We all know that the TV screen is the next game board, but who knew it would go this far? Ohio Art, whose signature product is the 1960's classic Etch A Sketch, has launched an electronics division. Its first product? ETO, which plugs into the TV and lets you create art, animation, and even sound effects onscreen. New cartridges will be released throughout 2005. Too bad TVs don't have knobs anymore.

Forget about hot spots. Think hot towns. Wireless Internet access is in great demand; it's just not that attractive a business model for service providers (witness this year's death of Cometa, which served McDonald's). So what if your town gives it away (or offers it supercheap)? It's a smart marketing tool to attract visitors, it creates all kinds of possibilities for local businesses to market themselves, and it's not that expensive. Philadelphia is considering turning a 135 square-mile area into a hot spot at a cost of about $10 million. Cities such as Cleveland and Spokane, Washington, currently offer limited coverage in their burgs. Wireless cities would also bring broadband to inner-city communities. But it might cripple businesses banking on broadband access fees, such as the telcos. Boo hoo.

Phenom: Yair Landau, vice chairman, Sony Pictures Entertainment; president, Sony Pictures Digital. What It Is: He's the champion of "immersive" entertainment, making possible advances in Sony's massive multiplayer games such as the new Everquest 2 and in the motion capture technology powering this Christmas' The Polar Express. Our Take: If, as expected, The Polar Express and Everquest 2 are hits, Landau will be the hottest exec in Hollywood, with street cred in both the entertainment and digital worlds.

Surveillance cameras are everywhere. Atlanta-based VistaScape Security Systems makes them useful, via software that combines multiple video feeds into one monitor and 3-D visualization that gives security guards a sense of exactly where intrusions are occurring. The idea is to take something reactive -- the security camera -- and make it an active tool for preventing crime. Human security guards can be deployed in the field and have relevant video streamed to them instead of boring themselves to death staring at hours of unchanging screens.

Imagine if we all had to pump our own water and generate our own electricity. Primitive! Yet that's what we do every day with our computer infrastructure. Every business re-creates the wheel every time it has to tie its financial software to its customer software. Now it's time to turn everything into a service. Leading companies pursuing this idea are Softricity and Grand Central Communications. Grand Central, founded by CNET and Vignette founder Halsey Minor, promises "integration on demand" for Web-based services by creating a shared infrastructure that everyone can tap into. Sure sounds like the power company, but considering that it's taken five years for companies to get comfortable with Web-based applications for sales and support, only the bold need apply.

Phenom: The last email refuge disappears. What It Is: Workaholic flyers get their wish, thanks to onboard email. Both Boeing and Airbus are building systems into planes. Expect 10% of flights to be Outlook-friendly in 2005. Our Take: Ugh, if we want to sleep. Hooray, if it's the only time we can get through our inbox without distractions.

Being first isn't nearly as important as cooking up a smarter solution. When silicone arrived on the kitchen supplies scene several years ago, manufacturers raced to produce a variety of utensils using the expensive material, which can withstand temperatures up to around 500 degrees Fahrenheit. But some products quickly proved impractical. The whale-shaped all-silicone oven mitt, for example. Cute, but unwieldy. Oxo International tried developing a flexible oven mitt, silicone on one side, cloth on the other. Alas, no one would buy a $40 oven mitt, said Oxo president Alex Lee. When silicone prices fell this year, though, Oxo revived the project. The mitts and potholders go on sale next March. Expect them to catch fire.

A pilotless helicopter could be the next homeland security defense. Although that's its primary use, other potential markets include public utilities, where the Steadicopter could be used to inspect high-voltage lines, and media outlets, which would use the helicopter to tape live events. (L.A. low-speed car chases will never be the same!) The chopper, based on technology spun out from Technion, Israel's answer to MIT, is already capable of fully autonomous flight (no humans at the controls). Next stop: salesville.

Item: Liquid crystal on silicon TVs (LCOS). What It Is: Digital projection TV technology from Intel that delivers lighter, brighter pictures and thinner screens while dramatically slashing the price of very large screens. Why We're Excited: A big-time TV for $1,800 instead of $4,000? Look for us camped out in the Circuit City parking lot. Granted, we've been at Circuit City for two years now...

Home automation products have been aimed at either the nouveau riche (think show-offs who designed their houses so they could run their living-room stereo from the patio) or the nouveau crass (think the Clapper). By chasing everyone in between, Control4 is poised to reshape and expand this business. Control4's full-house media controller costs just $1,500, and its full line of 20 gizmos will be rolling out nationwide beginning late 2004. Clap off!

In a major leap forward for mass customization, Christian DiBenedetto, the head of Adidas's intelligent products team, will oversee the first mass-produced "smart shoe," simply called "1." It automatically adjusts to an individual's weight, speed, style, and running surface using a magnetic sensor in the heel that measures the cushioning. A microprocessor in the arch compares current feel to a predetermined comfort range. A tiny motor in the shoe regulates heel comfort. For now, serious runners are probably the only consumers dedicated (or crazy) enough to fork over 250 simoleons for computerized, customized sneaks. But if the price of the technology dips so that the shoe could sell in the magic $99 to $150 range, DiBenedetto and Adidas could be off and running.

Phenom: DVD's replacement. What It Is: Two rival formats, HD-DVD and Blu-Ray (ah, memories of the VHS-Beta clash), compete to replace what we just got. The idea is to support high-definition TV and improve antipiracy measures. Look for first-generation stuff in late 2005. Our Take: HD-DVD is compatible with current gear; Blu-Ray isn't. But Blu-Ray has the support of the movie studios. (Sigh.) We can't believe we're going to have to buy another copy of Rudy.

Self-installing, self-configuring, self-healing computers that also offer automatic backup and quick disaster recovery. Anyone who's smashed a keyboard in frustration thinks this is a pipe dream. Or is it? A small company out of Canada, Net Integration Technologies (Nitix), is the only company so far to get this right (secret: It uses Linux). Even IBM, which has a major effort under way to develop these autonomic computers, acknowledges Nitix's achievement.

Who's your buddy? The Shopping Buddy. Now being tested at a Stop & Shop supermarket in Braintree, Massachusetts, technology transforms the humble grocery wagon into a high-tech helper. Scan in your frequent-shopper card to see your most frequent purchases or email your shopping list to the device to eliminate carrying a paper list. As you shop, scan in each item and the cart will keep a running tab. It also eliminates the checkout line. As you walk through the store, promotions and paperless coupons pop up on the screen. If you want to use them, just scan in the featured item. The Buddy will roll out to 20 stores in early 2005, with an additional 150 in Stop & Shop and Giant stores (in Washington, DC) by the end of next year. Sure, that's great, but do all the wheels roll in the same direction?

Phenom: Trip Hawkins, founder, Digital Chocolate. What It Is: The Electronic Arts founder returns with a company that will set the standard for easy-to-use, smart cell-phone programs. Expect to see stuff you can create and share with friends -- think virtual gardens -- and problem solvers such as digital child pacifiers. Our Take: Hawkins articulates the ethos of the cell-phone lifestyle better than anyone. But he may stumble trying to persuade cautious, plodding carriers to join him.

Wireless consumers in China are demanding. They want advanced technology now -- and for a low price. And the frenzied market is dynamic. Meanwhile, American wireless users may best be described as long suffering. We're grateful if four out of five calls don't drop out. Ningbo Bird, the leader in China, may be ready to shake it up here. In the past two years, the company has made a coordinated international assault, cracking 28 countries, including Finland, Nokia's home turf. In the year ahead, it aims to quadruple foreign revenue, from $50 million to $200 million, which means the Ningbo Bird may nest here. Based on its hard-won lessons about serving customers, it could also soar.

Item: Dyson's space-age vacuum. What It Is: Electrical impulses -- no dirty brushes! -- generated by a computer chip create a vacuum four times faster and half the size. It can talk, too, in binary code, to tell technicians when there's something wrong with it. Already available in Japan; hits the States sometime in 2005. Why We're Excited: Dyson's new motor is generating interest from aerospace companies, too, making it truly space age. Appliances that communicate! It's not quite HAL, but HAL never got the dog hair off the space station shag rug either.

The father of the MP3, Karlheinz Brandenburg has now developed a second digital audio technology: Iosono. He calls it the first spatial sound system. Using wave synthesis, he's able to place a specific sound wave with unprecedented precision. If programmers want to create the illusion of a tiger sneaking up on the listener, for example, they can move the big cat's breathing from within inches of the left shoulder to the right. The applications for such realistic effects are endless -- movies, musicals, operas, concerts, dance clubs, and home theaters.

With broadband hitting critical mass this coming year, advertisers will take advantage of being able to air video commercials online to do meaningful Web branding campaigns, but with the benefits of tracking that the Internet provides. Although right now most advertisers experimenting with this technology are just putting their TV spots on the Web, some are starting to add interactivity. Honda, for example, has an ad that lets viewers look at individual car features separately. With more interactivity come more opportunities to track viewer likes and dislikes, to tailor the campaign accordingly, and to market more effectively. But if ads don't engage the viewer, computer users have even more control over shutting down video ads, which will make it all too clear to advertisers that their efforts aren't working.

Phenom: Scott Newnam, founder and CEO, GoldPocket Interactive. What It Is: When we first heard about interactive TV, Scott Baio was hot stuff. Twenty years later, 30 million set-top boxes can get it (up from 9 million in 2004), and GoldPocket's producing 230 interactive shows a week. Advertising's built into the interactivity, so marketers avoid the TiVo problem. Our Take: Newnam may be ready for his close-up -- if viewers like us can find the interactive features. We have a satellite system but didn't know we could play along with our favorite shows like CSI.

Phenom: Ringtones die. What It Is: Feeble, unrecognizable renditions of pop tunes announcing incoming calls fade out in favor of MP3-quality songs. One-third of all cell phones will have MP3 tech by the end of next year. Our Take: Will 50 Cent, Ashlee Simpson, and Linkin Park sound better, or will we long for the golden age of the monophonic chip?

Search-engine marketing reinvigorated the Internet as an ad medium. That'll look like a parlor trick if the next wave crests. Known as behavioral marketing, its aim is to track and analyze the Web-surfing habits of millions of users to figure out what you want to buy, when you're likely to buy it, and how companies can capture you at exactly the right moment. Everyone from Google and Yahoo to up-and-comers such as Kanoodle and Tacoda will be pursuing this. The industry needs to settle on standards (think the equivalent of radio's demographic groups) before growth will kick in. But the nascency of the tech won't diminish the privacy debates that will surround its rollout. Our question: Will users get time off for good behavior?

Vending machines: We visit ours every day -- the honey-wheat pretzels are outstanding. But it never occurred to us to expect more from a simple selling machine than Cokes or stamps. But more advanced machines, popular in Europe and Asia, are getting intermittent play stateside. A number of companies are experimenting with DVD vending machines, including McDonald's, which is also tinkering with a coin-operated french-fry maker. Target tried selling personal care items and gewgaws but is pulling back. There's a huge hurdle for people in terms of quality and trust in these machines (think of that dangling Snickers bar that recently tormented you), but we admire the attempt to turn everything into a convenience product.

Item: Oakley's Thump sunglasses with built-in MP3. What It Is: Thump will come in 128 MB and 256 MB versions, have a battery life of six hours, and will support both MP3 and WMA audio files. Volume and track controls are on the eye stem. Why We're Excited: They're kind of ugly, but Lance Armstrong wore a prototype while winning his sixth Tour De France, so they're good enough for us.

Automakers have built 'em for decades: flashy, futuristic "concept" cars that may never see daylight outside of a show. But they get the hard-core impressed with the company's innovation and design sensibility. The idea spreads to watchmaker Tag Heuer, which has designed a watch that runs on 13 drive belts, four angled pistons, and two constant velocity joints, much like an automotive engine. Belt-driven watches aren't likely to become the new standard, but in any industry, the concept of the concept to introduce and trumpet new technology will.

Want to reach females over 40? Try product placement in computer games for women. Strange-but-true facts: 43% of gamers are women; those over age 40 play more hours of online games than anyone, even teens, late at night. They tend to like games that are collaborative, intelligent, strategic, and mysterious. Companies already hip to these ladies include Coke (Vanilla Coke Mystery Game), Chrysler, and Suave Naturals. Who knew?

Phenom: Live call-in quiz shows storm American TV. What It Is: Big Brother and Fear Factor were European hits before being successfully copied here. Next: U.S. programmers could poach popular German interactive game shows in which viewers place 18 to 20 million calls a month to compete for prizes. Our Take: Smells like a walk-before-you-run version of interactive TV. But with Barry Diller behind the German network that airs 12 hours a day of call-in quizzes, count on hearing more about what a genius he is.

Grim survivalists, idealistic hippies, and new-age mushballs used to be the only folks interested in living in energy-self-sufficient communities. Now come off-the-grid housing developments for a more yupscale crowd, such as GreenWood Ranch Estates, 487 solar-powered homes near Kingman, Arizona (about three hours from Phoenix and two hours from Las Vegas). GreenWood could become the model for other similar communities in the western deserts, where land is cheap and the sun is free.

Temperature control is picking up steam, both for things that should be cold and things that should be hot. DuPont's Cool2Go technology provides a cushiony wrapper in containers that keeps your soda cold an hour into the ball game. Startups Sonoco and OnTech are working on self-heating plastic containers, expected by the end of this year, that let you warm up your liquid lunch or caffeine fix just by holding it in your hand. But maybe we don't even need the containers; the foods themselves will do all the work. International Flavors & Fragrances Inc., the folks behind many of the tastes and smells in everything from shampoos to candles to fast food, has developed CoolTek, which stimulates the cooling receptors in the tongue, and a "warming effect" that would create an "out of the oven feeling" for packaged cakes and cookies.

Phenom: MoSoSo. What It Is: Think Friendster meets Vindigo. Mobile social software connects people through wireless phones using location-based services. Examples include Wavemarket and Dodgeball. Our Take: Getting relevant info, especially from friends based on where you are, is a cool trend. And it creates ad opportunities. Which could, of course, kill it.

Once upon a time, the United States nurtured innovation and then exported it to the rest of the world. But American venture capitalists say that more and more technology is being developed abroad and marketed to burgeoning regions, bypassing our own shores completely. Partly it's because the United States lags in crucial areas such as mobile communications. And Asia isn't just a source of cheaper labor for U.S. companies -- it's a huge end market of its own, accounting for 22% of worldwide info-tech consumption. India, especially, is beginning to develop its own entrepreneurial culture. Leading Silicon Valley VCs from firms such as Sequoia and Kleiner Perkins are rushing over to hunt for deals. The risk is that the influx of talent that used to come to America, bringing with it great energy and innovation, will start to stay home.

Item: Sony's PlayStation 3. What It Is: PS3, expected by the end of 2005, is run by a supercomputer on a chip that is 100 times faster than a Pentium 4. Likely to have a motion sensor and camera so that it can recognize and respond to gestures made by players. Why We're Excited: If you want a look at the future of computing, gaming shows how technology will make its way into our work and personal lives.

What if your drab navy New York-in-January slacks could transform into a crisp white the instant you stepped off a plane in the Caribbean? Or if your bra knew when your bust was beginning to sag and could give it an on-the-spot lift? Techies and fashionistas alike are running amok with ways clothing can interact with and better serve its inhabitants. Analysts believe the most successful "smart clothes" will be embedded with information, entertainment, and communication tools, rather than just with powers such as stain fighting. O'Neill Europe just debuted a snowboarding jacket that has "mobile telephony by Bluetooth" along with an MP3 player integrated into its fabric. Also ripe with smart possibilities is home health care, in which doctors could outfit patients with clothing that monitors vital signs remotely.

Security's not just a logistics challenge; it's a design problem too. Real-estate developers are asking architects to provide the best security measures, without cluttering up the look and feel of the building. The design puzzle is to make something that's everywhere disappear. The result is a new generation of buildings designed around a paradox: invasive security that's invisible. Fortified buildings, lockdown doors, surveillance cameras, roadblocks -- all disguised and incorporated into the design through an innovative collection of tricks and optical illusions (for example, large outdoor sculptures that double as roadblocks). Does this explain those artistic cows and fish in front of office buildings?

Reveal Imaging is developing a baggage-screening machine that would be small enough -- and easy enough to use -- to be positioned at the check-in counter. So rather than building a separate facility for baggage screening or forcing passengers to schlep their bags to a different part of the terminal, airlines can have check-in agents send the bags through themselves. Besides being smaller, the machine gives fewer false alarms. The company won a grant from the Transportation Security Agency and is working on its first few prototype machines now.

Fast Forward: Technology

We all know that the TV screen is the next game board, but who knew it would go this far? Ohio Art, whose signature product is the 1960's classic Etch A Sketch, has launched an electronics division. Its first product? ETO, which plugs into the TV and lets you create art, animation, and even sound effects onscreen. New cartridges will be released throughout 2005. Too bad TVs don't have knobs anymore.

Add New Comment

0 Comments