Archive for June, 2011

InfoCommShow 2011 brings robotic telepresence…

Monday, June 20th, 2011 by Gianluca Zaffiro

I’ve just spent a few days at InfoCommShow 2011, the biggest event for audio/visual systems, solutions and devices in the US and probably worldwide, which took place in Orlando. It attracted more than 900 companies to exhibit and more than 30.000 visitors. The event was also running several educational sessions and demonstrations.

InfoComm is a trade where to find most A/V solutions for professionals and enterprises. To ease navigating the exhibition, the floor was divided in a few thematic areas (which is quite consistent with the Orlando spirit of hosting several theme parks): unified collaborative conferencing, 3D, digital signage, audio, lighting and staging. In fact around the show you could find displays and projectors, telepresence systems, multi-touch technologies, A/V cables, racks, cameras, microphones, mixers, speakers and more. Most of the best of breed companies of the sector were present, including Cisco, HP, NEC, Samsung, Bose, Barco, LG, Sharp…

The A/V market is flourishing, with a positive CAGR of about 9%. Yet the market is changing: convergence with Information Technology is stronger and stronger, most content is today transported on IP and cables have been joined by wireless as well.

A quick glance to show floor would have given the impression of being in Time Square, New York, more than at the Orlando Orange County Convention Center, due to the massive presence of displays all around: LED displays of different sizes and form-factors, bezel multi-monitor displays, and multi-projector displays. The latter were mainly powered by an edge-blending software solution patented by Scalable Display Technologies, an MIT spin-off, capable of running up to six projectors on one GPU. Scalable enables to create highly immersive displays with a relatively inexpensive solution. Some of the LED displays were used to visualize 3D content, but requiring eyewear, which severely limits their scope. Autostereoscopic displays were not present at InfoComm.

HP Halo new telepresence prototype showing touchscreen control and blended communication

Several telepresence systems were demonstrated with real-time conferencing sessions. I personally attended a demo of the new Halo prototype by HP, which integrates a touch-screen control instead of the classic IP phone and can integrate other incoming videocalls, and demos of other telepresence systems by Polycom, Cisco, LifeSize. The telepresence main cues are currently HD video quality and a set-up to provide virtual eye gaze (to provide realism), stereo sound (to identify who is talking). From the technological point of view not much has been done in order to increase immersiveness: when I asked if 3-D displays were going to be adopted, the experts told me that they envision them to support presentation delivery but not to augment the visual impact of the virtual meeting participants. A few companies, like TelepresenceTech, were proposing to add a fake 3-D effect leveraging on the Pepper’s Ghost effect: the solution consists in putting a semireflective glass at 45° in front of the LCD display to reflect a selected background and creating the sensation that the virtual person was standing beyond this background.

TelepresenceTech system to deliver a virtual 3-D effect, based on Pepper's ghost technique

VGO Communications, an American start-up recently getting $4,5 million funding in Virtual Capital, created a “telepresence” robot that moves on wheels and integrates an LCD display on its head together with speakers and micro. The robot is telecontrolled by the person that wants to remotely communicate. What the VGO robots do is in fact to carry our “physical” avatar around. This concept is particularly interesting for disabled people who want to extend their presence in the place where they live, without installing videocams, micros and speakers in each room.

The VGO Communications telepresence-robot talking with a human...

Our cars are eating too much corn…

Sunday, June 19th, 2011 by Roberto Saracco

Just read an article on Technology Review that got me thinking on the broad connections we have created in our modern world.

According to a report released this June by the World Trade Organization the subsidy provided by many states to the production of ethanol biofuel (based on corn) has led to a fourfold increase of ethanol and a ten fold increase of biodiesel over this last decade. This is decreasing the amount of corn available for food and hence the increase of its price.

The forecast is of a continuous increase in price over this decade with sour prospects, particularly in developing countries where corn is an essential component of their people diet.

Clearly, this is showing how complex the energy issue really is. Moving from fossil energy to alternative sources is not a silver bullet. In many cases it changes the nature of the problem, no more production of CO2 but other kind of issues.

We live in an ever more connected world, a business and bio ecosystem, where the action taken on one part of it is likely to generate ripples that affect many other parts.

We need to take a global view but the connections are so many, and often so hidden, that sometimes unexpected effects surface and taking counteractions gets very costly. This is why there will be a growing need to create a comprehensive model of our world, and of its business processes. The eve growing availability of sensors and of their generated information coupled with new applications that can leverage on these data will lead in the coming decade, but possibly by the end of it, to a completely new view of our world and of our actions into it, and onto it.

Just how many, I can’t say!

Saturday, June 18th, 2011 by Roberto Saracco

There are several estimates on the number of Things that will be connected to the Internet in this decade. CISCO has forecasted 15 billions by 2015, Ericsson estimates 50 billions by 2020 and HP, to top them all, 1,000 billions by 2020.

The roadmap of IoT according to SRI

When you have this kind of spread the only safe card that you can play is that there will be many but just how many we don’t know.

Besides, it is not clear what we mean with that. In Italy we have about 15 million cars and on average each one has more than 10 sensors. Do the math and you get 150 millions things that can be connected to the Internet, although not individually.

I guess we are going to have three kinds of connected things: one kind that can look like a terminal, in the sense that it has a direct connection to the Internet, using the IP and the IPv6 address. A second type that will be connected to a local network and through a gateway of some sort to the big Internet. It is not a given that communications on this local network will take place on IP since there are other protocols that are better in terms of energy efficiency. Third, we are going to see many, many, things (the equivalent of today’s bar codes. that will not be able to communicate on their own but will need some other device to pick up its data, a sort of equivalent to a virus. And clearly, they will not use an IP communication and it is doubtful if they will be using an IPv6 address.

Most of the data provided by this third class will need to be contextualized and my feeling is that we have a space for Telecom Operators to provide the required intermediation.

3D printing in … 2050!

Friday, June 17th, 2011 by Roberto Saracco

Just last week I posted a news on the evolution of 3D printing saying that it was reaching the stage when it can move from lab prototypes to industrial production.

Now I read an article -close to science fiction giving the time span- on the New Scientist reporting on what Airbus is presenting at the Paris air fair. The future aircraft that will be taking off in 2050. Take a look at the article and judge by yourself if what they envisage makes sense (there are several comments having a quite different view).

The frame structure envisaged by Airbus for the 2050 aircraft

However, what is interesting to me is the fact that such an aircraft, according to Airbus, will be technically feasible using as frame an architecture similar to that adopted by birds: hollow tube providing strength and lightness.

To produce this frame they expect to use 3D printing process (it is not possible with other technologies to create hollow pipes forming a frame in a single piece, you would have to solder various pieces together but that would undermine its strength).

We are looking very far into the future but it is significant that engineers are seeing 3D printing as an enabler for creating completely new structures, much similar to what Nature through the eons has managed to perfect.

Just bad luck that I won’t be around to buy a ticket for the maiden flight!


My Digital Life is getting a new boost

Thursday, June 16th, 2011 by Roberto Saracco

At the end of May an interesting conference took place in Mountain View, CA USA, at the Computer Museum: The Quantified Self Conference.

A watch detecting your pulse and more by Bases

The goal of the conference was to group researchers working in the area of detection of our life events (including our body “workings”) and make the data available for further processing.

Many people and companies showed up (the event was sold out) providing a glimpse of what may lay in the future.

Basis showed a wrist watch that uses a sophisticated sensor to detect your pulse rate (based on near infrared spectroscopy) and other sensors to detect your skin temperature and the ambient temperature. Another sensor measures galvanic skin response, an indication on your emotions and yet another (an accelerometer) measures the physical activities you may be involved. Based on these data a program figures out what you are actually doing, like exercising or sleeping.

Cross matching these information with others that may be provided by capturing images and sound of the environment can provide information on your health and suggestions on what to do to improve it and even alarm signals that something may go wrong.

Another company, Green Goose, showcased very cheap sensors embedded on stickers that can be glued on any object, inside the belt of your wristwatch as well as on the leash of your dog. All together they can provide many data on your daily activities.

Supplement these data with the ones that may be provided by your cell phone and the ones that the environment can provide (more and more environment data are becoming available on the web and leveraging on the information provided by your phone -like location and time- you can easily cross reference all of them).

It seems clear to me that we are approaching a thresholds that we had on sight in our mind’s eye few years ago. Now it is for real. Our life can be mirrored into a digital shadow following us and creating a growing data base. A sort of airplane black box that can be used by doctors to understand what is going on (and try to fix it) but also by a variety of applications we can only start to dream of.

Along with the technical feasibility and opportunities we are seeing many issues on privacy, ownership, reliability that need to be addressed. My position is that we need to face and addressed all these issue and not to backtrack because of this issues. The world will go on, with or without us but we have an opportunity to make a better world, and make some money on the way too!


Wednesday, June 15th, 2011 by Roberto Saracco

Yesterday marked the 1,000 post on the Future Centre blog. We are proud to note that since we started we never missed a day. The posts have been written by many people, part of the Future Centre family, many of them students coming from all over the world and providing their own perspective to the future.

What I feel as most interesting is the fact that every single day there was something new to comment upon and to stimulate thinking. If you reflect about this, it is just amazing. As in the picture above it is a witness of the relentless evolution that characterizes this historical period. The pace of evolution is something that has no comparison in the past and it impacts every aspects of our Society. Actually, we have come to rely on this evolution pace and changes are bound to have a profound impact on our economic systems.

We are, unfortunately, already experiencing some of these effects, as market gets saturated in some areas, like number of landlines in telecommunications and traffic growth in wireless (voice traffic). In the next decade we are likely to see the Moore’s law starting to lose its grip and that is bound to create havoc in the markets relying on technological progress.

The future decades, this is my personal opinion, will see tremendous evolution but no more in electronics. The baton of progress will be taken by nanotech and genomics, with applied math changing the way we look at the world as we will learn to leverage the tsunami of information that these last fifty years have contributed to create.

My cellphone, mine as never before…

Tuesday, June 14th, 2011 by Roberto Saracco

Just finished to read a paper on an interview of the medicine Nobel Laureate Barry Marshall on what lies ahead in the genome area.

Cartoon taken from

In a nutshell Barry notes that as the decoding of the genome is getting faster and cheaper (a rough sketch is possible today in a day at a cost of 200 US$) all people will have their own genome decoded. It is something that can easily stay in a flash pen, just 2 GB, and for that matter it can stay in a cell phone. And this is what Barry foresee by the end of this decade. Now that would make my cell phone really mine!

The reason Barry voices to have the genome in the cell phone (in spite of privacy issues) is that such data will be used in a variety of applications since we are heading towards personalized, proactive medicine.

Understanding who you are at the DNA level will mean to be able to foresee potential health problems and take measure in advance. Once you are hit by a disease knowing your genome will make it possible to deliver specific drugs, at the right time for maximum effect.

You can go as far as saying that apps will be developed to let you understand yourself (but also the mixing of your DNA with the one of your prospective partner) and what better device than a cell phone can you think of to store those data and run those apps?

This may well open up a window of opportunities for Telecom Operators that may be able to preserve the information in a “personal cloud space” and provide limited access to third parties that want to deliver service to me.

So far the decoding of the human genome has not led to dramatic changes in medicine and cure but we have just begun. It would be like saying in 1810 that, “yes, this guy, Alessandro Volta, has shown some interesting -spectacular- things with that thing he calls electricity but it has not produced any impact on out life….”. It took hundred years to begin to appreciate impacts of the electricity in daily life. Since the evolution pace is faster than ever we my need to wait not 100 years but may be just 20….


Understanding Brain at Future Networks and Mobile Summit

Monday, June 13th, 2011 by Antonio Manzalini

This week I’ll give a talk at the Conference Future Networks and Mobile Summit (

Image taken from:

My idea is starting from the description of the scenario of future networks in the next decade, and then elaborating on the question of my last post “Which way to deal with local vs global communications exchange between a set of decentralized controllers? ” (a problem which shared also in communications in social groups, firms, and organizations).

The scenario is that, in the next decade, network communications capabilities will be embedded in any device, object and thing around us. Network itself will be highly pervasive and capable of adapting and re-configuring to satisfy dynamically changing services demands. This idea of a complex network of interacting simple elements is recalling by analogy the network of neurons in the brain.

Actually, brain network is considered the most effective natural structure for coexistence of informational processing (both segregation and integration) and communications, so why don’t try leveraging, for future networks, models, simulations and emulations results coming from researches on brain network functioning ? That’s the main objective of the presentation “Understanding Brain for Future Networks“.

In future networks, embedded communications will determine the emergence of dynamic games of (sub-)networks (owning to the same, or different Operators), particularly at the edges, which will be able to support any sort of services by leveraging local processing and storage capacities. Well, it is possible to model this the Global Workspace Theory, which is describing the emergence of human cognition. According to this theory, human cognition is emerging by the interactions of a multitude of relatively small, special purpose processes, which derive from coalitions of networks of neurons (think about sub-networks). The “Global Workspaces” are sort of common arenas where said processes compete and interact (creating and destroying coalitions), like in a dynamic game, eventually aiming at the best possible self-configuration in a certain context.

This will be very much similar in future networks! From this point of view, given a strategy of interactions (of sub-networks), it is interesting analyzing its functional dependence of certain attractors of the game dynamics. Norms for cooperation and competition can be defined as strategies that are manifested as specific attractors of game dynamics. Another consequence of this dynamic games of (sub-)networks – considered in the talk – is the potential emergence of state transitions, that might be cause of instabilities, but, at the same time, that could open new amazing approaches in network resource optimization and management.

I’ll keep you posted on the outcomes of the Conference.

3D printing is reaching mainstream

Sunday, June 12th, 2011 by Roberto Saracco

I have been posting a number of news about 3D printing evolution. They were always pointing to the future, having found, at best,  practical application in fast prototyping.

Now time has come to talk about it in the present.

The hinge on the right is the one 3D printed

GE has just announced a 3D printing that can be used in the manufacturing of airplanes parts.

3D technology has matured to the point where it is overtaking classical production technologies and it is producing better parts at a lower cost, even when we deal with large scale production.

On the left the photo of two hinges, used by airplanes. The one to the left has been manufactured using normal technology, the one to the right has been 3D printed. You can notice how much more complex it is the structure of the one on the right. This more complex structure, that would have been impossible using normal production techniques, result in more strength and a lighter piece. That is just what we need in airplane manufacturing.

This is important for many fields since once you have a technology finding a way in the large production you can expect it to get better rapidly and being used in a wider variety of fields, including the mass market.

The conversion of bits into atoms will change significantly well established value chain and will multiply the number of “manufacturing” players, thus creating ecosystems.

Today we have already seen the multiplication of players in the apps development, (the latest announce from Apple indicated 425,000 apps that have created a revenue to tens of thousands of developer in the order of 2,500,000,000 $). Get ready to see something similar in the atoms department soon.

Guess where am I going?

Saturday, June 11th, 2011 by Roberto Saracco

Sometimes I hit into a news that just start me thinking. Its value goes much further than the news itself. Well, this is one of those.

Is this where I am going?

Ford researchers are testing a hybrid car that can guess where I will be driving (no, it is not waiting for me to fill in the info in the car navigator!).

It uses a predictive technology developed by Google and the software developed by Ford tweak the car engine to fit the predicted route (e.g. it takes decision on when using the battery power rather than the gas).

You might wonder if such a guessing is really important in terms of energy efficiency but what made me think is the fact that objects are getting smarter and this is going to change our perception of the environment and possibly the way we look at them and interact with them.

In the future more and more information (data) will be available and harvesting/processing these data will provide us with insight on what is happening and on what might be happening. If you think about it there is something very close to intelligence and even consciousness in this. We do something because we perceive a given situation AND we derive expectation out of that. Most of our actions are the result of an evaluation of possibilities that may become real in the future.

Of course, it is not “real” consciousness but is getting pretty close to that!