SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Imagine a world where clothes are tailored specifically for the individual, yet cost less then comparable off-the-rack items; where e-mail, instant messaging and even old-fashioned telephone communications are accessible through one easy-to-navigate interface; where formerly static Adobe .pdf files can be used to view 3-D images from every conceivable angle.
It's not that far off.
In fact, those were the three most talked about "leading and bleeding-edge" technologies featured yesterday at Forrester Research Inc.'s Emerging Technology Showcase, and they're coming relatively soon to a computer near you.
"I have always been enamored with the research technologies that are created in these laboratories, a lot of which we now see." said Dan Mahoney, Forrester's chief research and client officer. "It's really great stuff."
By far, the company that generated the most buzz at the conference -- and the one that had attendees wishing they owned stock options in the firm -- was U.K.-based Virtual-Mirrors Ltd.
Virtual-Mirrors has perfected the process of using imaging technology to scan consumers and create virtual body models for them, which in turn are used to automate the production of custom clothing.
"I thought the Virtual-Mirrors demo was absolutely incredible, very creative," said Colin Leary, an account representative with New York City's Y&R Advertising.
Using the virtual body models, consumers can see what they look like in versions of clothes that haven't been made yet. Garments can be shown in different lighting and details can be examined 3-D. Once customers have found some clothing they like, they can then choose from several different fabrics.
Managing director Patrick Gardner said the process will ultimately make custom-made clothes bought over the Internet cheaper than store-bought items, because the process takes inventory out of the supply chain. Moreover, Gardner said, it will mean an end to ill-fitting clothes.
During the question-and-answer portion of the event, Gardner explained how his company would make sure information about people's bodies was kept private.
"Our basic policy on this is very clear indeed," Gardner said. "Our belief is that only one person can own a body model, and that is the person whose body model it is."
Gardner said his company would address security concerns by providing a "totally secure repository" of body models.
"The fundamental principle about this is that we are holding these body models on trust for the consumer," Gardner said. "The only use that will ever be made of the models will be the result of direct instigation on the part of the consumer."
Conference attendees said they couldn't think of any major security concerns resulting from the use of virtual body models, but then again, they admitted that they don't think like malicious Internet users.
"I don't see any large-scale concerns right now," said conference attendee Garrett Smith, an independent IT researcher. "But I don't know a lot about it."
It was unclear when Virtual-Mirrors will start being used on a wide-scale basis. But Gardner did say his firm was in the U.S. seeking out potential business partners to distribute the product.
Microsoft taking on sweeping communications challenges
Ed Simmet, lead product manager for Microsoft's real time collaboration group, demonstrated an early-stage, real-time collaboration application. It uses a single software interface to integrate e-mail, instant messaging and voice.
Real time "means connecting people with people. It means connecting people with information," Simmet said. "And it means connecting people with processes."
The application allows users to see which of their collaboration partners is online and which aren't. Users also can view associates' schedules by accessing scheduling data housed on Exchange servers. Though these capabilities are available now through different applications, such as instant messaging or shared calendars, the use of a single interface to view them is just emerging.
Also notable is the tie-in with voice. Using an audience member for the demonstration, Simmet showed how he could receive instant messages and then move on to a telephone conversation.
Simmet got an instant message asking him if he was available for a quick phone call. He responded that, yes, he was. Then a window popped up on the screen that said "incoming call." About one second later, the phone rang.
The software also allows users to collaborate on projects by trading documents and updating them in real time.
"Collaboration is a big thing," Y&R's Leary said. "The whole presence issue of knowing when people are available all the time" is very important.
Intel clearing a path to 3-D standards
It will be a year or two before users outside of the realm of manufacturing, design and engineering will be able to access and make use of 3-D images on a wide scale basis, said Richard Benoit, program marketing manager with Intel Corp.'s corporate technology group and chairman of the 3-D Industry Forum, a special interest group that is leading the development of a universal 3-D standard.
Benoit demonstrated the significant progress his group has made over the past four years in streamlining formerly proprietary CAD-based 3-D images, compressing them and putting them into a universal standard.
In the past, working with 3-D images in CAD data structures required expensive proprietary software and hardware. But over the next two years, users can expect to see adoption of industry standards that allow for such images to be worked with on any platform, he said.
"You can imagine that [proprietary hardware and software vendors] may not be really happy with us right now," Benoit said. "But we believe that this is just going to open up a huge marker for anyone involved in that [design and engineering] space."
Benoit also showed the company's upcoming 3-D technology that will soon to be introduced by Adobe.
The Intel executive called up a .pdf document -- which was formerly two-dimensional and static -- that had a picture of a turbine engine. He was then able to click on different "buttons" and view the engine in 3D from all sorts of angles, inside and out.
He said Adobe is expected to introduce this technology in the next several months.
Asked how long it would be before users will see widespread use of 3-D video, Benoit said it was too early to tell.
"3-D is really tough and complex to do. And to put it into a video component, that just adds to the complexity," Benoit said. "So, it would be premature for me to speculate on when you're going to see that, but I'm sure that you're going to see it someday."
Marcel Racine, director of IT services for Canada's federal agriculture department, said he thought the 3-D demonstrations were very cool. But he couldn't think of a practical use for the technology for his particular job.
"As an IT guy, I love it. As a medical guy, I love it. But as an agriculture and agrifood Canada guy, no," Racine said. "We do have some researchers that make use of 3-D technology, though."