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HardwareTablet PCToshiba Robots tag along. What about desktops?

Toshiba Robots tag along. What about desktops?

Toshiba announced two prototype Robots they are building [Japan Today]:

“…One of the new robots recognizes a registered individual and follows him or her from place to place, even among groups of people.

The wheeled 90-cm-tall robot can calculate the registered individual’s position from a real-life landscape of fixed objects and moving people, while recognizing the color and texture of the person’s clothes, according to Toshiba. The other robot is equipped with six microphones and can distinguish particular voices simultaneously coming from as many people from multiple directions. The 43 cm tall robot then interacts with the speakers by responding to a repertoire of commands.”

ComputerWorld has more on the Robots here.

How fascinating it is to see companies, such as Toshiba and Sony, push the technology envelope. When companies talk of gearing up for the next decade of computer technology, is it the production oriented, repetitive task, computational model of computing that’s going to define the next decade worth of commercial innovation or will it be the context and sensory-oriented systems that set the stage for new enterprises?

I’m going to guess the latter. Why? Because we’re getting closer to the amount of raw computing power essential for analyzing not just normalized, fixed data, but data that may not just be so clean.

Vision processing, sound and speech analysis, and handwriting analysis (a la Tablet PC) all fall into this umbrella.

Oh, and there’s Google. Yep, search engines are getting quite good at guessing when you’ve spelled a wrong word in a query. And everyone wants more context-based searching too. If a query “appears” to be asking for reviews on a product, spamish sites need not show up at the top of any search results.

Now this isn’t to say that context-aware systems are going to take over during the next decade. The transition may well be slower. Maybe 20 years. Maybe more. But the trend is well underway. And efforts such as Toshiba’s Robots are great commercial exploratory efforts that very well may be setting the stage for your next set of “peripherals.”

“Desktops” will benefit though. Camera- and microphone-array sensors will not only find their way into house-bound Robots, but they’ll also become useful in our screen-oriented computers.

What might it be like, for instance, to have a Tablet PC that’s aware of which room it is being used in? Whether there’s a TV in the room? Whether the TV is on? Whether someone is talking on the phone? Whether there’s just you or a party under way? Or whether you’re reading in bed or typing in a cube? Or whether you’re in a meeting room taking notes?

Under each situation, it might be nice if the Tablet could brighten up, share resources, quiet down, or suppress external communications.

When you go down this thought-experiment road, it doesn’t take long before you realize how many exciting technologies there are yet to explore. It’ll be quite exciting to see how it all plays out.

I’m cheering for the Robots.

Loren Heiny (1961 - 2010) was a software developer and author of several computer language textbooks. He graduated from Arizona State University in computer science. His first love was robotics.

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