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May 10, 2013

The Mobile Device of the Future - German University Looks Ahead

As those of you who follow me know, one of my favorite bookmarks is Phys.org. It is a site I highly recommend you bookmark as well.  The reason I mention this is because of a recent posting about work being done by researchers at German university Technische Universität Darmstadt who are investigating what the future of mobile telephony could or should be over the next decade.  The findings of the university’s “Future Internet” cluster are fascinating to say the least.

As detailed in the posting, the cluster's researchers generated a research roadmap incorporating visions of the future. And, along with the visualization of things like the scroll-like device pictured below, they also have defined the technologies that will be necessary to fulfill the vision. It is pointed out that the researchers are already hard at work on ideas for how to realize their vision. In a word, it's “complicated.” This is not just because of the need for a foldable device, but also in regards to battery size and life, display technology and a host of other areas where new science will be required. Professor Dr. Max Mühlhäuser, head of the roadmap project, says his team is on the case.

The displays of future mobile telephones will merge virtual and physical reality. They will enrich images that their cameras capture with other information. For example, if their camera is pointed at Berlin's Reichtag, they will overlay its image with a 3-D view of that building, as it appeared back in the 1920s. Mühlhäuser noted, "The challenge there will be that both selected buildings and everyday scenes will have to be recognized."

Xpaaand: Interaction Techniques for Rollable Displays

Source: Telekooperation Lab / TU Darmstadt

While displays will be capable of being rolled up to pencil size, Mühlhäuser added, "Users will have their hands full simultaneously manipulating the display and the telephone's controls."  He said that his team has ideas regarding how the motions of rolling and folding displays can be translated into telephone operating instructions, such as zooming in on a section of a map.

Creating a new cloud interaction and security paradigms

What also caught my attention in the posting was the recognition that the new devices have to handle higher transmission rates (the assumption being that next generation networks will be delivering them and will be pervasively available). The cloud will be the common way these devices interact for communication and not only will speed be needed to access rich content, but there will also be a requirement for much faster response times to assure a great user experience. This means a new paradigm for access and interaction.  

In addition, as we are already seeing with the challenges being wrought by the bring your own device (BYOD) revolution on the security front, the Darmstadt roadmap sees the paradigm shift in this area accelerating. This is not just about the security of the devices, apps they use, content they interact with and networks they access or the need for multi-factor identification, but also about the realities that these devices are going to be doing things that enable us to manipulate at a distance capabilities we rely on to secure our persons and property. This includes things like automobiles, home security devices, medical devices, near-proximity payments, etc.  

As Mühlhäuser observed, concerns about the legal and financial ramifications of the use of these devices will mandate that "users will need a telephone that they can trust if it is to represent their interests on the network on its own."

In fact, he is quoted as saying, "The security infrastructure is currently housed in insecure mobile telephones." The vision is based on the belief that only an encapsulated nanocomputer that is not under the control of commercial interests can become users' "second skin."  

If you are interested in a nice visualization of the Darmstadt vision, the video below is a terrific resource.

Just think about it: something you can literally transport as easily and compactly as a pencil, with more power and security than what you are using now. Is this the future of the mobile phone? More likely it is the future of both the smartphone and the tablet. Right now, the market is focused on form factor, i.e., what size matters. If the Darmstadt team has it right, what they envision is a world where the customer will not have to worry about size and, hence in theory, will not have to carry around multiple devices. This is very thought provoking indeed.

Edited by Alisen Downey

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