Trends in Technology
By J. Anthony Vittal
Wonders on the Horizon: Part I
Recently the international press reported that a 75-year-old woman in Karlstad, Sweden now enjoys the world’s fastest consumer Internet connection—running at 40 Gbps. By comparison, a fast DSL connection will run between 1.5 and 3.0 Gbps. Her son, Swedish Internet guru Peter Löthberg, is using this installation to demonstrate the potential fiber-based networks have to deliver cost-effective, ultrafast Internet connectivity. At this speed, one can simultaneously watch 1,500 HDTV programs or download an HD-DVD in two seconds.
For you and me, however, it will not be enough to have high-speed fiber delivered to the curb or the pole in the alley or the telecommunications vault in our office buildings. We will need to recable our structures with fiber cable to deliver that speed to our devices, and we will need to invest in new hardware to handle the high-speed signal. With signal speed exceeding the write speed of our storage media, we will need to invest in RAM disks to either store or buffer the data—even if we are willing to shift our paradigms and leave the data out there in the ether to download again and again at will, whenever we need it.
This announcement led me to consider what other wonders lie on the horizon for us to enjoy during our lifetimes. First, there are some technologies already available elsewhere in the world that generally have yet to make it to the U.S. market:
Mikimoto Beans iTheater
Do you hate watching videos on a minuscule iPod screen? You’ll welcome these goggles, with twin TFT displays at QVGA resolution (one for each eye), creating the impression of a 50" screen viewed from a distance of 22 meters. The ear pieces include built-in headphones for a stereo sound experience. In addition to iPod video output, the goggles also support NTSC, PAL, and Secam video standards. Originally available only in Japan, the iTheater goggles now are available internationally from Audio Cubes for $299.00.
If you are like me, when you are headed to an unfamiliar destination, you’ll visit a mapping site such as MapQuest or Yahoo Maps, print a map and possibly driving directions, and take the printout with you. Google Maps and BMW have developed a better way to accomplish this. Using Google Maps, get the map and driving instructions, and then email them to your Drive Assist GPS device in your new BMW. No more printing; no more data entry into the GPS system in the car. So far, it’s only available in Germany.
Flying across time zones generates more than mere jet lag. Your cell phone will automatically reset to local time when logging into the local network, but your watch stubbornly hews to “home” time, unless you are wearing a Braun AW200 self-setting watch. Simply press a button, and the watch receives a radio signal broadcasting Central European Time, which it then uses to sync itself to the correct (local) time. The AW200 is currently available only in Europe.
For some years now, I have had a clock on my desk that syncs to the atomic clock in Colorado. There is no reason why the same technology used in the Braun AW200 couldn’t be adapted to other broadcasts, including those used by cellular service providers to sync the clocks in our cell phones, thereby affording us the same convenience when traveling across the various U.S. time zones. I therefore expect to see this technology available locally in the near future.
Another little annoyance of modern travel is the restriction on bottled liquids in carry-on luggage. Travel through various airports in Switzerland, Japan, China, and Laos, however, and a Sencion scanner will screen your glass and PET plastic bottles for threat liquids. The Sencion uses harmless electromagnetic technology to assess the physical properties of liquids. Microwaves are generated from sending and receiving antennae and are then analyzed by computer chips using sophisticated software to determine if a bottled liquid contains any liquids that could be used to harm persons or property. The Sencion was invented by Masahiro Fujiwara of Osaka, Japan, using proven existing microwave technology. Distributed by Sellex International of Cleveland, Ohio, one would have thought we would first see the Sencion in U.S. airports, but the TSA bureaucracy once again appears to have trumped passenger convenience.
Ongoing R&D Projects
Then there are some nifty developments that are in the works:
A team of MIT researchers have demonstrated the wireless transmission of electrical power. By using magnetically coupled resonators, the MIT team solved the inefficiency problem, because power is broadcast omnidirectionally. In the demonstration, a copper coil is connected to a power outlet and broadcasts electromagnetic waves at set frequencies. A receiving coil attached to the base of a lamp will receive sufficient energy at a distance of up to seven feet from the broadcast coil to power a 60-watt light bulb—making the technology suitable for home of office use. Because many devices, from robot vacuums to notebook computers, run on less than 60 watts of power, those devices could be designed to run without batteries in a broadcast power environment.
The team leader believes the technology is sufficiently proven to warrant thinking about commercializing it. While further development is needed to improve efficiency, commercial products could be on sale in just a few years. Imagine—no more cords to trip over!
We all have become familiar with wireless mice, freeing us from the “tails” we needed to connect them to our computers. Unfortunately, we still need a flat surface against which to move the mouse, so that it can detect motion and direction of travel and translate that to cursor movement on the computer screen. Airline tray tables and most office workstations highlight the deficiencies of that design, and most of us find the touch pad an unsatisfactory solution.
If we haven’t actually played with one, I imagine that all of us by now have seen the ubiquitous TV commercials for the Wii7, with its point-and-shoot controller. Wouldn’t it be great if the technology could be adapted to computer use? It turns out that’s not so simple, because of the granularity needed for a computer pointer. Patrick Baudisch of Microsoft Research and the University of Washington approached the problem from a different direction. Instead of sliding the mouse across a surface, why not slide the surface across the mouse? Thus we have Soap—basically, a wireless optical mouse surrounded by a lubricant and a fabric hull. With further development, Baudisch hopes to lose the lubricant. In any event, his working prototype, demonstrated at the Computer/Human Interaction conference earlier this year in San Jose, California, shows that an environment-independent “mouse” is something we all can look forward to.
IMAX at Home
Engineers at HP Labs have developed a concept, named Pluribus, which its inventors describe as “cluster computing for projectors.” The system can either “tile” images from multiple projectors to give you a wall-sized image, or it can superimpose the same images from multiple projectors over each other to give you enhanced resolution, brightness, contrast, and redundancy. All it takes is a number of digital projectors—just like the ones we haul to court for trial presentations—a fast PC, a digital video camera, and the Pluribus software. In a demonstration, a gaming PC with dual graphics cards was able to align a dozen inexpensive projectors, pointed in the general direction of the wall, in less than five minutes, thereby generating a 16 x 9 foot image with 4,096 x 2,304 resolution. True home theater, that rivals the quality of your local digital movie house, is coming within our reach.
One of the major drawbacks of current networking technology is its server-centric design. Stated simply, if you want a file, you establish a direct connection to the source server where it resides. If a thousand users want the same file at the same time, a thousand unique copies of the file are downloaded from that server, clogging data ports and consuming bandwidth.
Van Jacobson and his team at the Palo Alto Research Center are turning that model on its head with their Content-Centric Networking (CCN) Project. Instead of going to the source server, your computer will ask the rest of the computers on its network for the file. The first to respond will deliver the file, authenticating and validating the information using the information itself, rather than the source of the information. For example, if you want a copy of the slip opinion reflecting the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School Dist. No. 1, one of the two cases involving school segregation-prevention plans, you don’t care if the copy comes from your colleague’s workstation down the hall, or another colleague’s workstation in another office of your firm, or from someone else’s workstation in another state, or from the Legal Information Institute servers at Cornell Law School, or from the Court itself. On a more practical level, CCN can keep the calendars on your workstation, your notebook, and your handheld synchronized with each other by routine file requests.
The PARC team intends to deploy CCN across the existing network infrastructure, but ultimately wants to change the way machines communicate with each other at the packet level. Such a sea change in network communications will take time to implement, but will result in a geometric increase in network efficiency.
More to Come
In my next column, I will discuss even more fantastic R&D developments that have reached the “proof of concept” phase and will offer a projected timeline for the release of developing technologies into the marketplace. For now, I hope I have intrigued you with these.
J. Anthony Vittal is in private practice with the Vittal Law Firm based in Los Angeles, California. A former member of the ABA Standing Committee on Technology and Information Systems, a member of the editorial boards for Tech eReport and the Technology & Practice Guide issues of GPSOLO, and a member of various technology-oriented committees of ABA Sections, he speaks and writes frequently on legal technology topics.