Japanese telecommunication giant NTT DoCoMo's employee demonstrates as device which tranlsates muscles movements into sound. Some 900 NTT DoCoMo engineers are working at the Yokosuka Research Park research and development centre on 4G and 5G handset designs that one day might be able to transmit smell and taste as well as sound and pictures. - Japanese researchers dream of mobile phones that use senses
YOKOSUKA, Japan (AFP) - Speaking without using vocal cords, knowing which direction a telephone call comes from, or even communicating with the five senses are some of the dreams of Japanese researchers for the mobile phones of the future.
Cloistered in their ultra-modern laboratories on wooded hills that plunge down to the sea an hour-and-a-half's drive south of Tokyo, some 900 engineers work on research and development for NTT DoCoMo, Japan's leading mobile phone carrier.
Among them, researchers in the mobile communications, multimedia and networks laboratories spend their days dreaming up applications of the future, not just for fourth generation mobile telephony (4G), but 5G as well.
"We are working on the five senses. Smell and taste will probably be the most difficult," said Toshio Miki, managing director of DoCoMo's multimedia laboratories.
DoCoMo's third generation service, FOMA, the world's first, launched in October 2001, with a data transmission speed of 384 kilobits per second (kbps), makes it possible to talk by video-link or to look at an Internet site while talking on the phone.
DoCoMo's next target is to achieve a speed of 100 million bps for 4G by 2010, and the researchers at Yokosuka demonstrate some of the functions they hope to introduce in the same time-frame.
One of them would turn the mobile phone into a sort of tracking device to help find a friend in a crowded public place with no landmarks, something for which current phones are of limited use.
It consists of recreating the sense of directional sound with the help of GPS (Global Positioning System). The other caller's voice would appear to come from the left or right, in front or behind to correspond with the actual location in relation to the listener.
If the function is one day incorporated into a commercially available handset, it could make a three-way audio-conference more natural and lively and easier to follow.
For example, the voice of a speaker in Hokkaido, northern Japan, would appear to come from the north for a person in Tokyo, and that of someone in southwestern Kyushu would appear to come from that direction.
When using the videophone, the user would get the impression that the sound is actually coming from the mouth of the person on the screen.
The concept, which is only in the first stages of research, is demonstrated by using headphones to listen to music while walking around a room.
The mobile carrier is also researching the ability to recognise speech simply from the movement of facial muscles without the voicing of any sounds.
The application could prove useful when discretion is required, silence must be observed, such as libraries, or conversely, where there is too much background noise.
After three years, DoCoMo has succeeded in reproducing all five Japanese vowels with a voice synthesizer or on screen by applying electrodes to the cheek, between the nose and the upper lip and under the chin.
The company is now working on reproducing consonants, a much larger number, which could prove more difficult. English sounds are also included in the study.
With more than 45 million subscribers -- three million of them using the FOMA 3G service -- DoCoMo employs roughly 1,100 engineers in all on research and development in Japan with an annual budget of around 120 billion yen (1.15 billion dollars).
It is in the unusual position as a carrier of conducting major research into mobile telephone hardware and setting the specifications for the manufacturers of handsets, says DoCoMo spokesman Nobuo Hori.
"We are in very inimate relationships (with the handset manufacturers), he said.
"We, at DoCoMo, are taking the initiative ... It is a different situation compared with European countries."
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