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What IBM has cooking in the lab

Nov 24, 20034 mins

* Cool demos at IBM Industry Solutions Lab

Everyone in IT should get to have the kind of play day that I just had.  I’ve just returned from a trip to Hawthorne, N.Y., where I spent the day with IBM Research members at the IBM Industry Solutions Lab.  Talk about feeling like a kid in a candy shop.

On this day, IBM hosted about two-dozen IT industry analysts to tell us about as well as show us new technologies and business solutions that are cooking in the research lab.  With 3,000 employees and an R&D budget of $5 billion for 2003, IBM Research is one of the largest and most prolific private research organizations in the world.  It is highly focused on developing technologies that can create a real business advantage for its customers.

For example, look at the innovations in development for the automotive industry.  Working in partnership with auto industry customers as well as with IBM’s own Business Consulting Services and Software Group, IBM Research is working on projects related to telematics, diagnostics, early warning systems and parts quality management.  The lab features a demonstration of telematics that is very cool. 

Telematics is an emerging industry that offers location-based voice and data communication tools.  In other words, telematics provides “smart” information, tailored to where customers are and to what they are doing. 

So let’s say I get in my car to head to the airport from my home.  I speak to my car, activating the telematics system.  (Knight Rider fans, this is for you!)

Me: “Good morning, Sally.”  (I nicknamed my car Sally.)

Sally: “Good morning, Linda.  Where are you going today?”

Me:  “The airport.”

Sally:  “Houston Hobby or Bush Intercontinental?”

Me:  “Intercontinental.  How’s traffic on the route?”  Sally knows the route I am most likely to take, based on previous driving patterns.

Sally:  “There’s heavy traffic around Highway 249 and the beltway, but it is beginning to clear.  Do you want to take an alternate route?”  Sally has coordinated with Houston’s TranStar system, which monitors highway conditions, so she knows that traffic is clearing.

Me:  “No, it should be clear by the time I pass through there.  Is my flight on schedule?”  Sally checks my calendar to get my flight information and queries the airline to get the status.

Sally:  “Your Continental flight is on schedule.  Do you want to know about the weather in Las Vegas?”  Sally knows where I’m flying to and updates me on weather conditions.

Me:  “Yes.”

Sally:  “Today’s high in Las Vegas will be 71 degrees.  It is currently 52 degrees with light rain.”

Me: “Thank you.”  Sally goes to sleep for a while, until…

Sally:  “Linda, I have an urgent e-mail for you from Cheryl Currid.  Shall I read it?”

Sally reads me the e-mail and lets me dictate a response, sending the message back to my colleague.  You get the picture, here.  This telematics system has become my personal valet, my mobile digital assistant. 

While the concept looks easy, a system such as this brings together sophisticated voice recognition, speech synthesis, global positioning, secure access to numerous disparate databases and my own productivity applications, and more.  Imagine what a differentiator this would be for the automobile manufacturers that eventually deploy it in their vehicles.  It’s real innovation, with real practical use.

The IBM Industry Solutions Lab is full of demonstrations of upcoming technologies and solutions.  It could be that IBM is developing something innovative and interesting to put to use in your own industry soon.  Follow the links below to see some of the demonstrations.

Linda Musthaler is vice president of Currid & Company.  You can write to her at