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Culture

Will high-tech transform happy hour?

A bar glass that alerts staff when the drink's getting low. A table that turns into a high-tech game board. A Mitsubishi lab may be bringing these and other technologies to a pub near you.

Making the most of your time in the pub could be a lot easier in the future, thanks to several technologies being developed by a Mitsubishi lab.

Among the high-tech doodads geared for the pub being developed by Mitsubishi Electric Research Laboratories (MERL), based in Cambridge, Mass., is a "smart glass" that keeps tabs on the level of liquid in the glass and automatically alerts the bar staff when it gets dangerously low. The device uses the iGlassware system, a transparent conductor around the sides of the glass that detects changes in capacitance caused by the lowering refreshment within.

When this reaches a preset level, a radio-frequency ID chip in the base of the glass emits a signal that is picked up by sensors in the establishment's tables; these are networked to the bar, where attentive staff immediately respond to the imminent emergency and recharge the depleted receptacle.

Radio-frequency ID chips are under development by many companies and research organizations, and promise to bring this sort of "intelligence" to a wide variety of everyday objects.

MERL is developing a number of other technologies with applications for the pub customer. These include a project that turns circular tables into ad-hoc shared-desktop environments to enable numerous pub games, as well as a "Voice Puppet" that animates any image to your voice to let you send a video conference call home "from the office."

Rupert Goodwins reported from London.