IBM gives sneak peek at R&D projects

IBM's diminutive wearable PC prototype stole the show here today at a press event designed to give Taiwan a sneak preview at some of the computer giant's ongoing research projects.

The media representatives quietly sat through presentations ranging from an introduction to Big Blue's pervasive computing concept to natural language speech recognition and what it says is a more clever way to conduct Web searches than those offered by today's portal sites. But it was the wearable PC prototype, running on Windows 95/98, that finally got the television crews going.

The wearable PC prototype, first shown last month in Japan, is about the size of an older Sony Walkman cassette player, but packs computing power equivalent to a ThinkPad 560X notebook, said Shigeki Mori, from IBM Japan's Yamato research unit that developed the system.

IBM has yet to decide if it will actually produce the device in volume, officials said.

Powered by an Intel 233MHz Pentium MMX processor, the prototype unit features 256K bytes of performance enhancing Level 2 cache memory, 64MB of extended data out random access memory, a 128-bit NeoMagic graphics accelerator chip, 2MB of dedicated graphics memory and a 1-inch 340MB hard drive.

An accompanying headset features an earphone and a tiny transparent screen placed in front of the user's right eye capable of displaying images at resolutions of 320 x 240 pixels in 256 greyscales. A color model capable of showing super VGA resolutions is forthcoming next year, Mori said.

The unit comes with a remote control unit with a trackpoint pointing device and a microphone for voice-activation. It could be used by engineers or other workers who need access to information while remaining mobile.

The main unit measures 120 x 80 x 26 millimetres and weighs only 299 grams, including a lithium-ion battery pack providing up to two hours of battery life.

IBM plans to take the wearable PC prototype to next month's Comdex show in Las Vegas, but will probably show it in a hotel suite rather than at the company's booth on the show floor, officials said.

Other presentations included an introduction to Clever, a new product aimed at delivering a smarter way to provide Web surfers with information. With most of today's Web search engines, a user looking for information about, for example, ThinkPad notebooks may be served with links that are often totally irrelevant, said Andrew Tomkins, one of the staff members in the Clever project at IBM's California-based Almaden Research Center.

Ending up on a Web site saying "I took my ThinkPad on vacation, and here are the pictures of the beach" is not likely to give the user much satisfaction, said Tomkins.

The Clever search algorithm (Clever stands for Client-side EigenVector-Enhanced Retrieval) offers a new approach to Web searches by focusing on hyperlinks between pages to judge how relevant the content is to a particular subject, said Tomkins.

Clever is able to isolate relevant content by focusing on the two kinds of pages, those with specific information and those with lists of relevant links, dubbed authorities and hubs, respectively, and is then able to identify "communities" around a specific topic, he said.

By automating the creation of Web guides, Clever could allow for a faster and more economical way to build a directory like Yahoo, which to date relies on people manually searching and categorising content sites, said Tomkins.

IBM's plan is to license Clever to existing as well as aspiring Web directory sites, and is already in negotiations with several interested parties, he added.

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