ETel Coverage: The Future of Telephony

by Jim Van Meggelen

When I think about Voice 2.0 (or 3.0, or whatever point-oh we feel we should be looking towards), the things that I find really give me the most optimism for the future are those things that dare to step way outside the box.

This year at ETel (as was the case last year), students from the Interactive Telecommunications Program at NYU showcased some of their creativity. Not only were every one of their creations delightful and intelligent, but in every case I was able to conceive of a viable use for each of these concepts in the real world.

Kati London and Kate Hartman demonstrated Botanicalls. This suite of applications was designed to allow you to communicate with your plants, and, perhaps more significantly, allow your plants to communicate with you. Developed by four students (the other two being Rob Faludi and Rebecca Bray), Botanicalls offers an educational component (by allowing you to call a menu system and hear informative information about various plants), but the real power of Botanicalls is the plant monitoring components. By way of a probe inserted into the soil, the moisture can be evaluated. If it gets too dry, your plant can quite literally call for help.

This was hilarious to experience, but there was something serious about this as well. I could not help but think that if my wife were able to install this application whenever she travels, she would not have to worry about her plants dying from my lack of attention to their needs, because they would be able to let her know if they were being taken care of. If we had had Botanicalls at our house, many plants that have died from neglect (and could not cry for help) might still be alive today.

Next up, Anh Nguyen demonstrated SurpriseDialer. This application allows several people to record a message (such as a birthday greeting), and then schedule that message to be delivered at a later date. Nifty.

Summer Bedard created Thanks For Your Patience, which is designed to work in conjunction with a call center by allowing callers on hold to earn (or lose) points by answering questions, which go towards moving you up the queue. Summer and I brainstormed a few other possibilities for this type of technology. Imagine being able to wager your spot in the queue for an opportunity to move up. Make it fun enough, and not only would people no longer mind holding in a queue, but getting through to an agent might actually be an anticlimax. "Puh-lease put me back in the queue quick. I was just about to beat the high score!"

Matthew Chmiel is learning another language. In order to help him practice, he developed Bangla Bollo. This application allows you to simulate a conversation in another language, and it records what you say. Some of the potential uses of this might be to provide a way for language students to provide samples of their speaking abilities, which could be reviewed later by an instructor, even if that person were in another part of the world.

Finally, Jury Hahn and Chris Kairalla showcased their Megaphone 3000, which reminded me so much of video games from the 80s that I almost forgot that we were dealing with technology that we couldn't have dreamt of back then. What this application does is allow people to use their cell phone as a video game controller. If two people dial into the system, the game is on! (there is a single user mode as well). The main screen is set up in a public space, and thus players can be anyone who can see the screen and has a cell phone. This kind of technology could have huge potential for the advertising industry. One could picture these kinds of things being installed in bars, or train stations, or other public places.

I was very impressed with what I saw. Not only because of the intelligence in the designs, but more importantly because these projects demonstrated the kind of out-of-the-box thinking that is such an important part of what we have been calling Voice 2.0.

Whatever Shawn Van Every and the rest of the folks at NYUs Interactive Telecom Program are doing, I sure hope they keep it up. This kind of innovation is exactly what telecom needs.

I have seen the future, and it is delightful and inspiring. Thanks to all the students for sharing your creations with us.


Bruce Stewart
2007-03-01 09:41:57
Great post, Jim, I couldn't agree more! (I was actually just sitting down to write my own post about the inspiring projects the NYU ITP students were showing off here at the ETel fair when I saw yours, and realized I couldn't say it any better than you did).

Congratulations to everyone involved!

2007-08-24 09:22:53