Motorola's New Tech Debutante Ball

Motorola held a "research experience day" at their headquarters in suburban Chicago last week. The company served up booth after booth of technical delight to show what's brewing in the labs.
Some of the new tech is bound to make carrier and cable execs salivate but leave consumers cold. Want to pay extra for YouTube through your cable box? How about content-targeted ads in your text messages? I'll pass, thanks. There were a few promising stand-outs, though.

Fiber-optic Amp

Fading signals have historically limited fiber's ability to carry torrents of data over the "last mile"—from the carrier's central office to your house. Motorola's range-boosting amp could increase fiber-to-the-home availability—pushing gigabit speeds that put cable and DSL to shame.

WiMAX Gear

WiMAX, a next-gen, long-range wireless standard, has been in the pipeline for a while, and the menagerie of WiMAX hardware on display promises ubiquitous wireless broadband (though not as fast as fiber optic service)—whether at home or even in a speeding car. Sprint plans to start deploying a WiMAX network soon—though that could be on the rocks. To give a sense of the seamlessness, Motorola techs walked a WiMAX laptop across the auditorium floor, streaming video without a hiccup while the connection jumped from one base station to another.

Cable Communities

Motorola's working on ways to bring social networking to the television—starting with a cable box community where you can keep tabs on what your friends are watching. The demo hardware consisted of two networked TVs, hypothetically installed in separate houses. A push of the button on one TV (right) brings up a list of what's playing on the other TV (left, Inside Huskie Sports) — so you can share a pseudo-social vegetative experience without leaving the couch.

Gesture-based Remote Control
In a similarly slothful vein, the company is working on a Nintendo Wii-esque gesture-based remote for your cable box—sparing you a grueling button push. The concept-remote I witnessed in action required rather violent gesticulation to change the channel or up the volume, so an energy savings over old-fashioned channel flipping may be a ways off.

RFID Shopping

One of the more amusing demos involved a hypothetical prom dress shopping-trip crisis, convincingly dramatized by a grown man who was at a loss for the right accessories. But RFID saved the day. A sensor registered the radio tag in the garment, and brought up a list of matching accessories on a screen embedded in the mirror. Disaster averted. The mirror can also send a history of your shopping trip to your cell phone, so you can review the day's selections and show them to friends for second opinions.—Eric Mika