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Applying innovation to address environmental and social challenges

AT&T Labs has always had its eye on the future. With this forward-looking focus, we're working to create a cleaner, more sustainable tomorrow. We're committed to applying our investments, research and innovation to pressing environmental issues.

Energy and the Environment

Exploring Data Center Energy Consumption

We recognize that growing demand for our products makes data center efficiency a major challenge. We continue to develop new and better approaches to more effectively manage our energy consumption while continuing to expand processing power, speed and storage capacity. Steps have included:

  • Joining the Green Grid consortium, a global group dedicated to advancing energy efficiency in data centers and business computing ecosystems.
  • Working with the U.S. EPA to develop the ENERGY STAR rating for data centers.
  • Enacting a Data Center Energy Program that improves efficiency through airflow improvement technologies and temperature improvement programs.
  • Improving efficiency by installing Variable Frequency Drives (VFD) for Computer Room Air Conditioners (CRAC) Fan Motors and Air Conditioning Chillers in data centers.
  • Focusing on Server Virtualization, which will move new and existing physical servers to virtual machines.
  • Executing on Application Rationalization, which will allow us to streamline and retire IT applications, reduce costs and improve market responsiveness.
  • Implementing a data center optimization program.
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AT&T Global Media Environmental Module (GMEM)

In 2010, we deployed four AT&T Global Media Environmental Module (GMEM) models. First constructed in 2009 with the goal to add to the understanding of energy consumption implications of service and equipment platform alternatives, the GMEM compresses the footprint of ICT equipment into a reduced amount of facility space. It does this by using commonly distributed industry projects and arranging them in a new configuration to optimize design and employment to reduce space requirements and minimize cooling requirement.

The GMEM uses standardized "building blocks," allowing for rapid deployment and predictable construction and operating costs. Additionally, the GMEM can be replicated and integrated into multiple existing AT&T server based environments, including: circuit offices, video offices, mobility transports service offices and traditional data centers. Successful testing resulted in the deployment of GMEM in Video Head Offices, IDC and information Technology Operations data centers with continued deployment plans in 2011.

The basic design includes standard server cabinets deployed into a "Hot/Cold" aisle way, and contained with see-through fabric curtains. A light overhead bus way delivers power to the cabinets. This bus way is designed to handle increased density and redundancy as the cabinet power requirements increase. In-row or overhead air conditioning units provide local optimized air increasing the efficiency of the solution and provided for a PUE (power usages effectiveness) of 1.5 or better (Total ICT equipment power is ¾ or better of the total power required to operate).

An initial test of the GMEM deployment in one of our video head offices found that the design reduced space required by 40 percent, initial construction costs by 36 percent, and first year cooling energy requirements of 40 percent over the traditional configuration. The net present value — or savings — was positive by more than $700,000 per unit. Comparisons to other traditional centers will be released pending further testing and analysis. We expect that this new design will allow us to curb new facility growth and consolidate existing properties.

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Addressing Social Challenges

Innovation in Connectivity for Doctors, Hospitals and Patients

AT&T is constantly working with partners to develop medical tools of the future, combining networking, analytic and medical technologies in ways that will lower costs and improve the quality of care that patients receive. Some of the technologies that AT&T is currently working on include:

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  • Actuarius Gateway: Patients could one day connect with their doctors without leaving their home for small check-ups with this home monitoring system that connects wirelessly to smart scales, thermometers, blood pressure monitors and other devices, collecting and sending the patient's data back to doctors. This platform also works with home entertainment systems and cameras, enabling doctor-patient teleconferences.
  • Smart Slippers: Falls are all too common among the elderly. In fact, a recent Texas Tech University study found the average-size nursing home sees at least one fall each day. Inspired by videogame applications, Smart Slippers feature 3-axis accelerometers and pressure sensors that collect, analyze and send motion information that can warn the patient, relatives, the health care provider of unstable walking patterns and falls and even emergency services, depending on severity of the fall.
  • ZigBee-enabled Smartphones: You're out for jog, when you begin to feel chest pain. You stop to call for help, but it's already on its way thanks to a finger-cap sensor that's plugged into your smartphone, relaying the changes of your heart's condition to family members and your doctor. ZigBee wireless technology will one day enable just that, transforming smart mobile devices into remote health monitors that send bits of data, like heart rate or glucose readings, to a physician using less battery power than other technologies, such as Bluetooth.
  • HelmetWatch: The Center for Disease Control (CDC) finds serious bicycle injuries typically occur within one mile from home and in children between the ages of 5 and 14. Smart ZigBee-enabled helmets could one day alert parents immediately to their child's bicycle fall or other injury. Sensors within the helmet can alert parents' smartphones any time they sense a significant head jolt or fall and send a map with the location and time of the event as well as connect an "Are you ok?" call with a single button-press.
  • Cyber-coaching and Virtual Marathons: Training for a marathon? Trying to lose weight through exercise? Looking for a coach or running partner? Smart telesoles worn inside your running shoes could one day offer a solution. These thin cushions contain accelerometers, pressure sensors and a ZigBee wireless radio that could one day help improve your running performance by sending data to a smartphone application that tracks progress or enables you to race against runners in other locations.
  • Medical Jewelry: Medical sensors need not be obvious. The Multisensor Earpiece looks like an earring but doubles as an audio headset and hearing assist, pulse-oximeter, thermometer and glucometer, collecting data throughout the day and sending alerts to the patient and the doctor over ZigBee wireless technology also embedded in the bangle.
  • iSled: The next generation in tiny laser image projectors, the iSled (when cradling a smartphone) "throws" images and other high-res medical information on a nearby wall, enabling doctors to get the big picture while talking through X-rays, scans and patient charts without having to move the patient in to another room. The smartphone can also share the iSled's battery for extra "backup" talk time.
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Adapting Technology for People Instead of Making People Adapt to Technology

For us, there's no such thing as a typical customer. Innovation is key to staying competitive and to meeting the evolving needs of our diverse customers.

That's why the AT&T Human Factors Group's work is tremendously significant for our company and our customers. It increases our knowledge of and understanding about our customers.

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The fundamental goal of the Human Factors Group is to do our learning in the lab, rather than after the service is deployed to tens of millions of customers. In fact, sometimes the learning occurs years before a product is offered to customers. A part of the Chief Technology Organization, our Human Factors Group includes 15 technical staff members who specialize in human factors engineering. They conduct customer research, analysis, design and usability testing.

As an example, with AT&T's U-verse TV service, we needed to build a new network to provide advanced TV and very high speed Internet services. To do this, we started with the customer. Human Factors conducted studies with hundreds of customers to find out how they perceived the picture quality of different levels of video compression. Based on these results, we were able to pick the right picture quality based on what actual customers said they wanted to see and then design a network that could provide TV service.

The work of the Human Factors Group is simply a natural extension of our company's Universal Design policy. We have found that making something easy to use for the widest possible number of people is the digital equivalent of curb cuts. Curb cuts were designed to help people with disabilities, but they actually had benefits for a wide range of people whether they were riding a bicycle or pushing a stroller. The same is true in the digital world, where features like large print and high contrast text, not only help those with low vision, but also those people who are simply interested in reading in a dark room. In fact, so many of the innovations at AT&T are fueled by this philosophy that we have published our Universal Design policy for our business partners as a way to better serve the needs of all of our customers.

Read more information on AT&T's Accessibility Policy.

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Accessibility through Innovation

AT&T is constantly developing and working with other companies to develop new and innovative technologies that improve accessibility for people with disabilities.

AT&T Watson is a world class real-time speech recognizer that was developed in AT&T labs. This technology has been used by a number of other companies to create applications that allow users to use their voice to do everything from writing and sending a text message to controlling their television guide.

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AT&T Labs has also developed Natural Voices, an award winning technology that can convert text into speech for a wide variety of applications.

These two technologies, combined with other ongoing projects at the AT&T Labs, have led to the development of a wide range of prototypes that have the potential to fundamentally change how people with disabilities interact with the world.

Miracle: Automatic Transcription, Indexing and Retrieval of Video

For people who are hard of hearing and want to access content that is not closed captioned, Miracle automatically transcribes speech in multimedia, segments the multimedia, and indexes the media using the transcriptions.

iWalk: Walking Directions for People with Low Vision or Blindness

For people with low vision who cannot use navigation tools that rely on visual landmarks, iWalk is a local business search and navigation service that provides directions and feedback verbally.

Electronic Program Guide: Speech Access to Television and Movies on Demand

Electronic Program Guide (EPG) provides non-visual, one-button access to TV and movie databases using speech recognition and text-to-speech.

eReader: Speech Access to ebooks and RSS feeds

Our eReader uses text-to-speech to read books and RSS feeds out loud, and speech recognition to permit users to control the interface, search and navigate books by voice. It is useful for people with vision impairment and print disabilities. A related prototype incorporates expressive text-to-speech synthesis for a more entertaining reading experience.

SAFE: Secure Access for Everyone

SAFE is a multi-factor authentication service designed to replace typed passwords and CAPTCHAs for many online tasks (from banking to email access to virtual private network access). Both the biometrics in SAFE and the SAFE interface are designed to be accessible for people with visual impairments or print disabilities.

Enabling Technologies

AT&T Labs researchers are extending Watson and Natural Voices to provide more support for building assistive technologies. We are building a rich variety of recognition models into Watson to enable application developers to rapidly prototype accessible applications. We are also running a multi-system evaluation of text-to-speech synthesis for people who are blind, with the goal of improving the utility of this technology.

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Information and Intelligent Systems

The explosion in communication and entertainment services is changing how people interact with devices and one another. Our world-renowned research in speech recognition, search and mining, natural language understanding, and human-computer interaction is relevant now more than ever since speech is the most natural and safest way for people to communicate with devices. Interfaces must also accommodate trends in social networking, as people share and comment on music, video and other media. Collaborative TV and radio, and applications allowing people to organize business, personal and social information, are part of how Research is working to help customers and consumers interact with data and media.

Learn more about AT&T's Labs Research.