April 28, 1993 AT&T held its third annual "Live from Bell Labs"
broadcast. As part of this year's program, a contest to design a personal
communicator was opened to students from around the country and the
world (click here for a copy of
the contest announcement). This memo abstracts ideas submitted by the
students, mostly for amusement but also to help guide future product
development. Certainly, the students concepts are at least as creative
as those proposed by highly paid consultants, and in the opinion of
the author, compete favorably with ideas generated at AT&T brainstorming
many students, the contest was just one more homework assignment. And,
in the most honored tradition of spending the least amount of effort
on homework for the greatest gain, the average student simply cribbed
their ideas from the contest announcement. Consequently, even submissions
from schools separated by half the globe sounded eerily alike.
order 500 letters were received. Surprisingly, the majority were printed
using a word processors (note: this
was in 1993), and a sizable fraction of those used desk top publishing
techniques to embed illustrations. A few (~30) created mechanical models,
but most used pencil and crayons for the drawings (see Enclosures 2-7
for examples). In one or two cases, entire schools sent in hundreds
of entries, in other cases a single individual and their teacher submitted
the idea. Entries came from China, Germany and France as well as the
students took the phrase "personal communicator" at face value, and
really expected the device to be a friend as well as an appliance. Friends
share secrets, dispense food, save you from embarrassment, help you
find lost toys, and protect you from harm, as the excerpts below illustrate.
were also very brand conscious, and often expected Microsoft Windows
using 8 Meg of memory and a hard disk to be standard equipment. Often
they indicated a manufacture's suggested retail price. Many submission
were in the form of a product announcement or a manual, with a style
that clearly took its inspiration from the Home Shopping Network. (see
Bert Johnson and George Knoedl spent long, bleary eyed hours reading
and judging the entries, and Doris Miller helped organize a show of
some of most interesting concepts.
from the AT&T "Live From Bell Labs"
themes were common to most entries and simply cribbed from the contest
devices combined a fax with a printer with a phone with a video
screen with a pager with a TV with a computer game with a CD-Rom with
a speaker with a microphone with a satellite dish and with a keyboard.
Crowding all these functions into one small box loomed as the major
challenge. Most were voice activated (usually with celebrity voices)
and could translate between languages and even species (especially
with pets, the old fashioned personal friend)
included school work, notifying parents of your location and ETA,
passing notes unobtrusively to friends, and playing games. Students
were very open to novel form factors, and designed the communicator
for the belt, wrist, hand jacket and head.
the contest announcement didn't mention the following ideas, they were
well represented in most submissions:
correctness was a consistent theme. Most machines could recycle their
fax paper for another use. One communicator, which doubled as a water
fountain, could (in some delicately unspecified manner) recycle water
for another day. Solar energy was a common powering technology. Radiation
safety was a concern, but most designs felt they had a safe solution.
Most machines were also sensitive to the needs of the disabled- some
read text out loud for the blind, used vibration instead of buzzers
as alerts for the deaf, could be controlled by blinking an eye, ...
theme was security. Many of the boxes could respond to voice or finger
prints, and they would either stop functioning or call for help if
used by anyone other than their rightful owner. Other suggestions
included a health monitor that can automatically call a doctor
(Compatible Home The Mini Solar Shoe Interchangeable Phone)
Everything Pocket Computer
Electro Helper Organizer
Ultimate Personal Communicator
Tela Jack 2000
Watch a Phone
Communicator Pal 2000
2000 (Telecommunications Pouch Phone)
(Personal Hand Held Communicator)
New Talk-O-Matic 2000
Trans Communicator PWCA (Portable The Belt Com Wearable Communications
(Miniature Enhanced Communicator)
(Complex Advanced Technology)
Com (Brief Kit Communicator)
Super Finder 2000
Anything (Because it can do anything)
free use with speaker recognition. Recommended retail price is $150
for the item. Ever though it does not have the highest frequency it
will be safe to use and it will produce less radiation. My communicator
understand all kinds of languages and it is able to communicate all
over the globe even Antarctica. Rather than the power the regular
telephone companies use, my communicator will use the faster frequency
waves. This is surely a big improvement to modern communicators.
feature which is complete virtual reality is built into a head set.
Some people can use the device for their own enjoyment at lunch or
after school. Instead of having to look at the grotesque lunches the
students always complain about they can make their lunches look like
a lobster dinner or something they enjoyed.
chip that can be put in and taken out and will put maps of any city
in the world and a voice chip. That chip is interchangeable and again
can change the voice of the computer and how it speaks to you.
Portable, Wearable Communications Apparatus Panels and metal plates
that pick up brain waves that tell the helmet what to do. Helmet is
also ultra comfortable so you never have to take it off. The best
part of my helmet is all the time and money you'll save on hair products.
more advanced electronic devices, the mind reader pad, you put two
fingers on the pad and put your special thoughts in the memory just
for you. It costs around $10,000 or francs or any other kind of currency.
It will allow you to play any kind of Nintendo or Sega game.
- DC Dream
communicator can get in touch with anyone at any time using mental
Super Finder 2000 will find anything that's lost.
- My personal
communicator is a snap on button on
your shirt collar. It's small enough to go anywhere and it's waterproof.
It will record anything you say within a 48 hour range and you can
plug it into the computer and it will print everything you said. It
can catch radio stations. It has a telephone hooked up to it and an
answering machine. The answering machine will say "Hi, I'm not
wearing a shirt today so call another time." The buttons cost
about $5.00 so you can buy a lot. The communicator will last 5 to
10 years and no batteries are needed because it runs off of your body
- My invention
is a headset telephone with an answering machine. You can talk on
the phone at night without getting caught.
- My communicator
is the ultimate in portability. It goes where you go. There is no
chance of its being lost or accidentally misplaced. It is surgically implanted in the brain at
a certain age. Lasers will go to certain parts of the brain for other
activities as well. The laser is unique because it takes the shortest
possible route to the area needed. It means it has to go through parts
of the brain it does not harm those parts.
Com- In designing the prototype of this portable communicator I'd
keep one thing in mind. Keep it simple. You stated we can use any
effects that we have on our VCR, TV, CD system, game player, etc.
but I chose to use the bare minimum for two reasons. One, my simple
design would be cheaper and easier to sell than some of the other
communicators. Two, I find that people don't like big bulky fancy
things as much as simpler things. (From an 8th grader.)
panels work very well but what about during the night? Don't the solar
panels need light to operate? Problem solved! The communicator comes
with a flashlight as one of the accessories. When in the dark shine
the light on one of the solar panels.
communicator has a thermometer and also glue in case you run out of
- I don't
know if this is possible but what I had in mind is if the telephone
was too small you could press the enlarge button and enlarge itself
to the size of a regular phone. When your finished you could shrink
it back to its regular size. Like I said before, I don't know if this
Communiplayer is powered by putting a few drops of kerosene inside
and there is a little motor that does the rest.
- My personal
communicator is call Roberta the Robot. It has a portable television
screen under its neck so that you can watch any time. It can walk
or ride on your shoulders if you are on the run. It is helpful, kind
and funny. Roberta can help with your homework or your job and communicate
and reason with people.
- TV glasses
with an antenna to communicate with the outside world. It comes with
a hairpiece that you can cover your head and have less embarrassment.
- It runs
on solar batteries. Only one, so if you open it and you're not putting
a battery in it and you touch the inside you'll wreck the whole system.
The Watch Communicator sells for only
$500. You get your money's worth.
- A stick-on-belt
ball that's your communicator. You have to put the stick-on-belt ball
on your belt. That way women don't have to put it in their purses
and men don't have to carry it. But if women don't wear a belt you
have to put it in your purse. If you a man and don't wear a belt I
guess you can't bring it along. With the mass production of this product
and all the people the price should be very handsome. It will be fairly
high but considering what you'll be getting it is worth the money.
This isn't an expense, its an investment.
- I would
want to invent a way to communicate easily with your mom and dad.
It would be a watch because people don't like lugging a telephone
around with them all day long. With this watch you could tell you
mom and dad where you are and when you'll be home. The kids watch
would cost $210 and the parents would cost $220 for a watch with 3
a communicator that weighs almost nothing. It's actually a series
of four rings that are on your fingers and a ear piece which is
light weight and unnoticeable. It weighs almost nothing.
- My communicator
is called the Scribe. I came up with the design to solve a problem
that is constantly happening when trying to explain the moderately
complex concept. When you talk over the phone and try to explain the
concept you can't explain it in a visual way. The person using the
scribe would use the phone set to call a friend up who would also
have a scribe. If they don't have a scribe yours will act like a phone.
They link up and the people can now draw or write whatever they want
on the screen and it will appear on the other screen in real time.
can drive anywhere without a steering wheel. You can steer with your
voice. It cooks your food with a match. It even has a tent.
- A Wallet
Communicator- You don't need money. Just program your code buttons
for money from your bank. It speaks all languages. A screen can show
you where you are anywhere in the universe.
passed along ideas from his two kids. It suggests cellular phones
be combined with pagers because this will solve the problem of paying
for incoming calls. It says on the note] "By submitting these
ideas to your contest he does not give up any rights to royalties
or ownership if the ideas are used. I'm concern because my wife is
about to have an expense liver transplant and the money would come
in handy." [However, such phones are already on the market.]
- A small
communicator with a built in address book which automatically dials
phones so you can always call your friends no matter where you are.
necklace phone that goes around your neck. It also glows in the
dark so you can find it. The Name of the object is called Your Friendly
Friend. Because it's personal one of the things I notice is the feature
that has a secret compartment that you can keep stuff in. There are
also secret compartments for keeping food in and a a place to store
your gum. Also has a paper shredder.
Personal Talking Buddy- You program your buddy to have the same personality
and intelligence level as you so your can have conversations. It can
also help you with your homework. Help, not do. Here's another feature.
It's an emergency location system. You have to press it twice. Once
you've pressed it uses the system as a relay to get to the police
or family and got a special backup battery so it works all the time.
The communicator of the future.
(Compatible Home Interchangeable Phone) It has little chiplets which
plug in. They expect the retail price to be about $85.00. Each one
does something special, like a CD, radio, so on.
going to have a personality of a scientist and the voice of a women.
The computer will come equipped with a Intel Pentium chip but it can
be quickly upgraded to any chip desired.
the return button, the map of the globe will appear with a square
over every continent. To talk to another personal communicator you
would press the continent that its located in and list would appear
on the screen.
- It needs
something else so the phone in the house can smell great.
- A suction
cup that sticks to your head. You can get information from your computer
to your head. It sends information from your computer to your head
without using a printer. It also has a retractable cord.
letter E marks the antenna that expands up when the communicator is
slide open. It attracts frequencies from the phone line.
best feature of The Communicator Pal 2000 it recognizes the owners
name and sends a beep to the ear cup when called on. If the student
hasn't been paying attention he can quickly glanced at the screen
and see what question has been asked. This remarkable feature save
the individual from public embarrassment.
advantage of the answering machine is even if the person who left
the message on the answering machine is in a very loud place that
even he can't hear you when it comes in on the tape there is no background
noise. You'll here the person loud and clear.
- A tape
deck. This is no ordinary tape deck. It has the newest rewinding and
fastest forwarding system in the world. It works like any other VCR
but has the best of everything on the little gadgets.
Purse Communicator and Receiver. Well I guess its intended for girls
unless a guy walks around with a purse. Its sort of like a phone mounted
on a purse and its light and voice activated with a TV screen so you
can see the caller. Probably the most amazing thing is price. Because
the Purse Communicator is made from everyday materials it can be made
inexpensively and finally since its made inexpensively it can be sold
at low prices. Being just over 6" x 5" its not the easiest
thing to carry but its lightweight and built in handle and optional
shoulder strap compensates for its bulk.
can stick it to your wall and use it for a security system when its
not on your wrist. When someone it doesn't know comes in it barks
and growls like a dog and hopefully scares them away.
- A product
with a color coordinator dial. Dial turns it on and off and it adjusts
the machine to any color. And of course your can put it on your wrist
like a watch. It has a mini garbage can and comes in different shapes
and change colors to suit your mood.
ones not battery operated because it uses electric currents that it
catches on its antennas. Its call The It. This one also has a feature
that has a fly swatter. It can swat a fly to any scorpion.
- If you
get bored you play a quick game of chess or checkers. If your going
somewhere for a long time then stick a sandwich in the lunch section
for a healthy meal. Even though this is unique its highly unlikely
to be a new product on the market. The Super Communicator will cost
lots of money and will use lots of brain power. Its waterproof. You
can talk to a person a thousand miles away. If anyone steals it, it
won't work for them. If they throw it out it will walk back to you.
It has little feet too which are 2 inches both ways. It can store
a lot of stuff because it has a storeroom. It changes into a bunch
of colors when you touch it.
- It connects
to a satellite capable of interface of up to 1500 miles. If the wanted
interface is so far away it seeks up out the nearest largest piece
of metal and turns it into a antenna.
users will be the general public in the time period of 2005 to 2015.
Thinking that in that time period we will have interconnecting systems
and have global communications we decided to use soliton waves as
the electron magnetic energy for communicators. It will be interfaced
with other communicators by transmitting the soliton waves to satellites
up in space and by that time the satellites will connected with other
- My communicator
would have the personality of the average day person that is honest
caring and intelligent. It would be a helpful friend to all.
- My communicator
looks kind of complicated but don't worry because it comes with an
- To communicate
in the future young people will need something that sparks their interest.
Something that is interactive with because young people are becoming
more and more introverted and unwilling to communicate with friends,
parents and of course teachers.
personal communicator I designed is not to small and not to large.
The personal communicator fully compact and as easy to carry as a
PHC (Personal Hand Held Communicator) The PHC is on the cutting edge
technology which will not be available for many years and even then
it will be expensive. One day everyone will own one.
New Talk-O-Matic 2000 Combines the modern telephone with the comfort
of a speaker phone; the convenience of a answering machine; and the
usefulness of a personal computer all into a pocket sized, decorator
friendly wonder of the 21st century. This contraption combines all
the best qualities of every communication device in one compact unit.
the technology of the 90's to the fullest this highly portable device
is capable of communicating all over the world yet it weighs a mere
17 oz. It incorporates graphics with sound in marvelous ways.
Dream Machine- This machine would be called the Dream Machine. Everyone
should have one but if they don't there will always be AT&T. There
will always be Mastercard too.
a starting price of $800 and $900 the PPC has the potential to sell
very well to a high level crowd for those who have money and the desire
to have one.
personal communicator can be used by a little kid or an army commando.
Its architecture presents a new superior technology in wristwatch
communications and micro computers. The micro technology captures
the pure essence of imagination. It is simple enough for a child to
use yet it is sophisticated enough to be used by the military. With
multiple attachments the boundaries of communications are deleted.
Although on the outside it looks simple on the inside it's extremely
complex. The PPC 1234 will be one of the few inventions of the next
century that will be totally environmentally correct. The voice of
Colleen Duhurst will respond every time the user needs information
from the stored encyclopedias that are regularly updated. Incidentally
Ms. Duhurst can speak in six languages.
- My personal
communicator is a technological breakthrough for busy moms, traveling
men, unorganized students and anyone on the go.
is probably the best thing that has every happen in the history of
the human race. It's true. Even communication is more important that
meeting that special girl or guy at the mall or playing a video game
with Tommy's best friend Timmy. If we had no communications it would
be an incredible amount of confusion.
future needs something new but what? Simple, a personal communicator.
Personal communicators are not simple machines at all. They are very
complex and involve a lot of engineering. They help the citizens of
the United States so the work to build a personal communicator is
actually worth while. A personal communicator can be a machine that
the next generation may need. So make your decision wisely.