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Science

Fraunhofer Institute shows off latest technologies at CeBIT

Fraunhofer is once again presenting its newest innovations at the CeBIT conference. The research organization registers more than 600 inventions every year, many of which have fundamentally changed our lives.

Fraunhofer's new video phone technology

Instant communication has just become even more instant

At this year's CeBIT tech fair the Fraunhofer research institute presented several new technology demos, including a system that could revolutionize instant communication, though at first the demonstration did not seem particularly special.

The German Fraunhofer research institute specializes in application-oriented research and has already developed of some groundbreaking technologies such as the MP3 file.

At the Fraunhofer's CeBIT booth two people were standing in front of a large flat screen talking to another two people in front of an identical screen somewhere else in the cavernous Hall 9 of the conference center.

"The things is, we're covering the entire audio bandwidth," Fraunhofer's Matthias Rose told Deutsche Welle. "That means the person on the other end of the line sounds exactly like he speaks. Even if you're listening to music, it sounds exactly like it would if you were listening to it in the same room – that means you have very high quality with very little delay – much less than is the case with today's communications systems."

Fraunhofer developer demonstrating music analysis software

Have you always wanted to learn the electric guitar?

The key to Fraunhofer's new concept is that it requires very low data quantity. Video and audio encoding has been developed to the extent that a simple DSL connection could make it possible to make perfect quality video phone calls through the TV. Individual components for this technology already exist – such as the Facetime app for Apple's iPhone.

Face the music

Not far away, a young developer played an electric guitar. A program on a monitor behind him showed whether he was hitting the right notes. The software, known as Song2See, does more than simply create a visual graphic of music that is played to it. Program developer Sascha Grollmisch said its main aim is to create a fun way to learn musical instruments.

"Say I have a song that I'd like to learn to play on the guitar, the flute or the piano," he explained. "The program shows me how I have to play the instrument, whether I'm playing it properly and if I'm hitting the right notes."

What's new about this is that the analysis happens in real time. The software can even recognize music played on several instruments.

Innovations for the old and the sad

In the next part of the stand was a new system aimed at helping older people who are living alone. The senior citizen's house or apartment is fitted with motion sensors and energy-measuring devices, then the inhabitant's regular "behavior profile" is created. If the sensors detect a change in the pattern, a central computer sets off the alarm.

Facial recognition technology

The Fraunhofer institute is pioneering facial recognition technology

"For example if someone steps into the bathroom and climbs into the bath, but then doesn't come out after a certain amount of time, that's a signal that the person is in a helpless situation," said Mario Schmitt, who helped develop the project.

Next to this stand, a tiny camera was set up pointing at the faces of passers-by. The data was fed to a monitor which ascribed a mood to each of the faces. This is all part of a slightly nosy new software application, explained developer Angela Raguse.

"This is software that not only recognizes the face, but it can also detect the position of the eyes," she said. "It can tell whether an eye is open or closed, and it can analyze a face more closely – the different mouth positions and the so-called mood indicators."

The institute spent nine years examining 25,000 photos and discovered several thousand individual facial criteria which it can now categorize and organize. The technology has already been tested in the US for use in personalized advertizing.

So the next time you're walking past a billboard and the smiling face suddenly changes, you'll know the ever-innovative Fraunhofer Institute has touched your life again.

Author: Nicolas Martin / bk
Editor: Stuart Tiffen

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