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Last Updated: Wednesday, 28 March 2007, 08:34 GMT 09:34 UK
IBM serves up new innovations
Roger Federer wins the Australian Open
Roger Federer's victory in Melbourne was brought to Second Life
Computing giant IBM has made a dramatic shift in recent times from hardware to software - and has been seeking to show off its proficiency in the virtual world of Second Life.

IBM has embraced Second Life with, among other things, live-action tennis.

Using real time ball-tracking data from the Australian Open, staff at IBM's Innovation Sanctum at Silicon Valley research labs outside San Jose, California have developed the ability for a person's avatar to watch the tennis as it happens in the game.

"What we did was take that data and fed it into Second Life, also in real time, to have a virtual representation of the game as it's happening live in the virtual world at the same time as the real world," IBM's Dave Kamalsky told BBC World Service's Digital Planet programme.

The prototype was launched in January, the day after the real Australian Open began.


This focus on software is a big change for IBM, a company traditionally known for contributing to the hardware backbone of modern computing.

It was IBM that made the very first PC - with 256K of RAM - in 1981. But having pioneered it, IBM has since sold off that part of the business - although it remains a profitable player in technology.

Its work in Second Life reflects this. As well as the tennis courts, the company has built islands, social areas for staff, and a prototype replica of a real shop that can be explored in 3D.

IBM auditorium in Second Life
IBM premiered its 12 Second Life islands last year
"We tried to make it as interactive as possible - for example, in the upstairs section we have MP3 players," said Mr Kamalsky.

"They're modelled just like the real world MP3 players, and you can pick them up and hold a virtual representation of them. Then you can click on the object and go to a website and make a purchase."

Other projects IBM is working on include a way of tackling one of the real frustrations of modern life - call centre menus.

"We all know it's frustrating - because it's either too slow, when the information is not relevant to you, or too fast, when you really want to catch an important piece of information," explained Shumin Zhai, who is leading the project.

"We figured that often you make a call when you've got a computer in front of you - especially when you're making a business call - so when you call, our system will intercept your caller ID and then it will associate that number with your instant messaging identification."

This system - whether it is MSN messenger, AOL, or Skype - can then be used to show a full list of options on the computer screen.

They can then be selected via the computer, rather than having to listen to all the options first.


Also being developed are advances of IBM's prototype Master - or Multi-lingual Automatic Speech-to-speech Translator - machine, a small rugged laptop designed for US troops in Iraq.

"One of the problems now is that there are not enough linguists - people who speak English and to the same level Iraqi Arabic - there are just not enough translators," said Annette Fashnaught, who has developed it.

"So Master can be used to communicate with the locals there."

The translation is done in real time, and the native speaker can also use the system to translate their answer.

Master is being used on the ground in Iraq already, and IBM hopes to make other languages possible too.

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