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BBC NI's Dermot Wynne
gets some hands on experience at FutureWorld
 real 56k

Tuesday, 15 August, 2000, 19:12 GMT 20:12 UK
See the future for free

Amy Hageman orders the fridge to stock up
By BBC News Online's Jane Bardon

If there usually isn't much worth having in your fridge, being able to telephone it to find out what its contents are, may not be the kind of feature that excites you.

But having an internet fridge which can order everything you have run out of from the local supermarket by email by the time you get home from work, is the kind of technological advance which has real possibilities.

The fridge is just one of the exciting new technologies on show at the BBC's UK-touring FutureWorld exhibition, at the Waterfront Hall on Belfast until 30 August.

FutureWorld is by no way your average exhibition. The crowds of schoolchildren, families, couples and retired people milling around the Waterfront at every hour daily from 1000 BST to 1800 BST don't exude the 'are we having fun yet?' attitude.

Access all areas

Everywhere, people of every age and level of technological knowledge are pressing buzzers, writing on plasma screens, watching dinosaurs walking, and trying out their newsreading and presenting skills.

FutureWorld is designed to appeal to people of all ages, and while many of the features are focused primarily at children, the internet fridge is a big hit with adults.

Using barcodes on food and weight measurement it can not only tell you what you've run out of, but will suggest recipes suitable for the ingredients you do have, as well as allowing you to surf the net, email, watch TV or even play a video while you cook.

Getting to grips with writing plasma
Getting to grips with writing plasma
But best of all is its ability to allow you to write reminder messages to yourself in a saved schedule on the plasma screen and to record a video message to your dearest about how their dinner is in the dog.

Different terminals in the Future Technology section explode the mysteries surrounding techno business buzzwords like video conferencing - it becomes fun and accessible when you and your friend can make faces at each other while talking on the phone.

Gameshow addicts can pit their wits against their host Peter Snow and challenge their friends to a buzzer quiz at FutureWorld Challenge.

The virtual presenter has been ingeniously programmed to spur on the losing competitor.

Beat the autocue

But the most popular features have to be the studio booths in which hundreds of would-be BBC TV stars put themselves at the mercy of the autocue and the camera last week during the Belfast round of BBC Talent search.

In the presenting booth
Studio nerves? - no way
Now anyone can have a go at being a BBC presenter or newsreader.

Assistant manager of the exhibition Rebeka Coffie said: "It gives people a real insight. People wonder why presenters get paid so much because they just read off the screen.

"They don't realise it is just you in there with the technology. You think you are looking at the camera when you are reading, but it is really quite difficult."

Helen Roche, her sister Jackie and their friends were not shy to step into the studio A booth.

Helen said: "It's hard to look at the screen and stand in the right place so the camera can see you. But I want to be a children's TV presenter."

Her friend Simon Hageman was impressed by the whole exhibition.

"I'm surprised the computers can do so much work. It's fun and it teaches you a lot."

Rachel Murphy and Melissa Henry from Canada
It can be a shock to see yourself on TV for the first time
The History 2000 terminal gives you an idea of how an interactive workstation can jazz up the process of learning. You choose your topic, and it calls up not just information, but clips of archive footage.

Rachel Murphy and Melissa Henry from Canada had been visiting Belfast when they heard about FutureWorld.

"Some of the things are just for kids, but there is a lot of interest to adults," they said.

Surfs up

The digital television revolution has got off to a hicupping start in Northern Ireland. Many of the 600 channels on offer on the various services have not yet been allocated stations and it is prone to freezing frame in the middle of a programme in a very unsettling manner.

Virtual gameshow: It's fingers on the buzzers boys
Virtual gameshow: It's fingers on the buzzers boys
But the Beyond 2000 presentation promises that the interactive TV revolution is going to be something worth getting into.

Through your TV, you will be able to email, surf the net, shop, download video clips of the Shakespeare play your children are studying and hear your favourite radio channels.

And instead of having four different controllers for your TV, video, cable box or satellite dish, so that the one you always want is permanently lost down the side of the sofa, all media services will be integrated.

The next stage will be voice control. The order: "Bed now!" might be more effective on the kids if the TV simultaneously turned off.

And if you want to have a go at surfing the net, the Webwise section has lots of terminals and staff to give you a start.

Rebeka Coffie said: "Some people say that it is silly, because there is nothing here which they don't have at home. But they forget that there are many people who don't have access to the internet at home, or at work."

The staff at Futureworld in Belfast have mostly been recruited locally and some have been seconded from sponsors BT.

Rebeka said they have found getting involved very interesting.

"It's not just an exhibition. It's a learning exhibition. We even have some teachers who are off for the summer working here," she said.

Since it opened in Belfast on 4 August, 32,000 people have already visited FutureWorld. Why not join them - its free!

FutureWorld is open daily from 1000 BST to 1800 BST. Tel: 08700 100 160

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