From Diana J. Choyce
Jan 17 - 23, 2000
Now that Y2K worries are over, the research and development departments of most companies are kicking into high gear. The big trend rumours are leading to what are called "net devices". These devices allow one to get connected to the internet outside of traditional computer methods. Given that internet connections themselves are still not stable or available globally, one would think these problems should be dealt with first. But internet commerce is on a roll and not likely to slow down any time soon. And commerce and profits ultimately drive the evolution of things.
If these net devices are to progress as hoped, a few things will need to be addressed first. And at the top of the list is internet bandwidth, availability and speed. There are cell phones on the market now which connect to the net, and allow one to view web pages, receive weather and stock reports, and access e-mail accounts. But the speed is very very slow, the displays are small, and there is a limited amount of pages coded properly to be viewed. To make these devices truly time saving and efficient, speed is a necessity. This will come in due time, probably starting late this year. But for now, vendors and retailers should downplay their hype. People are buying these devices expecting great things and getting very little. So it would appear a little patience on both sides is needed to allow the technology to catch up to itself.
There are many uses and needs for both businesses and consumers in wireless connections. And true to our creative nature, some very clever ideas are developing. BP Amoco stations company announced last week that they will begin shipping internet connected petrol pumps next year. While filling the tank you can check traffic reports, and connect with your refrigerator to see if you should pick up a gallon of milk as well. Then you order your milk and drive round to pick it up and pay for your purchases. One of the more interesting innovations comes from the Italian appliance maker Ariston. It has released its margherita2000, an internet-connected washing machine that be controlled with a mobile phone or via the Internet. According to the company, each machine has its own Web site with the ability to control operation and to get status information. While this device seems a bit laughable, its introduction opens the door for many similar advances. Devices that can adjust heating and cooling before you walk in the door would be useful. And on the health front, devices that can send information instantly from a patient can help save lives. Especially for people living in rural areas.
2Wire, Inc. says it will unveil a broadband gateway, or Home Portal, for the home next month. The company says the gateways will be available in the spring of 2000. Based on the business networking idea, this system will allow a home to have its own intranet. This network will work with homes connected to the internet by DSL or cable. Devices such as set-top boxes, desktop computers and stereos can plug into the network and the gateway will provide broadband access to the Internet. In the future it will allow most electronic devices in the home to communicate with each other. The idea of a Smart Home is finally coming to reality from the movies. There are systems available now but they appear to be fraught with "bugs" and resulting lawsuits because of instability. Wireless technology will make most of these problems moot and insure growth, safety and true usability.
Intel recently unveiled a strategy called Connected Car-PC which it hopes will turn our cars into mobile computers. In fact recently Daimler-Benz, which makes Mercedes cars, demonstrated a concept car called the Internet Multimedia on Wheels, which functions as a node on the Internet, complete with its own IP address. Through a wireless communication system, it allows the car's occupants to access any Internet server. Their vision includes Internet-based roadside services that will diagnose car problems remotely, as well as connections that will send you news headlines and weather reports while you're on the fly. Wireless keyboards and displays fitted to the backs of the front seats, will enable one to play games on the Internet and access other entertainment applications. Car drivers will have access to services through voice commands. Voice activation is an important issue as it will allow hands free interaction and therefore be much safer to use. Many cars already feature GPS (Global Positioning System). This device tells you where you are and how to get where you're going. But these new fully connected cars take the technology to a far grander scale. Businesses will be especially fond of this advancement. It will increase their retail opportunities because consumers will have easier access to purchases. And company employees will have fuller access to their intranets and increased productivity as a result.
At first glance all of these new devices and technologies appear to be useful, profitable and downright magical. Personally I use the internet as a means of shopping, researching, working, and keeping in touch with friends and family... and I love it. But there are times when I wonder if it closes one off from the real world and if that is a good thing. There is no substitute for human interaction, and at times one wonders if these advances have blurred the lines between reality and cyber-existence. Even though staying in touch via the internet is cost efficient and necessary, I still long to see the faces of my loved ones and hear their voices. And in the business world, one would think that a handshake and eye contact is still the best bond. So let's hope the future holds a peaceful and fruitful co-existence between humans and technology.