Five big IBM ideas that will benefit us

AS THE year draws to an end and we turn the calendar to the next year — and decade — IBM Corp is unveiling its fifth annual “Next Five in Five.”

This list of five innovations — 3D telepresence, air-powered batteries, citizen scientists, adaptive traffic systems and recycling heat-system — have the potential to change how people work, live and play over the next five years.

IBM’s Next Five in Five is based on market and societal trends expected to transform our lives, as well as emerging technologies from its labs around the world that can make these innovations possible.

Holographic chat

Like those seen in the movies, 3D interfaces will enable you to interact with 3D holograms of your friends in real time. Movies and TVs are already moving to 3D imagery.

As the technology and holographic cameras get more sophisticated and miniaturised to fit into mobile phones, you will be able to interact with photos, browse the Web and chat with friends in entirely new ways.

Scientists are working to improve video chat to become holography chat or “3D telepresence.” The technique uses light beams scattered from objects and reconstructs them into a picture of that object, a similar technique to the one human eyes use to visualise our surroundings.

Look ma, no batteries

Ever wish you could make your laptop battery last all day without needing a charge? Or what about a cellphone that powers up simply by being carried in your pocket?

In the next five years, scientific advances in transistors and battery technology will allow your devices last about 10 times longer than they do today.

Instead of the heavy lithium-ion batteries used now, 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.

If successful, the result will be a lightweight, powerful and rechargeable battery capable of powering for everything from electric cars to consumer devices.

And better yet, in some cases, batteries may disappear altogether in smaller devices.

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 0.5v.

With energy demands this low, the result would be battery-free electronic devices like mobile phones or e-readers that can be charged using a technique called energy scavenging.

The technique can be seen in some of today’s wristwatches requires no winding and charge simply based on the movement of the arm. The same concept could be used to charge handphones for example — just shake and dial.

A walking sensor

You won’t need to be a scientist to save the planet. While you may not be a physicist, you are a walking sensor. 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.

Sensors in your phone, your car, your wallet and even your tweets will collect data that will give scientists a realtime 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.

Even your laptop can be used as a sensor to detect seismic activity. If properly employed and connected to a network of other computers, the laptop can help map out the aftermath of earthquake quickly, speeding up the work of emergency responders and potentially saving lives.

Also, an IBM’s iPhone app called Creek Watch allows citizens to play a more active role where they can 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.

Stuck in a jam no more

Imagine commuting with no jam-packed highways, no crowded subways, no construction delays and not having to worry about late for work.

In the next five years, advanced analytics technologies will provide personalised recommendations that get commuters where they need to go in the fastest time.

IBM researchers are working on new adaptive traffic systems that will intuitively learn traveller patterns and behaviour to provide more dynamic travel safety and route information to travellers than is available today.

The systems will pinpoint the best route by analysing and integrating multiple possible scenarios that can affect commuters such as traffic accidents, current and planned road construction, most travelled 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.

Recycle heat

Innovations in computers and datacentres will enable the excessive heat and energy that they give off to do things like heat buildings in the winter and power airconditioning in the summer.

Up to 50% of the energy consumed by a modern datacentre goes toward air cooling. Most of the heat is then wasted because it is just dumped into the atmosphere.

A pilot project in Switzerland involving a computer system fitted with the company’s On-Chip Water-Cooling Systems technology is expected to save up to 30 tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year — the equivalent of an 85% carbon footprint reduction.

A novel 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°C is then passed through a heat exchanger to provide heat that is delivered elsewhere.


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