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10 technologies to watch in 2004

By David Pescovitz
Business 2.0


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(Business 2.0) -- No, they're not quite ready for prime time. But in the year ahead, these promising innovations could start to hit the marketplace.

Home networking

Ultra-wideband: Imagine a television that can wirelessly send three different programs to separate monitors. Low-power, low-cost, and with roughly 45 times the data transmission speed of run-of-the-mill Wi-Fi, this wireless technology is finally ready to debut in the living room.

Supply chain

RFID: While they've been talked about a lot, radio frequency identification tags have yet to appear in a big way in the supply chain. Wal-Mart is making it happen: All its suppliers must use the tags for pallets and cases of merchandise by 2005.

Wireless broadband

802.16: WiMax enables wireless networks to extend as far as 30 miles and transfer data, voice, and video at faster speeds than cable or DSL. It's perfect for ISPs that want to expand into sparsely populated areas, where the cost of bringing in DSL or cable wiring is too high.

Energy

Micro fuel cells: Japan's largest wireless phone carrier, NTT DoCoMo, plans to introduce cell phones powered by miniature fuel cells -- which run on hydrogen or methanol -- late next year. Look for them to also show up as expensive add-ons for high-end laptops.

Household products

Gecko tape: Lizards climb walls using the mechanical adhesive force of millions of tiny hairs on their feet. A synthetic version of those microscopic hairs allows gecko tape, developed at England's University of Manchester, to stick to almost any surface without glue. Applications include gloves that allow a person to climb a glass wall, the ability to move computer chips in a vacuum, and new bandages.

Software

Antispam software (that works): If you've tried filters, whitelists, and blacklists, chances are you still receive plenty of junk e-mail. "Challenge/response" technology may be the answer; it requires senders to manually verify their identity before e-mail is passed along to the intended recipient.

Consumer electronics

OLEDs: Organic light-emitting diodes are brighter and use less power than normal light-emitting diodes. (They rely on carbon with nitrogen, oxygen, and hydrogen elements -- thus, the "organic" tag.) They're perfect for screens on cell phones, digital cameras, and camcorders, and even for a new crop of affordable flat-panel monitors.

Lighting

LED lightbulbs: LEDs will outrun obsolescence by moving into the home. Philips is already pushing its Luxeon line of LED lightbulbs, which can last 10 to 50 times as long as incandescent bulbs while consuming 80 percent less energy.

Computer memory

MRAM: Magnetoresistive random access memory is (in theory, anyway) more than 1,000 times faster than the fastest current nonvolatile flash memory and nearly 10 times faster than DRAM. "Nonvolatile" means it retains memory when the power is off. Add in its low power consumption, and it's perfect for use in an upcoming crop of computers and cell phones.

Medicine

Bioinformatics: Researchers, such as those at IBM Life Sciences, are finally getting a handle on building complex protein models to aid in drug discovery. The new, computationally accurate models mean that potential drugs can be identified more quickly and stand a better chance of working.

For more personal technology news visit Business 2.0.


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