In the next five years sensors in cell phones could collect climate-change data, mobile device batteries will last 10 times longer than they do today and predictive technologies will tell commuters how to avoid traffic jams.
IBM Corp. predicts such scenarios over the next five years as part of its annual "Next Five in Five" year-end innovations report based on technologies being developed in IBM labs and around the world. Other potential advances include 3-D interfaces that allow people to interact with 3-D holograms of their friends in real time and computer systems that recycle energy to heat and cool buildings.
IBM says technology innovations in the next five years "will change people's lives" through:
3-D interfaces -- Smaller holographic cameras will be able to fit into cell phones, allowing users to see each other in 3-D. Scientists are exploring a technique that uses light beams scattered from objects and reconstructs a picture of the objects. The technology moves beyond just people. IBM scientists are working on new ways to visualize 3-D data that would allow engineers to "step inside of a design," including simulations of how diseases spread across interactive 3-D globes.
Batteries that breathe air to power devices -- Scientific advances in transistors and battery technology will allow electronic devices to last 10 times longer than they do today. Scientists are looking to replace lithium-ion batteries used in electronic devices with batteries that utilize air to react with energy-dense metal, which is a key inhibitor to longer-lasting batteries. If successful, the rechargeable, lightweight battery would be capable of powering everything from electric cars to consumer devices. IBM also is exploring the possibility of eliminating batteries altogether in smaller devices by reducing the amount of energy per transistor to less than 0.5 volts. This would result in battery-free devices that can be charged through "energy scavenging," similar to how wrist watches work.
Sensors that record environmental data -- IBM wants to create "citizen scientists" who will use devices and other consumer goods implanted with simple sensors that can track various environmental issues, such as climate data, invasive plants or animals that threaten ecosystems. Laptops could be used to detect seismic activity and if connected to a network of other computers could help map out the aftermath of an earthquake quickly.
Personalizing commutes -- IBM researchers are exploring the use of mathematical models and predictive analytics technologies to analyze and combine multiple scenarios that can impact commuters.
Computers that can recycle energy -- On-chip water-cooling systems could be used to utilize thermal energy from a cluster of computer processors to provide hot water for an office or house. Computers and data centers could be equipped with similar technology to reuse excessive heat and energy for building heating and cooling needs.
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