Another day of company visits, another day of sore feet and knees. Luckily for me they walking pace was not too high and we didn’t cross too many stairs. We had a presentation about IBM’s background and vision of the future (the standard layout for almost all our visits) and after the standard introduction we finally got to see some technology.
One of the demo’s was about speech synthesis. Most computer generated speech is obviously not real and IBM is working on that. Right now they have a program that utilises a database of several gigabytes of speech recordings to reassemble short clips into complete words and sentences. Another addition to make the speech more realistic is the option to assign certain emotions to the sentences. This worked like a charm making a conversation between 2 virtual personalities almost perfect. There were some small clues to indicate that something was off but most of the time we could not even put our finger on what was wrong. Unfortunately the software is only for use in IBM’s own lab but with a bit of luck it will be released within a year or so and hopefully with a student license as well.
The second demo was about embedding QR codes (special bar codes that your mobile phone can read, very popular in Japan) into pages with text. Using UV ink and special reconstruction algorithms, its possible to hide bar codes into text. So if you read a piece of text and you want the link to the article to read it or archive it on your mobile, you simply hold your phone over the text and the phone will read the bar code. Further inquiry revealed that the ink is bought from the internet and it was made using a Canon printer, in other words I can do this at home as well ^-^.
After the demonstrations, we had lunch at IBM and once again it was a Japanese style lunch. So after poking around for a bit to see what was edible I settled for a bite of rice, some fried stuff (tempoera I think) and fruit. We were accompanied by some researchers of IBM. The lady sitting near me came from California (hence her perfect English) and even though she looked Asian she was American by birth. She still flew back to the U.S. on a regular basis but she went to Japan years ago for a temporary job and eventually stayed here.
After IBM, we once again hopped on public transportation to Fuiji-Xerox. They have a special bus from the train station to their company as it is located quite far from any normal bus line. Once we got there, everyone got a special badge that you needed to get through security doors.
After some very boring presentations we finally got to see some technology demonstrations. The first was a system with a camera and a beamer for remote collaboration on projects. You could simply put the object you wanted to discuss under the beamer and you could make notes using a marker on the whiteboard that formed the base of the system. The remote party could then draw and type on the image from the camera and the beamer would then project those annotations back on the real object on the other side. Very simple yet so effective.
The 2nd demo was a positioning system using 5 LED’s. Using a camera and 4 LED’s in a square with one elevated in the center, a computer could calculate the position of the object in 3D space. The result is comparable with the Wii-mote but according to Fuji-Xerox, their solution was much more accurate (I doubt it). Also we were not allowed to make pictures for some reason.
Finally we ended with a party at Fuji-Xerox while the night was falling. The boss of the R&D section had been on business all day but came back during the party. The food was great (Western style) and the beer was also fine. A great ending for the day.