Imagine a system that lets you speak in English to someone who doesn't understand the language, lets them respond in their native tongue, and translates both ways in real time so you understand each other perfectly.
It sounds like Star Trek, but it's one of the new technologies demonstrated at AT&T's recent Living the Networked Life innovation showcase in New York City where the telecoms giant demonstrates cool technologies that may, one day, make your life, if not easier, at least more interesting. Thanks to the Watson speech recognition API, AT&T Translator, working through an app called Spectra, copes with seven languages: English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Japanese and Mandarin. Since all of those smarts won't fit into a mobile device; the app uses Web-based servers to do the heavy lifting. According to AT&T researcher David Thomson, the API will be available to developers in June, and there are already plans afoot to roll the software out in video games and social media.
One place Watson has already been strutting his stuff is in a very special Porsche Carrera equipped by Canada's QNX (now owned by RIM). You can simply ask the cloud-linked navigation system to find the nearest Timmy's and it will hunt down some choices for you. You can ask the car to phone someone, and it will do so – and the handsfree phone can be made to "talk" only to the driver, to the passenger, or both, by directing its output to the appropriate speaker. And if you touch the console with a NFC (near-field communications) equipped BlackBerry, the car and the phone connect.
The car also uses BlackBerry Playbooks as personalized screens for backseat passengers. Those screens are individually controlled by the driver, from the console.
The whole point is to minimize driver distraction.
Another automotive technology with a twist is, believe it or not, a steering wheel. Researcher Kevin Li figured that, with all of the distractions today's drivers are facing, they could use a little help with their navigation systems. Mr. Li equipped a steering wheel with a series of small actuators. When the GPS decides it's time to turn, instead of babbling at you, it activates the actuators in sequence so you feel a wave of vibrations in the direction you're to turn.
Mr. Li says that this haptic-enhanced tech for the steering wheel could be incorporated into a steering wheel cover, eliminating the need for replacing the wheel itself. He's continuing work with researchers at Carnegie Mellon University to develop ways to use tactile feedback to convey more complex information.
Mr. Li is also playing with a hand-gesture system called Shadow Puppets. Using the shadows cast by his hands when he's pointing at parts of images cast by a projector on his mobile phone to actually interact with said images. Everything you can do with gestures on a touchscreen he does with the same shadow gestures on the projected image. Imagine, for example, showing several friends how to find the restaurant you're heading to for dinner on a projected map, rather than bumping heads over a smartphone screen.
Researcher Brian Amento, on the other hand, relies on bumping things – or rather, he relies on the unique way your body passes vibrations through bone – to identify individuals and unlock doors by simply touching the handle. Bio-acoustic Data Transfer works by attaching a piezo-electric transducer to a mobile device. When the user approaches a suitably equipped door, and grabs the handle, the transducer sends a keyed vibration that passes through the person's bones and identifies the individual to the door, which will then unlock.
The same technology could be used for things like passing contact information between people when they shake hands, or even transferring data between devices.
Mr. Amento says further work is required to determine under what circumstances your personal vibe might change (in which case, you'd be locked out). For example, bone density and the way vibrations are transmitted will change if you break a bone. But some day, you may not need to carry a house key.
Want to know more? Visit AT&T Research's Web site.