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How technology can bring people together

EU-funded researchers are developing new technologies that will improve how people nurture and develop their relationships. The TA2 ('Together anywhere, together anytime') project, supported under the 'Information Communications and Technologies' Thematic area of the EU's Seve...

EU-funded researchers are developing new technologies that will improve how people nurture and develop their relationships. The TA2 ('Together anywhere, together anytime') project, supported under the 'Information Communications and Technologies' Thematic area of the EU's Seventh Framework Programme (FP7), will bring rewarding and attractive media experiences to Europeans by enhancing and supporting technology. Scheduled to end in 2012, TA2 has received over EUR 12.8 million in funding. While the advent of technology has enabled people to accomplish various tasks easily and without expending too much energy, the current technology is often blamed for reducing the amount of time people spend with each other. For example, instead of 'direct' contact, teenagers usually prefer to stay home and play video games, and people communicate with one another via text messages on their mobile phones. The TA2 project is determined to change this trend by investigating how technology can support group-to-group communication. The objective is to use this technology to help people nurture and sustain relationships between families. With this in mind, the 13-member consortium is targeting simplified and improved group communication through the Internet. For example, participants will be able to communicate with others in a virtual room. Based on today's standards, men and women are always on the go, whether they're commuting on the train to get to school or are sitting in a plane 10,000 metres in the air. Researchers from Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Circuits (IIS), a member of the TA2 team, demonstrated the power and flexibilities of the new technologies at the Consumer Electronics Unlimited (IFA) international consumer electronics exhibition in Berlin in early September. Games sessions were held in which players competed against each other via the Internet. So having access to a game, for instance, will give people the chance to 'be' with their friends and family despite the distance. The Fraunhofer IIS researchers have also developed the 'Audio Communication Engine' for TA2. The engine consists of reciprocally tuned components that heighten the quality of sound and clarity of video and telephone conferences. According to the researchers, the MPEG Enhanced Low Delay AAC audio codec improves the sound by guaranteeing low-delay hi-fi quality at low bit-rates. The innovative technology also frees users from wearing headsets, thus giving them room to manoeuvre. And thanks to sophisticated signal processing, users have the feeling that they are much closer to each other than they actually are. The Fraunhofer-IIS researchers are also designing technology for integration in television sets and hi-fi systems. All in all, TA2 will deliver advanced sensors and information technology (IT) equipment that will help fuel people's activities, but maintain their right to privacy. Led by the European Institute for Research and Strategic Studies in Telecommunications GmbH in Germany, the TA2 consortium is made up of six industry actors and seven academic and research institutes. Members include Alcatel-Lucent Bell NV in Belgium, Philips in the Netherlands, IDIAP Research Institute in Switzerland and Goldsmiths, University of London in the UK.