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Comdex coverage by CNN and

Dreaming of digital tomorrows

Tomorrow's high-tech toys will make life simpler and more fun. (We hope.)

November 19, 1998
Web posted at: 2:52 PM ET

by Nancy Weil

(IDG) -- LAS VEGAS -- In the not-too-distant future, when the gizmos in our lives are all in digital synch, our homes will be more fun, our work will be easier, and the traffic on Manhattan's Lower East Side will flow smoothly.

That's the dream that emerged from a Comdex session, "Tomorrow in Tech Toyland," during which panelists blended product pitches with impassioned advocacy for favored electronic devices. They also offered glimpses of technologies that vendors are promising will be on retail shelves the first quarter of next year in some cases.
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In this digital universe, our networked homes allow us to hook any digital device to any other digital device, using a combination of connectivity technologies, including wireless. The hardcore among us will be able to roam the house with our cordless digital Internet protocol telephone pressed to one ear while the kids use wireless keyboards to play PC video games transmitted via any number of options to a flat-panel TV in the family room.

When we leave home, we'll turn to our mininotebooks for e-mail, Internet access, and basic software applications for word processing, scheduling, and the like, liberating our briefcases -- not to mention our backs and shoulders.

Mininotebook mania

Such computers will be so common as to be "bubble wrapped at Wal-Mart," predicted journalist John Ruley, who apparently had a life-altering experience after he began using a mininotebook. Ruley confessed that he was lured to try one when it was offered as a vendor freebie, but he liked it so much that he -- gasp! -- spent his own money on one.

His trusty mininotebook stores things like interview notes and his calendar, and retrieves e-mail. It fits easily on an airline tray table, folds to the size of a book, and weighs less than some hardbacks.

Ruley so adores this technological marvel, which he said he has waited years for, that at one point in his presentation he clutched it to his chest and said, "This is mine." He doesn't share it with his family, like his home PC, and it isn't owned by his company, like his work computer.

Aside from his personal liberation, Ruley envisions a future where computing is taken to the masses by such mininotebooks. Like many other forward-lookers who appear on trade show panels, Ruley sees a day when such computers break through what he termed "digital apartheid," creating opportunities for poor people to have access to the benefits of being connected.

Intelligent traffic lights?

And as for the traffic in Manhattan, Tom Henderson, vice president of engineering at ExtremeLabs, showed a 360-degree camera that is patented by the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. The camera, which didn't work too well in a brightly lit Comdex meeting room, is being used in tests to see how digital cameras will work to watch traffic flow and then control signal lights to match what's happening on the street.

Henderson refused to identify the five-way intersection in question, except to say it's on the Lower East Side.

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