Issue No.02 - April-June (2006 vol.5)
Published by the IEEE Computer Society
Eyal de Lara , University of Toronto
Keith Farkas , HP Labs
DOI Bookmark: http://doi.ieeecomputersociety.org/10.1109/MPRV.2006.36
In this issue, editors Eyal de Lara and Keith Farkas review a product that lets mobile phone users query information from the Internet using voice commands and one that provides real-time text messaging on mobile phones, which is particularly valuable to those with hearing impairments. They also review a GPS-based driver-tracking solution, the latest iPAQ handheld, and two components that simplify the development of products requiring worldwide wireless broadband access or more convenient audio input.
Intelligent Mechatronic Systems has developed an offline car-tracking solution called DriveSync (see figure 1). Using DriveSync, vehicle owners can obtain detailed reports of where the vehicle has been, how far it was driven, and how fast. The system generates these reports from GPS data that is logged onto a removable data key. To process the data, a user plugs the data key into an online PC's USB port and uploads the data to a DataSync server. Software on the server then creates reports, maps of routes the vehicle took, usage alerts, and an analysis of the driver's behavior. This information is available to the end user via a password-protected Web site. This product is similar to uLocate Communications' family-finder service, which we reported on in the April–June 2005 issue. However, the family-finder service uses the GPS chipset included in newer cell phones. It reads the GPS information and transmits latitude and longitude information every two minutes to uLocate servers, but only when the phone is idle and powered on. If you're aware of similar services, please send us pointers to them.
AskMeNow, based in California, is a service that attempts to make getting information from the Internet on cell phones less cumbersome. Instead of navigating through link after link and typing queries through the keypad, AskMeNow lets cell phone users call a toll-free number to ask their questions. AskMeNow interacts with callers using voice-recognition software and an automated response system and can accommodate a broad range of questions. If the software fails—that is, if it can't understand the question or doesn't have a prepackaged answer—people at a Philippines call center transcribe calls and look up answers, which they deliver as a text message or email. AskMeNow doesn't charge for basic questions that the automated answers handle, such as directory listings, weather, movie times, sports scores, driving directions, horoscopes, travel information, and stock quotes. More sophisticated questions that require human intervention, however, cost US$0.49, which the company automatically charges to the user's cell phone bill. Standard minute and textmessaging rates also apply. AskMeNow also expects to make money through advertising by including one or two targeted ads with each answer. AskMeNow is available in the US and Canada.
The Royal National Institute for Deaf People, a British charity organization, has developed software that lets people who are deaf or hard of hearing make and receive cell phone calls. The software turns the vocal part of the conversation into text and relays the deaf person's text replies into speech. The RNID software enables real-time text conversations of unlimited duration by harnessing cell phones' ability to use the Internet for character-by-character text communications. Vodafone provides the service in the UK on numerous compatible Nokia and Sony Ericsson handsets.
Hewlett-Packard's iPAQ hw6900 series is one of the first phones to provide GPS without needing an external antenna or a Bluetooth accessory (see figure 2). The GPS, together with the included iFIND navigation software, transforms the PDA into a personal guide. The hw6900 series also features quad-band GSM and EDGE (Enhanced Data rates for GSM Evolution) support for semi high-speed data connectivity, Wi-Fi 802.11b, and Bluetooth. Furthermore, the series includes a redesigned thumbboard, a square 3-inch display with a resolution of 240 × 240 pixels, a 1.3-megapixel camera, 64 Mbytes of RAM, and 45 Mbytes of user-available, nonvolatile storage. A miniSD slot provides expandability. The hw6900 runs Windows Mobile 5.0 with Microsoft's new "push" email functionality, which automatically lets users receive new email, calendar items, tasks, or contacts. The hw6900 is also compatible with Skype Mobile software, letting customers enjoy high-quality voice calls via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth Internet connections. The HP iPAQ hw6900 series will be available in Asia (Pacific), Europe, the Middle East, and Africa this spring and in North America in summer.
Worldwide Broadband Wireless Access
Option is offering a PC data card that can access wireless broadband worldwide. You can use the GlobeTrotter GT Max on the 850, 1900, or 2100 MHz HSDPA/UMTS (High-Speed Downlink Packet Access/Universal Mobile Telecommunications System) networks and the 850, 900, 1800, or 1900 MHz EDGE/GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) bands. The card can support data speeds up to 1.8 megabits per second on HSDPA networks, 384 kilobits per second on UMTS networks, 247 Kbps on EDGE networks, and 85 Kbps on GPRS networks. It's a Type II PCMCIA (Personal Computer Memory Card International Association)-compliant 3.3-V PC card and includes a novel "Butterfly" retractable antenna that doesn't require users to remove the card when it's not in use. Numerous wireless carriers offer the card, including Cingular, which recently announced that it would offer it under two plans. One plan will cost users $110 per month and includes unlimited data use in the US and 100 Mbytes of downloads in Canada and Mexico. The other plan will cost $140 and will include unlimited use in the US and 100 Mbytes of downloads in 24 countries including Australia, China, France, Italy, and Germany.
Akustica has announced a single-chip microphone surface-mountable IC, the AKU2000. This IC integrates an acoustic transducer, analog output amplifier, and sigma-delta modulator and provides a digital output stream that downstream digital electronics can process. Acoustic performance reportedly equals or surpasses today's conventional analog microphones. The AKU2000 provides immunity to radiofrequency, electromagnetic, and vibration interference, so you can use it without shielded cabling and complete signal routing and place it near other sources of EM radiation (such as Wi-Fi). It provides a uniformed matched response, so you can use it in multimicrophone applications. The IC will sell for $3.87 in quantities of 1,000.