Ideas abound at the AT&T Innovation Show

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Yesterday AT&T opened the doors to one of its Foundry Innovation Centers to showcase and demo some of the technologies that are currently under development at the AT&T Labs and Foundry in Palo Alto. The company has three Foundry centers, the other two are located in Plano, Texas and Tel Aviv, Israel, and has designed them specifically to bring together teams to advance developers’ projects through collaboration.

There were fifteen such projects being shown, spread across a variety of topics and features but all focused on using, integrating, or involving the network. From a Remote Patient Monitoring project that incorporates video calls, tablets, and Bluetooth to keep doctors updated on patient vitals, to the Alpha API Platform which acts as a personal feedback system for developers, the projects displayed ingenious ideas designed to improve existing technology, or build on the existing network to provide new services and functionalities. Here are a few more projects that caught my eye yesterday.

Visual Interactive Voice Response:

There are a few things in this world that I passionately hate: the post office, the so-called “mid-season” break of television shows, and a phone tree are all high on that list. I don’t want to fight with robots; I just want to be connected to a person who can handle my problem. The Visual Interactive Voice Response was designed specifically to solve the difficulties of maneuvering through an automated messaging system by creating a visual navigation tree. Much like the difference between original voicemail and visual voicemail, Visual IVR lets you opt-in to a visual session by pressing a button; it then sends you an SMS message with a text link that leads you to the visual tree, which looks very similar to a mobile app. You can then navigate through the session to say, book a flight, or you can opt to connect to an agent to assist you. The best part is that you can change between the two seamlessly – the program can easily resume services right from where you left off so you won’t need to duplicate any steps.

U-Verse Easy Remote App:

Designed to be a highly accessible remote app for those with visual or hearing impairments, the U-Verse Easy Remote App responds to voice commands and is powered by AT&T Watson speech recognition technology. Speech is captured by the service, sent to the cloud servers, where it matches the speech to available programming and comes back with results. You can search for a program by name, or by the name of a cast member, and it will show a list of results that are currently on U-verse. The app uses AT&T Speech API to recognize a speaker and improve accuracy over time. It can remember favorite functions and recognize gestures, and it plays nice with the iPhone’s VoiceOver screen reader.

Text Translation:

Another program using AT&T Watson speech technology, Text Translation, also takes advantage of AT&T’s extensive SMS services to “directly transcribe language for various applications.” Basically, when I type out a text in English and send it to my friend in Spain, the text arrives to him in Spanish and vice versa. The application uses regular SMS messages, and works by sending your messages to the cloud in AT&T’s network, where it translates them, and then sends the translated speech to the receiver, in real time. There’s no app to download, install, or open; it’s as simple as checking a box to indicate that you want the feature in your SMS messages. Going forward, there are plans to extend the reach of the project to include texts that the receiver can hear aloud, to work across multiple carriers, and to support additional languages (currently, Text Translation only supports seven).

Ambient Communications:

On a large TV screen, several bubbles quiver, float and gently increase and decrease in size. Each bubble is a location with multiple cameras, and projects a live video feed and information about where it is coming from onto the display. The system looks for action, and will create a word cloud around conversations that are occurring. This is the Ambient Communication project, a continuous informal telepresence designed to help distant colleagues communicate and collaborate as naturally as those who meet up at a physical water cooler do. The concept combines videoconferencing capabilities, speech, gesture, and touch interfaces, and machine-to-machine communications to create groups of live video feed.

Think of it as an always-on Google hang out, with cameras set all over the office – something even the developer himself admitted could enable some “potentially creepy privacy issues,” which they plan to address with both filters that allow you to put a slider on your visual presence, and an encryption of the videos. While you can go back and review video conversations that have happened in the past, you would need permission from all the video’s participants to do so. The goal is for distant coworkers to still be able to reap the benefits of collaboration, and enable a seamless connection between colleagues. Currently, it’s being used at AT&T Labs, in the future the plan is to deploy it more broadly, and incorporate more enhanced features such as facial recognition and augmented reality.

There were also two projects concerning cell phones and driving, both from AT&T Foundry Israel. Driving Safety uses both a device that plugs into a car computer underneath the steering wheel, as well as a mobile app, to monitor activity of both the driver and the vehicle. Designed with parents in mind, the device uses the network to monitor how kids are driving and can also disable calls, texts, and other features while the phone (and kid) is behind the wheel. It’s also able to provide reports on the cars performance, update reminders on insurance or inspections, and alerts on mechanical problems. SafeCell, on the other hand, is a software update that is designed to work hand-in-hand with fleet management solutions to provide many of the same features to owners of commercial vehicles, like cab drivers, airport van drivers, or truck drivers. It can report back on the vehicles' location, the routes the driver has taken, any stops made along the way and any “infractions” that occurred, which could be important information to have should any accident occur. Both services have exceptions for emergency calls.

This story, "Ideas abound at the AT&T Innovation Show" was originally published by TechHive.

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