High-flying answer to cell phone coverage gaps?
(CNN) -- Cell phones and weather balloons -- what's the connection? Combining these two technologies could someday mean more widespread, and more stable connections for mobile phone users. That annoying, deal-killing, "no service" text on your phone screen could pop up a lot less frequently.
Space Data Corp. is in discussion with the United States National Weather Service to add wireless repeaters to the 70 balloons already launched each day in the continental U.S. to gather data for forecasters.
"Only about 10 percent of the U.S. land mass is actually covered by digital wireless service," says Space Data CEO Jerry Knoblach.
Each of the Weather Service balloons covers a 360-mile diameter circle. A network of those balloons, hovering at 100,000 feet, (about 20 miles up) could fill in the blanks in areas where providing wireless services with conventional towers is considered too expensive.
"And unlike a satellite network, which requires specialized equipment, we work with existing user devices, the pagers and cell phones you carry around today," says Knoblach.
Company developers showed off their six-pound payload at the DEMO 2002 conference in Phoenix, Arizona, last week. For the past 12 years this IDG technology show has helped launch hundreds of new products. (IDG is a content partner with CNN.com.)
Space Data expects to have a network in the southwest United States within a year, first for wireless e-mail and SMS (short messaging) and then expanding to the wireless voice market.
There's a parachute in the payload; after spending 12-24 hours aloft the equipment drops back to earth. Space Data says the Weather Service currently recovers about 18 percent of its balloons.
About 20 percent of the 65 products debuting at DEMO 2002 had some connection to the wireless world. DEMO executive producer Chris Shipley says mobile commerce is the next big thing were still waiting for.
Many cell phones in Asia already are equipped with tiny digital cameras. But what are the real practical uses for that combo?
The company Mitigo has plans to add additional capabilities to those devices. For example, aim the lens at a barcode on a poster, and you've just ordered concert tickets. The device could also be used to download a video game, even hail a taxi.
Shipley says Japan and Europe will likely be the best markets for Mitigos smarter mobile devices, since many users there already are fluent with text, animation, even video on their handhelds.
Ever wonder who's paying attention, and who may be nodding off during a conference call?
Reality Fusion has a setup called TeamView that lets users view up to six people at a time, while up to 250 people can take part in the conference call. The cost is that of a digital camera, plus forty cents a minute paid to Reality Fusion for each call. That bypasses the costs of getting the phone company involved.
Along with gauging the interest and body language of colleagues and clients, participants can share comments or documents online, or can instant message individuals with pertinent (or catty) comments about their associates.
E-mail with emphasis
A running dialogue via e-mail can do just that -- run on, and on, and on. The French company Emeris Technologies has built a product that lets users highlight, colorize, and add emphasis to e-mails, instead of just piling on text from the top.
With Annotis Mail, "The comments and the answers are in the same document, they're not on top of each other," says Alain Renaud, chairman and CEO. "The points are highlighted, and it's very fast."
DEMO of what may be next
February 15, 2002
Glitz gives way to practical products at Demo 2002
February 13, 2002
Demo 2002 pushes serious software
February 12, 2002
Electronics get smarter, snazzier at CES
January 9, 2002
Room for gadgets at Comdex
November 19, 2001
Gadgets and games light up Demo 2001
February 14, 2001
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