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live from bell labs


On 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 sessions.


For 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.

Of 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 U.S.

Most 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.

Students 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 Salesmanship section)


    Greg Blonder


Acknowledgments: 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.


Results from the AT&T "Live From Bell Labs"

Great Communicator Contest



These themes were common to most entries and simply cribbed from the contest announcement:

    Most 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)

    Applications 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.


Although the contest announcement didn't mention the following ideas, they were well represented in most submissions:


    Environmentally 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, ...

    Another 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




  • Super Electro Helper
  • The Organizer
  • CHIP (Compatible Home The Mini Solar Shoe Interchangeable Phone)
  • The Everything Pocket Computer
  • The Imagination Station
  • Join Me Communicator
  • Easy Mate 2000
  • Super Electro Helper Organizer
  • The Ultimate Personal Communicator
  • The Belt-a-Phone
  • Super Tela Jack 2000
  • The Watch a Phone
  • The Communicator Pal 2000
  • TCPP 2000 (Telecommunications Pouch Phone)
  • PHC (Personal Hand Held Communicator)
  • The New Talk-O-Matic 2000
  • The Trans Communicator PWCA (Portable The Belt Com Wearable Communications Apparatus)
  • MEC (Miniature Enhanced Communicator)
  • CAT (Complex Advanced Technology)
  • Brief Com (Brief Kit Communicator)
  • Dream Machine
  • The Assistiizor
  • The Super Finder 2000
  • Omni Communicator
  • Wordamax 2000
  • Tela-Shoe
  • The Anything (Because it can do anything)
  • AT&T Communiplayer



  • Hands 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.
  • Another 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.
  • Micro 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.
  • PWCA 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.
  • The 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 telepathy.
  • The 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 heat.
  • 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.
  • Brief 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.)
  • Solar 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.
  • This communicator has a thermometer and also glue in case you run out of glue.
  • 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 is possible.
  • The 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 antennas.
  • Here's 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.
  • You 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.
  • [Someone 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.
  • A 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.
  • Your 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.
  • Chip (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.
  • It's 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.
  • After 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.
  • The letter E marks the antenna that expands up when the communicator is slide open. It attracts frequencies from the phone line.
  • The 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.
  • Another 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.
  • The 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.
  • You 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.
  • This 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.
  • The 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 communicators.
  • 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 instruction manual.




  • 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.
  • The personal communicator I designed is not to small and not to large. The personal communicator fully compact and as easy to carry as a brief case.
  • The 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. 
  • The 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.
  • Using 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.
  • The 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.
  • With 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.
  • The 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.
  • Communications 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.
  • The 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.

Contact Greg Blonder by email here - Modified Genuine Ideas, LLC.