology comes from advances in user interface development, and in mobile phones.
"There is a lot of information anxiety today," Hyatt said. "With the advent of the Internet, there are hundreds of thousands of new types of data available from around the world, but there have been only two ways to get it -- on a flat screen of a computer or the small screen of the cell phone or PDA. But having to search for relevant information all the time makes you feel like you're in Times Square, even if you're in your living room. You're always frazzled."
The field of pre-cognitive communications -- sometimes also known by the sci-fi sounding name, calm computing, because it helps people make decisions calmly -- is really just emerging.
Other technologists are approaching the problem of information overload, and information anxiety, in a different way.
At KnowNow Inc., a venture-capital-backed firm in Sunnyvale, Calif. -- and founded by computer scientists from Cal Tech -- developers discerned that computer users were frustrated by the fact that they constantly had to refresh their browsers on the Web to receive updated information.
By changing the way data is sent over networks, such as the Internet's HTTP standard, technologists are sending news and information wirelessly to computing devices, without requiring the user to click their computer mice continually to refresh the screen.
"We call it the publish-subscribe model," said Richard Treadway, vice president of marketing and strategy at KnowNow. "Once the event driven data is generated, it is available to the user," he told UPI.
Major telecommunications companies also are trying to simplify computing and communications and are developing wireless networks for homes, so family members do not have to compete for time on the PC.
"Wireless networking is growing in popularity because of the flexibility it affords, from homes to offices, as well as in hot spot areas," Fredrik Nilsson, general manager of Axis Communications in Chelmsford, Mass., told UPI.
Eyeing this technology area, Motorola's broadband communications division has developed a wireless, PDA-like device for home use. It is meant to enable both parents and kids to use the family's computer at the same time, said Bill Taylor, senior director of marketing at Motorola in Horsham, Pa.
The wireless device, which works over a proprietary wireless network now, but soon will work on wireless fidelity networks in the future, lets teenagers instant message one another, for free, while their parents are at home in the evenings, using the family computer to update their bank accounts or conduct other personal business, Taylor explained.
"Increasingly, there are broadband connections in the homes, and one of our notions is to improve the value of the broadband connection," Taylor told UPI. "Enriched communications in the home are now possible, because of broadband."
The handheld IM device offers a conventional, QWERTY keyboard, so kids can type instant messages, just as they do on the computer, and chat with their pals, and even send emoticons -- symbols or images created by combining keyboard characters -- without tying up the family PC.
"The receiving antennae is attached to the PC through the USB," Taylor said. "You can have up to six of these on the network."
As from the cost of the device, about $100, the cost of the service is free, as AOL offers IM service at no cost. The simple device allows IM only -- no e-mail.
"Parents can even set controls as to who is on the buddy list," Taylor said.
There are still other, related technology developments, striving to use wireless communications to streamline the average person's day.
Sensors and radio frequency identification tags -- also known as RFIDs -- are coming together, and in the coming years could change the way Americans shop at the grocery market.
"Imagine a price tag that automatically updates, based on the quality of the product," Badri Nath, a professor of computer science at Rutgers University, told UPI.
"Some of the sensor technology that can measure ambient temperature instantly is being miniaturized," he said. "Let's say somebody left the milk out of the refrigerator at the grocery store too long. If there is a sensor in there, they will know that it will expire on the 18th of the month, rather than the 20th. They can sell the milk for a lower price, then, because it will have a shorter shelf-life."
Gene Koprowski covers telecommunications for UPI Science News. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
United Press International
Copyright 2004 by United Press International.
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