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IBM Predicts Computers, Smartphones with Five Senses
IBM Predicts Computers, Smartphones with Five Senses

By Barry Levine
December 17, 2012 10:23AM

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Mobile devices in particular have already begun to have tremendous capabilities as front-ends to intelligent systems and as self-aware sensors, said analyst Brad Shimmin. He said IBM's predictions are "not far-fetched, but are extensions into the mainstream as new applications of highly expensive implementations that often exist today."
 

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Imagine a day when you can feel the fabric of a new coat -- through your phone. That day, and the day when computers commonly have other sense perceptions, is coming within five years, according to new predictions from IBM.

The touch-phone prediction is part of IBM's seventh annual "5 in 5" set of predictions -- five innovations whose pending release within five years is based on the company's assessment of market and societal trends, as well as innovations in its own, world-famous labs. This year's crop explores how mobile devices will be able to mimic human senses, forming the underpinning of what IBM calls the next big phase in computing -- the "era of cognitive systems."

In the touch scenario, the company envisions a smartphone that allows a woman to shop for her wedding dress remotely and feel the satin or silk in the gown on the surface of the screen. IBM said its scientists are currently developing applications for retail, healthcare and other industries that uses haptic, infrared and pressure sensitive technologies to simulate such touch sensations as the texture or weave of a fabric.

Understanding Babies and Dogs

The technologies use vibration capabilities in the phone, emitted millimeters from the screen, to represent a particular touch sensation. IBM notes that such haptic devices as gloves or "rumble packs" have been used in gaming systems for years, but they are in closed environments that don't necessarily correspond to reality. Texture can already be conveyed through vibration, the company said, but what is needed is a "dictionary of textures" that matches the vibrations to the real world.

In the realm of sight, devices will have a heightened ability to understand the content of images. This has already begun, such as Facebook's ability to match faces between photos or FBI systems that can match faces captured by street cameras to a database of images. IBM envisions the next step, where healthcare systems can help doctors analyze MRIs, CT scans, X-rays or ultrasound images.

Systems will also be able to scan images posted on social networks and use that analysis to determine users' interests, or analyze photos from storm scenes so that needs are immediately conveyed to utility crews and emergency crews.

Superman's highly sensitive hearing is also within reach, IBM said. A distributed system of sensors will be able to detect sound pressure, vibrations and sound waves at various frequencies, predicting when trees will fall in a forest or a landslide is about to happen. Such a system could listen to a baby's babbling and crying through a mobile device, and, through a kind of "speech recognition," will be able to know if a baby is hungry, hot, tired or in pain. The same system could learn to interpret those whines, barks and whimpers from your dog. (continued...)

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