By Sinead Carew
Imagine a warning on your cell phone that tells you when a parent in
ill health needs help, when you've eaten too much, or that you should
avoid your regular commute because of a biohazard danger.
Forget mobile music and video. Wireless may end up running your life
-- down to when to wash your underwear.
This may sound far-fetched, but laboratories around the world are
exploring such scenarios as wireless networks become more robust and
amid moves to miniaturize electronic chips to the point where they can
be discreetly placed into any product.
James Canton, president of Institute for Global Futures, a consultancy
that advises on trends, says sensor chips may one day even be embedded
into underwear to send laundry-related text or voice alerts to cell
"It will tell you when it needs to get cleaned," he said and suggested
a potential prompt: "Stop using that bleach on me because it's
shrinking me and if I shrink any more, you're not going to be able to
Chip-embedded clothes could also help suppliers manage stocks. They
could even provide consumers walking by a wirelessly linked ad with
details, such as a sale on a matching shirt for the trousers the
passerby is wearing.
Others foresee a prevalence of wireless sensors for potentially
Professor John Guttag from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology
is studying how wirelessly connected medical devices, such as
heart-monitor sensors, could automatically send warnings of a problem
to the patient's cell phone and then on to a relative or a doctor.
"If your elderly parent is having trouble breathing, you can't rely on
them to do something (like send a text message or make a call)," said
Guttag who works in MIT's electrical engineering and computer science
department. "It would have to happen automatically."
But Guttag said such devices would only work if they are sophisticated
enough to avoid false alarms.
"The machine will have to be clever enough to tell the difference
between fainting and having a nap," he said. "The doctors will go nuts
if hypochondriacs flood them with information every day."
Cell phones, software, computers and sensors can also work together to
make our jobs easier and eliminate menial daily chores, according to
researchers at the world's biggest handset makers.
In the future, your computer will automatically switch on when you
arrive at work and display documents for your first meeting, thanks to
phone and PC-based sensors, said Tom MacTavish, a human interaction
researcher at Motorola Inc.
"I had to do a whole bunch of stuff this morning that the computer and
the cell phone of the future will together to do for me," he said.
MacTavish believes voice-recognition technology on cell phones, which
can be frustrating to use when it does not recognize context or
accents, could improve with pattern-recognition technology.
For example, if you call John Jones at noon every day, your phone
could remember this information and first suggest Jones rather than
select a random John from your contacts.
Image-recognition technology is also being developed, which could help
with law enforcement. For example, a wireless device that can read
license plates could automatically link to a database to tell a police
officer if the car was stolen or belonged to somebody with no speeding
Nokia also sees image-recognition technology aiding consumers by
recognizing and labeling photographs taken on cell phones for albums
or helping users remember locations.
"We could think of it like a memory prosthesis," said Jyri Huopaniemi,
Nokia's head of strategic research.
Eventually we may be able to host a Web site from our phones to share
holiday notes or create a personal diary.
Many forecasters see location-aware phones playing a major role in the
future, providing such information as the history of a neighborhood, a
list of its restaurants and data on crime rates and pollution
levels. Others say they could alert users to environmental hazards or
But one analyst was skeptical about focusing on such sophisticated
applications as he believes it will take years for more basic
advances, such as simply connecting televisions and computers with
wireless instead of cable.
"You could see a lot less cable everywhere," said Stephen Baker of
research firm NPD.
Copyright 2006 Reuters Limited.
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