Business Report

New Directions for a Cloudy Future: TR’s Picks

Cloud computing is changing how businesses, consumers, and even armies store and use data. Technology Review looks at six ideas at the cutting edge.

Android brain: Half the weight of some robots is due to on-board computers and the batteries needed to power them. This lightweight robot created by Google engineers uses an Android phone as a powerful robot brain. The phone’s internal gyroscope and camera act as sensors; a wireless connection to Google’s servers gives it nearly infinite memory and the ability to use apps such as maps to navigate or Google Goggles to identify nearby objects. All this cloud robot needs is a body—in this case one made from Lego Mindstorms.

Cloud biometrics: The Unique Identification Authority of India last year began taking fingerprints and iris scans of every Indian and issuing unique, 12-digit identification numbers based on the biometric readouts. The idea is to battle fraud in welfare programs, but the database is being called the world’s most ambitious human mapping exercise. India’s population of 1.2 billion means the system will have more profiles than Facebook (which has around 500 million users). Plans are under way to build a centralized data center in the technology city of Manesar.

Internet at 60 mph: The Evos concept vehicle, a plug-in hybrid from Ford, is billed as the first “cloud-connected car.” Ford has patented ideas for wirelessly accessing data about a person’s health or habits to customize their driving experience by altering motor dynamics or interior temperature. Ford believes the global vehicle fleet will go wireless. “Imagine one billion PCs not connected to the Internet. That is where cars are today,” says K. Venkatesh Prasad, Ford’s technical lead on the project.

Direct report: Persuading large companies to use remotely hosted business software is the largest moneymaking opportunity in cloud computing. Startup Tidemark has unveiled online analytic tools for businesses that provide real-time financial results and projections on any device, to any worker. Tidemark says its software gets data out of the hands of “Excel jockeys” with a consumer-friendly look and feel. The price: $200 per user per month.

Print anywhere: Is the “cloud printer” a last-ditch effort to sell ink cartridges, or is it the future of printing? HP teamed up with Google to let you print from any desktop or mobile device by sending documents to a printer via e-mail. The printer connects to your Wi-Fi network. The HP Photosmart eStation goes for $299.99.

Clone cloud: Smart phones communicate via the wireless network but don’t usually connect or collaborate directly with one another. Researchers at Carnegie Mellon created a network of smart phones dubbed Hyrax able to carry out shared computing tasks. Although phone processors are not the most powerful, a computing cloud made of phones could have advantages, such as allowing data processing to happen closer to the data itself

Killing cloud: Billion-dollar military computer systems spread data across battlefields and through the sky to U-2 planes, E-8C radar planes (shown) and Predator drones. Now the military wants to migrate to Web-based platforms to crunch data and locate enemies. Officials claim one data center at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan provides “massive storage and processing capabilities” to sort through millions of intelligence reports in seconds. Critics, however, say the military cloud doesn’t work.

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Business in the Cloud

Treating computing as a utility, like electricity, is an old idea. But now it makes financial sense—a historic shift that explains why cloud computing is reshaping the economics of IT. Even startup companies and consumers now can access massive amounts of computing power. The cloud is also raising new questions about privacy and security.

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