Intelligent Energy

IBM: People-powered homes only five years away

IBM: People-powered homes only five years away

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IBM makes some bold and provocative predictions of what daily life will be like in the next five years.

IBM's 5 in 5 -- the company's annual prediction of five innovations it believes will be part of our daily lives in five years -- features, as usual, some far-fetched forecasts, including gadgets that can read your mind and people-powered homes (more on that later).

The 5 in 5 list, which is in its sixth year, has a rather spotty crystal-gazing track record. In 2006, for example, IBM said mobile phones would start to read our minds; technologies the size of a few atoms would address areas of environmental importance; there would be a 3-D Internet (still waiting); real-time speech translation would be the norm (not quite); and we would be able to access healthcare remotely from just about anywhere.

This year, IBM has foretold that in five years we will have:

  • People-powered homes.The idea that electricity will be generated from movement -- think walking, biking, or even the water running through pipes -- and then collected to be used in our homes, workplaces and cities.
  • Multifactor biometrics.  The use of a retinal scan or voice as a password will replace the traditional passwords folks use everyday to access their personal information or in the case of ATMs -- cash.
  • Mind reading. Your phone or computer will be operated by your mind. Yup, your mind. Want to dial a friend? Just think about it and your phone will call them.
  • Mobile for all. The information-accessibility gap will cease to exist. Even the poorest and illiterate populations will have access to information and in five years 80 percent of the current world population will have a mobile device.
  • Junk mail will be priority mail. Innovation in analytics will lead to ads that are so personally specific and relevant that it will seem as if spam has died for good. For example, IBM notes, technology that combines your personal preferences with your calendar will proactively reserve tickets to your favorite band's concert when your calendar show you're free.

Some of the predictions are provocative. Junk mail will be a priority? I think not. But here at Smart Planet's Intelligent Energy blog, the people-powered homes prediction caught my skeptical eye. It also pushed CNET blogger Martin LaMonica to do a little debunking as well.

IBM contends that our homes will be powered by  human motion -- or movement of things in your house, such as water running through pipes. The company says energy would be generated through this movement and collected and stored into a battery. IBM, then switches gears, and notes that its scientists in Ireland are studying the effects of converting energy from wave power.

Motion-powered gadgets that harness kinetic energy aren't new. Nor is wave-powered energy. For example, Tremont Electric has taken the tech behind its motion-powered gadget chargers and integrated it into buoys that will generate electricity from the movement of the Great Lakes.

The problem, as LaMonica also notes, is scale.  Take Tremont Electric's Personal Energy Generator as an example. It harvests human energy generated by vibrations from walking etc., and converts it into electricity to charge handheld devices. One minute of walking provides approximately one minute of listening time on an iPod Nano; and 26 minutes of walking provides about one minute of talk time on a 3G phone call. It can't charge laptops or iPads because those devices require more power than the PEG can deliver.

Now, consider that the average U.S. home consumes nearly 11.5 million watt-hours a year. If 26 minutes of walking generates one minute of phone time on today's devices, imagine the huge technological leap forward that would have to occur to be able to take human kinetic energy and power an entire house.

Photo: Flickr user marksteelnz, CC 2.0

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Kirsten Korosec

Contributing Editor

Kirsten Korosec has written for Technology Review, Marketing News, The Hill, BNET and Bloomberg News. She holds a degree from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. She is based in Tucson, Arizona. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure