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On-The-Go Technologies That Will Change Your Life

Six emerging technologies will change the world of communications by letting mobile professionals stay online and in touch
Music downloading via the cellular network is starting to take off in both Japan and the United States. In addition, several vendors offer downloadable movies to PCs, a trend that surely will be extended directly to mobile devices in the near future.

The real story may well be making media transmissions a two-way street, so you could send live videocasts of your vacation to family and friends, says Doug Neal, a research fellow for Computer Sciences Corp.'s Leading Edge Forum Executive Program. There's also an obvious business use for this sort of technology. "Two-way video phones will be important," Neal says. "If I'm doing business with you, I want to look you in the eye." This is another area in which NTT DoCoMo has taken a lead, and many hardware vendors are developing the chipsets and other technologies to make mobile videoconferencing happen.

Just don't watch and drive

Just don't watch and drive
When it comes to ubiquitous mobile entertainment, though, Smith, Social Technologies' futurist, is cautious. While the technology is readily available, cellular operators have to get more realistic about their media offerings, which are too expensive and too limited, he says.

"So far, the cost of getting on the Internet and downloading media, well, it costs a lot and isn't that great an experience," he says. "The operators are going to have to give up some control, open it up, and charge less." Today, cellular carriers want to sell you media but don't want you downloading media from sources they don't control, Smith says, but that will change when users reject the current offerings and as competitive technologies such as mobile WiMax become available.

Easier Health Monitoring
Having your blood pressure checked takes just a minute or two. But if you're housebound, elderly, or frail, getting to a place where your blood pressure can be taken, added to your medical records, and made part of a diagnosis can be difficult.

The ubiquitous Internet, however, is solving that problem with basic measuring and monitoring equipment that's wireless-network-enabled. Instead of scheduling an appointment and finding transportation, patients can wear monitors that transmit their vital signs directly to their medical providers. That information can be automatically inserted in the patient's health records and reviewed by medical personnel. When emergencies occur, emergency response personnel can be given accurate information while they're en route to the patient that will help them respond better.

Some vendors, such as Sprint, already offer such capabilities. This has given rise to a new type of health care called telemedicine. Many of the pieces have been in place for a while--the American Telemedicine Association was founded in 1993. But the increasingly ubiquitous nature of the Internet is speeding development and, more important, adoption of telemedicine applications. According to the association's Web site, remote monitoring of blood pressure, blood glucose, and heart conditions is becoming more common.

This sort of wireless transmission of health data isn't limited to sending information to doctors. It also will let people monitor aging parents. "If you have a parent who needs attention but who lives somewhere else, you can know, 'Did Dad get up, has he taken his medication, and, if he's sleeping, does he have a decent sleeping heart rate?'" Smith says. "There already are a couple of handsets that can deal with that type of information."

Do You Know Where Your Kids (And Trucks) Are?
Parents worry--that's a given. But special cell phones can help.

Last year, NTT DoCoMo released one for children that lets parents use GPS capabilities built into the phone to track where a child is. "If the child feels they're in danger, they can hit a button and a very loud alert is sounded," Lurker says. "And if somebody tries to take the battery out, an alarm goes out to the parent. This phone is extremely popular."

Another monitoring application using cellular data was created for a trucking company in Japan. A vendor developed a device similar to a Breathalyzer that plugs into a phone with video capabilities, Lurker says. "The [driver] takes the test over a live video connection with their headquarters," she says. "The video phone confirms the driver is the one doing the test, not somebody else."

While the area of monitoring people in real time has a lot of promise, it's also easy to see the peril. "The ability to passively watch the movements of other people is interesting, but it's also dangerous," Smith says. "The push-back comes when, say, you start watching where your spouse is or co-workers are. Obviously, there are privacy issues."

Whatever the social implications, the ability to track the movements of others can save money and lower risks for businesses, CSC research fellow Neal says. It also can help consumers.

For instance, an insurance carrier in England called More Th>n has a low-cost policy called DriveTime for drivers between the ages of 18 and 25 who promise not to drive between the hours of 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. (when most accidents happen). The company installs a GPS in their cars and charges a premium depending on how often they drive at night.

"The presence of GPS," Neal says, "changes the behavior of the driver."

Courtesy of Getty Images

Editor's Choice
Cynthia Harvey, Freelance Journalist, InformationWeek
John Edwards, Technology Journalist & Author
Sara Peters, Editor-in-Chief, InformationWeek / Network Computing