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Five life-changing innovations for the next five years

Kathleen Hall

IBM predicts five innovations that will change our behaviour over the next five years.

3D communications

As 3D and holographic cameras get more sophisticated and miniaturized to fit into mobile phones, people will be able to interact with photos, browse the web and chat with friends in the form of 3D holograms.

Scientists are working to improve video chat to become holography chat - or "3-D telepresence". The technique uses light beams scattered from objects and reconstructs them into a picture of that object.

Batteries that react to the environment

Instead of the heavy lithium-ion batteries used today, scientists are working on batteries that use the air we breath to react with energy-dense metal. If successful, the result will be a lightweight, powerful and rechargeable battery capable of powering everything from electric cars to consumer devices.

These would lead to the development of battery-free electronic devices that can be charged using a technique called energy scavenging. Some wrist watches already use this - they require no winding and charge based on the movement of your arm. The same concept could be used to charge mobile phones for example - just shake and dial.

Rise of the 'citizen scientist'

Sensors in phones, cars, wallets and even tweets will collect data that will give scientists a real-time picture of environments.

Simple observations such as when the first thaw occurs and when mosquitoes first appear, for example, will provide a rich resource in datasets. Laptops will even be used to detect seismic activity. If connected to a network of other computers, this will help to map the aftermath of an earthquake quickly, speeding up the work of emergency responders and potentially saving lives.

Personalised commuter information

Advanced analytics will personalise recommendations for commuters, so they will be directed where to go in the fastest time. Adaptive traffic systems will intuitively learn traveller patterns and behaviour to provide more dynamic travel safety and route information to travellers than isavailable today.

IBM researchers are developing new models that will predict the outcomes of varying transportation routes to provide information that goes beyond traditional traffic reports, after-the fact devices that only indicate where you are already located in a traffic jam, and web-based applications that give estimated travel time in traffic.

Computers will help to energize your city

The energy poured into the world's data centres could be recycled for a city's use to combat the excessive heat and energy that they give off.

Up to 50% of the energy consumed by a modern data centre goes toward air cooling. Most of the heat is then wasted because it is just dumped into the atmosphere. But new technologies, such as on-chip water-cooling systems, mean that the thermal energy from a cluster of computer processors can be efficiently recycled to provide hot water for an office or houses.

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