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Extreme Blue: IBM's student demo

Each summer since 1999, IBM has run a 12-week internship called Extreme Blue. This allows selected groups of students to develop cutting-edge research projects. Here's a selection of this year's European offerings.
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1 of 9 Charles McLellan/ZDNet

Extreme Blue

Each summer since 1999, IBM has run a 12-week internship called Extreme Blue. This allows selected groups of students to develop cutting-edge research projects, some of which eventually make their way into commercial IBM products. Others generate patent disclosures and submissions to the open-source community. Here's a selection of this year's European offerings, presented on 12 September at IBM's software laboratory in Hursley near Winchester.

 

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Extreme Blue in Second Life

Virtual worlds were the inspiration for a number of the students' projects, so naturally the Extreme Blue Expo was recreated in Second Life. IBM was at pains to point out that Second Life is merely a current example of a virtual world, and that many of the technologies being developed will be portable to future 3D internet platforms.

 

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ALPACA

A somewhat tortuous acronym, ALPACA stands for Automated Live Presentation Archive for Casting Anywhere. This UK project seeks to capture live events like presentations, conference sessions and concerts, and broadcast them into virtual worlds (such as Second Life) in real time. The presenter's avatar is animated using motion-capture tecnhiques, while live audio, video and presentation slides are streamed into the virtual world. Events can also be archived so that users can replay them at their convenience.

 

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Agora

Agora, another UK project, seeks to improve the experience of shopping for real-world items within virtual worlds such as Second Life. Virtual shop-fronts are generated from existing catalogues using IBM's WebSphere Commerce and additional functionality from Second Life, thereby marrying the power of existing commerce applications with the more immersive experience of a virtual world compared to a traditional web site. The Agora team has designed its infrastructure to be virtual-world-agnostic, allowing it to be plugged into other platforms apart from Second Life.

 

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Locus

This location-based service aims to provide mobile phone users with information and access to services and utilities via a Java client, based on their location as determined by a Bluetooth signal. Designed for installation in large sites such as airports and shopping centres, Locus uses Bluetooth-enabled devices like printers as fixed elements of an ad-hoc network, and could direct you to the nearest coffee shop or toilet, for example, or be used by the facility management to broadcast announcements to selected groups of users.

 

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SiSi

SiSi stands for "Say It, Sign It", and is designed to aid communication with the deaf by converting spoken or written English into British Sign Language, which is displayed on a computer or mobile phone by an animated avatar. The avatar was developed by the University of East Anglia and the system also uses a database of signs created by the Royal National Institute for the Deaf. The SiSi middleware has an extensible design that could in due course incorporate other sign languages.

 

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SMART

Acronym time again, in the shape of SMART (System Maintenance with Augmented Reality Technology). This German project aims to make the servicing of a complex system such as a mainframe quicker and easier by overlaying 3D data onto live camera footage of the system. Ideally used with a head-mounted display/camera combo (but demonstrated at EB Expo with a handheld), SMART makes use of existing CAD models of the system in question, adding markers (akin to 2D barcodes) that allow the camera to recognise different components and workflow data that tell the operator what to do with the component.

 

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eCare

Electronic Care, or eCare, is an Irish project that uses sensors to collect data on home-based patients suffering from a chronic condition such as heart disease. Data is transmitted to a central server over the mobile network, from where clinicians can access it via a web-based interface and quickly decide — perhaps after an exchange of messages with the patient — whether immediate action is required. The system is built around open standards and can potentially be used in any chronic disease management programme.

 

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Temp Guard

Transporting temperature-sensitive goods such as fruit and vegetables or pharmaceuticals is fraught with management headaches: in particular, conventional temperature loggers are relatively expensive, provide no data during transport and are complicated to interrogate. This German project uses inexpensive RFID tags with added sensors that can record and store temperature data, and be read wirelessly at each stage in the product's journey. In this protoype system, data from the RFID reader is sent to an IBM WebSphere RFID Premises Server, which makes it available to a web-based front end. A full record of temperature events during a product's journey allows appropriate decisions to be made quickly both in transit and when it reaches its destination.

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