IBM Forecasts: 3D User Interfaces, Longer Lasting Batteries

Changes that will impact lives over the next five years include better batteries, 3D user interfaces, and the collection of tons more data about users' habits.

Over the next five years, batteries will be much longer lasting and some devices will be battery-free, while user interfaces, including video chat, will be rendered in 3D, according to IBM's fifth annual "Next Five in Five," a list of technologies its experts think are likely to significantly impact peoples' lives over the next five years.

"In the next five years, 3D interfaces -- like those in the movies -- will let you interact with 3D holograms of your friends in real time. Movies and TVs are already moving to 3D, and as 3D and holographic cameras get more sophisticated and miniaturized to fit into cell phones, you will be able to interact with photos, browse the Web and chat with your friends in entirely new ways," IBM's (NYSE: IBM) list said.

That's not to say that other companies are sitting still.

For instance, in November, Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) announced it was buying Canesta, a maker of 3D chips, and Nvidia (NASDAQ: NVDA) announced a new 3D processor series last spring.

Microsoft has also said that use of its new Kinect controllerless game controller will expand over time to provide a 3D user interface for Windows.

Additionally, recent rumors indicate that Windows 8, which is due in 2012 or 2013, will feature a 3D UI.

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

Also coming in the next five years are advances in chip and battery design that Big Blue predicts will bring a ten-fold increase in battery life -- and may result in elimination of lithium-ion batteries and a move to air as a reactant in lighter, longer-lasting sources of portable energy.

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

For some devices, innovations may be able to eliminate batteries for power storage using a technology similar to the self-winding wristwatches of the 20th century that wound as the wearer moved his or her wrist -- thus capturing the kinetic energy inherent in a person's bodily movements.

On a much larger scale, IBM researchers point to "excessive heat" currently resulting from cooling gigantic new data centers as a resource that can be harnessed for other tasks such as heating office buildings.

"[Using] new technologies, such as novel 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."

Besides IBM, many other companies with large data center investments, for instance Microsoft, are deploying more energy-efficient designs, with an eye towards conservation and reuse.

IBM said that it expects a pilot project in Switzerland using computers built with its cooling technology will cut as many as 30,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions per month.

Two other innovations that IBM researchers called out take a more personal turn.

One area is technologies aimed at turning individuals into living "sensors" that send data back to scientists who would use the technology to acquire orders of magnitude more data than, for example, climate scientists or tsunami warning center staff have access to today.

"In five years, 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 fact, monitoring all sorts of data inputs, despite any Orwellian 1984 connotations, leads to IBM's fifth area of innovation to watch over the next five years -- personalization -- particularly when it comes to helping people avoid traffic jams.

"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, including ... traffic accidents, commuter's location, 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," the list said.

Stuart J. Johnston is a contributing writer at InternetNews.com, the news service of Internet.com, the network for technology professionals. Follow him on Twitter @stuartj1000.




Tags: Microsoft, IBM, privacy, battery life, 3D


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