- The Washington Times - Monday, January 28, 2002

Following the stock market can be a rip-snorting, fist-pounding kind of business, what with all those bells, charts and urgent messages.
Until now. Something called the Stock Orb has arrived, part of a new and most civilized revolution in the consumer electronic kingdom. All those squawking, nervous little devices have gone downright polite.
Meant to sit on desktop or dresser, this simple, hand-sized globe is loaded with wireless technology and changes color like a mood ring in concert with financial information. The orb glows happy green as prices go up, red if they go down, serene blue when things even out.
"We don't want our information to be rude anymore," said Pritesh Gandhi of Ambient Devices, which developed it. "Information must be a part of the daily environment, integrated into daily objects and never intrusive. We're tired of obnoxious cell phones."
This is no simple stop-and-go-light. The Stock Orb is attuned to current financial reports and customized to the portfolio of the owner, thanks to an interface with Fidelity, Merrill Lynch and Motorola. And the color changes are meant to soothe rather than rattle the typical stock market player.
The orb "turns increasingly green as he's earning money, more red when he's losing money, and glows a brighter blue as change minimizes," explains the product information.
It's all based on something called "pre-attentive processing," or the typical person's ability to absorb subliminal background information.
"This orb doesn't scream," said Mr. Gandhi. "And we expect them to be available by catalog at the end of May, probably priced around $200."
This is not the only polite device under development at Boston-based Ambient Devices (www.ambientdevices.com). Some 15 other high-concept but decidedly civil products are under development here, keyed to information needs of harried people.
The Traffic Fob is a keychain tied into official traffic reports by wireless technology, displaying alternative routes should there be a tie-up. The Message Pen glows red if an important voice mail has arrived on that shut-off cell phone in a briefcase a boon to executives stuck in endless meetings.
Yet another wave of the future seems to have arrived.
Indeed, Netherlands-based electronics giant Philips plans to develop numerous devices with "ambient intelligence," CEO Gerard Kleisterlee said during a speech at the U.S. Consumer Electronics Show two weeks ago.
These things are meant to anticipate the user's needs, to be "sensitive, personalized, adaptive, anticipatory and responsive to people," he said, adding that these devices will have a "deeper understanding of the moments when people experience technology."
We could be in for a whole new generation of touchy-feely TVs and empathetic audio systems. But to be really understanding, these newfangled electronics must also be geared to those who prefer their incoming information to be, well, annoying.
The future is already here: Mr. Phone will be available in June. This voice-activated, robot-headed telephone talks, moves, hollers, dances and "matures with time," according to Connecticut-based Polyconcept USA.
The phone's built-in infrared technology detects when someone comes near, and will strike up a conversation, "although this may well become irritating," observed one product reviewer.
The company also offers phones that incorporate a working 1950s-style lava light, a bubble-gum machine and a fortunetelling Magic 8 Ball, should the user want both conversation and prediction.
Last but not least, wearable technology has finally reached the consumer market after years of languishing in the imaginations of computer geeks or as experimental prototypes.
Poma, an 11-ounce computer that features a tiny eyepiece that contains both an on-screen desktop and a "custom optical mouse," will be available later this year.
Developed by Hitachi and Xybernaut, the $1,500 wireless device uses Microsoft Windows and can access the Internet. It is, the manufacturers say, part of a greater body of "e-mobility" products and the centerpiece of the International Conference on Wearable Computing, to be held in Chicago in early March.

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