Boffins at BT's Research Labs have developed a futuristic interface that uses ambient light sequences and sound alerts to notify users of personalised news and information. The technology, described by BT as a "Teletext for the 21st Century", is touted as a way of piping news and other information into home environments rather than having to go online.
Incoming data such as emails or weather reports generates animated light patterns and sounds from the device. Users can then wave their hand over the front of the interface, prompting it to provide more detailed data using Laureate, BT's text-to-speech software, to read out the information.
One experimental 'ambient interface' has a fluid, oval design and clear front where the light sequences appear. It is designed to integrates easily into any environment, sitting neatly on a coffee table or kitchen worktop, for example.
The device communicates with an 'ambient service portal' using a WiFi Lan access point connected to broadband Internet. Users can choose what information the ambient service portal monitors and customise how that information is displayed on their device. For example, information could include an alert when children are on their way home or the status of bids on eBay. The device can also listen for keyword commands such as 'weather', translating your request using speech recognition software and delivering back the relevant information.
Adam Oliver, head of access to information, BT Group, said the device opens up information technology to more people, such as older people or the disabled, because users do not need keyboard skills or the ability to use complicated software to get information.
"This ambient device really shows the benefits of having an 'always-on' link to information. We set out to find a way of creating a knowledge source in an integrated but unobtrusive way, bringing everybody easy, relevant and up-to-the-minute information. We expect to see this type of device in the market place within the next 18 months," he added. ®