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IBM releases fifth annual “Next Five in Five“ list of near-term significant innovations; personalized routing for commuting/transportation makes the cut

IBM unveiled the fifth annual “Next Five in Five”—a list of innovations that have the potential to change the way people work, live and play over the next five years. Of the five, only one is directly transportation-related: Commuters will be able to quickly access personalized recommendations that help them avoid the congestion issues they routinely face and help them get where they need to go in the fastest time.

Also on the list of five is the arrival of advanced batteries, including air batteries (e.g., Lithium air), but targeted initially at small devices. IBM and its partners have launched a multi-year research initiative exploring rechargeable Li-air systems for transportation—The Battery 500 Project (earlier post)—but are viewing it in terms of a multi-decade development cycle. (Earlier post.)

The Next Five in Five is based on market and societal trends expected to transform our lives, as well as emerging technologies from IBM’s Labs around the world that can make these innovations possible. The full list of five is:

  • Your commute will be personalized
  • Batteries will breathe air to power our devices
  • You’ll beam up your friends in 3-D
  • You won’t need to be a scientist to save the planet
  • Computers will help energize your city

Personalized routing. In the next five years, IBM says, commuters will be able to quickly access personalized recommendations that help them avoid the congestion issues they routinely face and help them get where they need to go in the fastest time. Transportation agencies and city planners will be able to proactively design, manage and optimize transportation systems to more seamlessly handle ever-increasing traffic.

As examples of efforts to improve commuting by analyzing patterns in traffic, IBM cites:

  • The “Smarter Traveler” research initiative is exploring how to build personalized, congestion-free travel routes for commuters and help transportation agencies better understand and manage traffic, ultimately creating safer roads with less gridlock and reducing carbon emissions. More than just monitoring data collected from sensors in roads, toll booths, bridges and intersections, IBM scientists are using new mathematical models and predictive analytics technologies to analyze and understand all of the possible scenarios that can affect commuters, developing adaptive traffic systems that will intuitively learn traveler patterns and behavior to provide more dynamic travel safety and route information to travelers than is available today.

  • Researchers have developed a first-of-its-kind predictive analytics tool called the IBM Traffic Prediction Tool (TPT) that analyzes and combines multiple possible scenarios such as traffic accidents, commuter locations and expected travel start times that can affect commuters on highways, rail lines and urban roads. The TPT offers future traffic forecasts for up to 60 minutes in advance, giving transportation operations the ability to quickly respond to potential issues and solve issues before commuters get stuck in a traffic jam.

  • In collaboration with Chinese universities, scientists at IBM Research-China are using advanced analytics, network optimization and simulation technologies to understand the flows of current traffic patterns and model the best actions to take to resolve the increasing burdens on travelers and urban transportation systems. Combining data from a variety of transportation sources—road networks, cars, buses and trains, road construction and accidents, on-board devices, mobile phones—with different traffic models helps the researchers better understand constantly fluctuating amounts of vehicles on the road and the optimal travel routes are. This will result in implementing policies that can help mitigate the congestion that commuters encounter every day.

  • In the Chinese province of Liaoning, officials are challenged by a rapid growth of automobile use and mixed road use that includes pedestrian and bicycle traffic alongside cars. Scientists from IBM Research - China and other experts across IBM are developing new insights into traffic and predictions that will serve as the foundation for new transportation services to deal with this complex environment. These advances—such as bus arrival prediction and dynamic route guidance—can help lower commuting time, improve service across their public transportation system and decrease carbon emissions.

  • Because the software in cars is becoming more sophisticated, the car is becoming a moving sensor on the road. Combining that with the sensor networks often found in roads and highways could mean that drivers can seamlessly avoid the accident and traffic jam that is just a few miles and minutes ahead with minimal or no delay. Researchers have patented a method that combines information from roads and current traffic conditions with a commuter’s regular driving patterns to automatically recalculate your route and give several alternatives to get to a destination for on time arrival. In the future, the sensor networks in the roads and the sensors in your car will communicate with each other and, through an algorithm on the fly, automatically give drivers several alternatives through their in-car GPS, smart phone or opt-in service to get to work on time.

  • Kyoto University and IBM Research - Tokyo have developed a system that can simulate a broad range of urban transport situations involving millions of vehicles. It can show modification of existing traffic laws or a minor alteration in the timing or frequency of traffic signals and signs. These large-scale, high-speed simulations provide real-time analysis of traffic status, levels of carbon dioxide emission, traffic volume and travel time throughout a metropolitan area. It can also help urban planners predict what will happen and how to address congestion when a new office building, sports arena or other major facility is built.

  • IBM and Texas Transportation Institute (TTI), the largest university-based transportation research agency in the US, are collaborating on research and development of intelligent transportation projects in Texas and beyond. Together, the collaboration will provide the opportunity for proofs-of-concept and extensive pilot deployments at the state and regional level to solve common commuter headaches.

Batteries will breathe air. In the next five years, scientific advances in transistors and battery technology will allow devices to last about 10 times longer than they do today, IBM says. In some cases, batteries may disappear altogether in smaller devices.

Batteries today have a number of problems, chiefly, the heavy metal-oxides used inside the battery greatly limit the amount of energy it can store, IBM notes. Instead of the heavy lithium-ion batteries used today, scientists are working on batteries that use the air to react with energy-dense metal, eliminating a key inhibitor to longer lasting batteries. If successful, the result will be a lightweight, powerful and rechargeable battery capable of powering for everything from electric cars to consumer devices.

However, in some devices, batteries might be eliminated completely. The European Union is investing $5.5 million in a project that is rethinking the basic building block of electronic devices: the transistor. The three-year project is called Steeper and the goal is to reduce the amount of energy per transistor to less than 0.5v. With energy demands this low, some devices such as mobile phones or e-readers might be able to avoid using a battery at all.

In today’s transistor, energy is constantly leaking or being lost or wasted in the off-state. For the first time, IBM scientists will use III-V semiconducting nanowires to stop this leak.

The result would be battery-free electronic devices that can be charged using a technique called energy scavenging. Some wrist watches use this today—they require no winding and charge based on the movement of the wearer’s arm. The same concept could be used to charge mobile phones for example—i.e., shake and dial.

You’ll beam up your friends in 3-D. In the next five years, 3-D interfaces will let users interact with 3-D holograms of their friends in real time. Movies and TVs are already moving to 3-D, IBM says, and as 3-D and holographic cameras get more sophisticated and miniaturized to fit into cell phones, users will be able to interact with photos, browse the Web and chat with friends in entirely new ways.

Scientists at IBM Research are working on new ways to visualize 3-D data, working on technology that would allow engineers to step inside designs of everything from buildings to software programs, running simulations of how diseases spread across interactive 3-D globes, and visualizing trends happening around the world on Twitter—all in real time and with little to no distortion.

You won’t need to be a scientist to save the planet. People are becoming walking sensors. In five years, sensors in phones, cars, wallets and even tweets will collect data that will give scientists a real-time picture of the environment. In the next five years, IBM says, a whole class of “citizen scientists” will emerge, using simple sensors that already exist to create massive data sets for research.

Computers will help energize your city. Innovations in computers and data centers are enabling the excessive heat and energy that they give off to be used to heat buildings in the winter and power air conditioning in the summer.

Up to 50% of the energy consumed by a modern data center goes toward air cooling. Most of the heat is then wasted because it is just dumped into the atmosphere. New technologies, such as novel on-chip water-cooling systems developed by IBM, the thermal energy from a cluster of computer processors can be efficiently recycled to provide hot water for an office or houses.

A pilot project in Switzerland involving a computer system fitted with the technology is expected to save up to 30 tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year, the equivalent of an 85% carbon footprint reduction. A novel network of microfluidic capillaries inside a heat sink is attached to the surface of each chip in the computer cluster, which allows water to be piped to within microns of the semiconductor material itself. By having water flow so close to each chip, heat can be removed more efficiently. Water heated to 60 °C is then passed through a heat exchanger to provide heat that is delivered elsewhere.



Why isn't a car that obeys the speed limit on this list of pipe dreams? Actually the car companies could do this now with computer control that's in all new cars and GPS. We wouldn't need smart roads to get people around accidents because the crashes and deaths would be prevented.

Oh, I forgot that preventing crashes and deaths doesn't fit in their business model. They need cars to get wrecked so people have a good reason to buy new ones, buy parts, and pay for repair service.


Because cars move and as such they go to places with other or no speed limits such as racetracks private property and so on.

Most cars are limited simply by the fact they cant actualy get over 90-100 mph anyway.


Most road accidents are created by foolish dare devil improvised drivers driving too fast and carelessly and dangerously. Tracking those accident prone drivers via GPS and guiding law enforcing officers to arrest them whenever they break traffic laws could reduce road accidents and fatalities by 90%. GPS data could be used to suit and automatically fine them. Those revenues (instead of tax $$) could be used to improve current GPS for higher accuracy etc. In other word, lets the culprits pay for the detection and arrest cost.

Road accidents cost $xxB/year in property damages, another $xxB/year to fix injuries and lost of productivity and 50,000 fatalities/year in our beautiful successful country. That's many times the current oil wars fatalities.

Taking a few 10,000s + of those dangerous drivers off the roads could be a worth while objective.

Yes, new personal computers CPU gobbing 125 watts is a parody. IBM (AMD, INTEL & Others) should TO MUCH BETTER.

My 5+ years old Eco-Drive watch does not use batteries and does not rely on wrist movements. Sunlight does the work. The built in capacitor hold enough energy for 45+ days without daylight.

Of course, all future cell phones, digital camera, e-books and similar gadgets could also be battery free.


"Most cars are limited simply by the fact they cant actualy get over 90-100 mph anyway."

That's a really big help in a 35 zone!


Air batteries would be great, but I hope they are more like 5 years away than 20 years away. Lower cost and higher energy density could change the way we get around significantly.


High performance solid states batteries may be around much sooner.

Yes, lower cost much higher energy density batteries will revolutionize ground transport and clean e-power production by the end of the current decade.


" They need cars to get wrecked so people have a good reason to buy new ones, buy parts, and pay for repair service."

I agree; that's why I never buy a car made by IBM.

I know speed kills
and power corrupts;
what I really want to know is what makes people write these idiotic things.


I believe most accidents are simply the result of human error and distractions, similar to bumping your head, dropping something or tripping over a rug - that's why they're called accidents.


Yes, three young friends (early 20s) chased each other with their 4 x 4 the other day on a rooftop parking lot. They managed to hit each other. One was pitched out of his vehicle and his friend droved over him and killed him. The driver's wealthy father paid $$$$$$$ to get him out of jail claiming that it was a simple accident. Yes, another simple accident, like many thousand others. Very few actually believed it but he will probably get away with a 3 month driving license suspension for driving too fast in a parking lot.

The sentence will be challenged and reduce to one month.

It may be reported on page 19 in the local newspaper.


"Most road accidents are created by foolish dare devil improvised drivers."

"I believe most accidents are simply the result of human error and distractions"

I believe the greatest number of minor accidents are caused by human error and distractions. While foolish teenagers cause some outlandish accidents (as I did when young) most accidents resulting in serious injury are caused by drunk drivers -- often repeat offenders. With no viable public transport in most areas, a drunk has no option but to drive -- to work, or home from the bar. Drunk driving accidents are a prime driver of emergency room healthcare costs also (more than uninsured patients).


A very good point JM. Drunk drivers do create a lot of 'accident' and young drunk drivers create even more. Both so called accidents are avoidable. If they are, they are not accidents.

An accident is by nature an unavoidable, unpremeditated, occurrence or event. Most so-called accidents don't simply happen, they are in some ways, premeditated by lack of common sense and acquired bad driving habits. I have yet to lose a single demerit point and I must have driven over 1,000,000 Km in many different countries and conditions.

An accident, when driving a twice the legal speed limit is NOT an accident but a crime. An accident when driving under the influence is not an accident but a serious crime. An accident when talking on cell phone is not an accident but a criminal event, etc etc for most so-called very frequent accidents. Most road accidents (80% to 85%) are not real accidents and could have been avoided.


In the UK,"Road Traffic Collisions" have replaced the term "Accident", and there's usually an investigation after most collisions to determine whether the cause was due to lack of due care and attention or dangerous driving before deciding whether a collision is a real accident.

In any event human skill and judgement is not perfect so this means accidents are inevitable, but then there is also a lot of risk taking, be it speeding, barging out into the path of traffic (impatience) which turn accidents into offence driven collisions.

That all said, i'm not comfortable with the prospect of driverless cars, self speed limiting devices and so on. At the end of the day, driving needs to be taught as a skill or an art and rightly so enforced reasonably. Its all about balance.


Scott: It seems we have a lot to learn from UK. I'm tired to hear the word car accident 1000 times a day while 85%+ are not accidents. Head on collisions are rarely accidents. Often fatal collisions but not accidents. In our area, 60+% of the fatal collisions are caused by young drivers while they compose less than 20% of the group. In other words, they have about 300% the collision rate than other drivers. Insurances know that and charge accordingly.

When road conditions and/or bad design are the principal reasons, the State should be called to pay all damages.

Many would be in favor of some automatic speed limitations, specially for selected collision prone drivers. If every vehicle was given an IP number, this could be done via UPS or road side instruments at relatively low cost.

More should be done to reduce the 50,000 road fatalities a year plus about five times more serious injuries. It is many times worse than current oil wars.


Undoubtedly there will be some auto-pilot features in the future. One highway lane dedicated to computer assisted navigation would be a beginning. Once in the lane the car enables autopilot keeping distance and speed from other cars.

No problem here except in ingress and egress to the auto pilot lane which would be done manually. As for other IBM innovations - the air batteries seem like a logical step. Or we could jump right to the flux capacitor...


Flux capacitors???? Beam me up Scotty!

There are 20+ various battery technologies being developed. Half a dozen may make it to mass production by 2020 or shortly thereafter.

Reliability, safety, higher performance, lower cost, wide operation conditions, resistance to abuse, durability, etc may never be found in the same battery. Manufacturers will use what they think is best suited for a particular vehicle. Low cost mini-cars may not used the same battery technology as high speed sport cars or large premium cars or Crossovers etc.

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