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Last week, ZDNet UK visited Bell Labs' research and development facilities in Villarceaux, France, to find out what the legendary organisation — now owned by Alcatel-Lucent — is working on now.
Bell Labs is currently undertaking a major green push, as evidenced by its steering of the Green Touch project, which aims to create a new architecture in the next five years that reduces the power consumption of telecoms networks a thousandfold. As part of that push, the company is also working on the powering of mobile masts by combining wind and solar power.
The setup pictured above is similar to one currently being trialled by Bell Labs and Vodafone in Qatar. According to Frédéric Wauquiez, Bell Labs' marketing manager for 'eco-sustainable wireless solutions', it makes sense to combine the two alternative energy technologies because they complement each other.
"The sun is very predictable, but not very efficient. A wind turbine is much more efficient — when it turns," Wauquiez said, adding that the use of green energy sources could make a big difference in emerging markets, where the vast majority of base stations are powered by diesel.
The Bell Labs team have worked with the British company PowerOasis on a smart energy controller for the system. "Monitoring is very important," Wauquiez said, explaining that the charge of the system's batteries has to be carefully monitored to ensure consistent power supply and prolong battery life.
According to Wauquiez, a wind turbine can be installed on top of an existing telecom mast, with reinforcement if needed. The advantage of this approach is that mobile masts are about twice as tall as those used for most small wind turbines, making them more efficient.
"We are making the link between the alternative energy movement and telecoms," Wauquiez said. "Power energy suppliers cannot do that because they don't know telecoms. Pure telecoms people have other things to do."
Augmented reality is another area of interest for Bell Labs.
The system pictured above, called Dekaps, is being developed by the labs. It displays information associated with the image picked up by a smartphone's camera or uses the orientation of the phone itself to identify tagged things nearby and show information about them. As with other augmented reality systems such as Layar, Dekaps can provide not only location-based information but also a virtual layer of information based on the recognition of an image.
In this picture, a user is training an iPhone's camera on a picture that is recognised by Dekaps, which then overlays a dancing animated robot. This technology could be used to enhance printed advertising.
This prototype optical coupling, which is the interface between the fibre-optic cable and the circuitry, can transmit data at 100Gbps. According to Bell Labs researcher Jean Godin, the same technology could lead to transmissions of 400Gbps over "hundreds of kilometres".