Barcelona is among the best smart cities in the world, alongside Singapore and London. Once again a feast took place in the capital of Catalonia for new technology enthusiasts – the Mobile World Congress 2018. In addition to the smartphones and top gadgets on show that continue to make our lives more “smart”, you could also see reflections of technologies presented some time ago by the directors of Black Mirror.
Barcelona turned out to be the perfect place to catch the context of what a Smart City really is. As just one example of the smart systems operating in the city – Barcelona’s air pollution is constantly monitored using an IoT sensor system. If the air quality exceeds the levels in their planned standards, the system automatically regulates the operation of traffic lights in the city to help unload traffic jams. In this way, the system is able to minimise the impacts of exhaust gases that are, of course, a leading contributor to smog.
Even from the beginning, before entering the Fira Barcelona, we were warmly welcomed by a discreet advertisement by a ruling authority from the digital world. Discreet because it was a modest banner hung on a footbridge, stating that Android is the most popular operating system on Planet Earth. Googles badge was yet to be seen. Taking this level of ostentatiousness up a notch hung the masted flags leading to the entrances, where the latest flagship of Samsung was advertised. Let no-one have any doubts about who the king of performance is.
The latest wireless standard of 5G has become a backbone, without which, the further development of many digital branches would be difficult or even impossible. The secret to this connection lies in its very specification: speeds of 2 Gbps and delays below 5 ms.
Do we really need to send such large amounts of data? We live in a world where everything is either already, or soon will be connected to the Internet of Things. We ourselves and all the devices that surround us produce huge amounts of data that are continually being sent, processed and forwarded. An autonomous car will send over 25 GB of data per hour to the cloud. At the same time, each passenger will be watching 360 videos in 8k resolution per eye, using the benefits of virtual reality, or maybe even participating via avatars in meetings elsewhere in virtual offices. All autonomous vehicles will eventually be in contact with each other and their surroundings. In this way, smart cities will be able to regulate traffic in real-time by responding to various threats. Drones will break into the airspace of our cities – sending out fragments of raw data to the cloud and receiving them already processed. This will increase their usability, working time and lifting capacity because they will not have to waste energy on their processing.
The connected car and 5G – these are already happening. Tokyo was recently host to a Toyota autonomous driving vehicle test that maintained an average connection speed of 120 MBps. Inside this test car, you could even watch any movie in either 4 or 8k quality. During the journey, the vehicle collects and sends information about its destinations, how long the journey takes, what conditions prevail on the road, etc., with all the data uploaded to the cloud and subsequently processed. Thanks to all this information, Smart City operators will be able to better manage traffic, air quality, electricity flow and even crisis situations. The Alibaba system in Japan even boasts the ability to create privaleged routes through cities for emergency vehicles speeding to their destinations with the sirens on.
Is this technology just around the corner? According to the Intel employees I managed to talk with, “it is much more disruptive than 4G was. It will completely change network infrastructure”. Importantly, someone has to finance it. Hence the cooperation between some of the largest interested parties – i.e. Intel, Ericsson, and Toyota – is not surprising.
It is also not surprising how other companies previously associated with completely different fields of the economy have come to jointly develop new information technologies down this technological trajectory. At the SK Telekom stand, their cooperation with the luxury brand Hyundai bore witness to the new autonomous Genesis G90.
Connected cars, autonomous cars & driverless cars
These terms are intertwined, sometimes they are interchangeable and at times all mean exactly the same. Big companies are already aware that a certain age is over and a new one is coming. The best example may be from the most technologically advanced brand among car manufacturers, the Bavarian company BMW. Their product (because you cannot talk about the car anymore) offers its customers something profoundly novel in mastering mobility. It is here that I want to describe what I mean in relation to their i3 model. What is this all about? Take shopping as an example. Traditionally, when we go shopping, we leave the car in the parking lot and after the end of our shop, we return to this space with our bundles of newly acquired purchases. BMW, however, proposes something different.
Using an application on our smartphone, we can call the car to the place where we are currently located; the vehicle then arrives and opens only when it has confirmed our identity – whether by using biometrics or other methods of authentication. For the needs of the demo, we opened it with the touch of a finger.
It was only after I left the car that I realised one extremely important thing – myself as a driver that frequently clocks over 50,000 kilometres per year. As someone who loves the thrill of the drive, I was surprised to not feel put off while being driven by the car.
Meanwhile, Daimler showcased other aspects related to the revolution of autonomous vehicles. For example, taxi cars will be installed with the ability to shade the windows for when we want to keep our privacy while driving. The auto has so many ‘pairs of eyes’ that it absolutely does not have to depend on ours.
The new Smart, in addition to taking us where we want, will show passers-by that it knows that it noticed them by displaying relevant visual messages outside on the vehicle.
The public, and certainly the legislators, absolutely cannot keep up with the development of the technology – However, I am glad that people are thinking about such problems concerning the integration of autonomous vehicles with our surroundings. What may be worrying is that the end result of this technological application will probably be the most optimal solution for car manufacturers, not necessarily that of the wider social interest. Perhaps my search went badly, but I did not find any significant traces of the presence of any organisation, be it governmental or social, that appeared to be trying to work out a compromise between business and society. Well, except for news from the screens of some timid protests on the streets. With screens displaying a warning at every step suggesting you to not walk around the area outside the exhibition with a distinctive identifier in a visible place, it makes you think.
During the event, many of the most well-known companies producing the most modern smartphones were exhibited. It is at such conventions that many other relationships will probably arise from this. A lot of producers were also promoted, offering brands that mean little to the average European. It is significant that they presented their products in a similar fashion to how they presented their smartphones; Sony, LG or Lenovo.
Of course, the biggest stall to make an appearance there was organised by Samsung – on its stand, you could actually admire only one model – the S9 and S9 +. Their product stand was twice as large as any two other well-known brands put together, including their entire lines of products.
Sony was showcasing the latest Xperia, which records in 60fps 4K HDR – but it was only through a comparative presentation of two cameras from different generations that made us realise what quality we were dealing with.
There were also plenty of gadgets for phones – the coolest, in my opinion, was showcased by Motorola.
As for me, there were more important things there than just smartphones themselves. Every self-respecting phone manufacturer has, of course, devoted a lot of effort to showing off their implementations of Google Assistant, under their own trade names of course. Not only can Google Assistant now speak complex sentences, we can show it pictures to get answers to what they represent, ask about the weather or even plan out our day.
At the LG booth, you could check in with their ‘assistant’ for a specially prepared exhibition.
Google Assistant is, in my opinion, a quiet hero of this trade show, because it will not only manifest on our phones but also eventually on every device in our homes.
For the first time, a decline in smartphone sales was reported globally quarter to quarter. Nevertheless, new brands are still being created, producing devices that compete freely with the medium-sized brands. The market is saturated and the phones are no longer able to give us anything that significantly changes our attitude to buying a new device while the old ones still meet the tasks set for them. Even the great return of Nokia with their new devices, as well as the BlackBerry stand, did not cause anyones pulse to increase. I will be tempted here to make a slight prophecy – a few years will pass and no-one will remember about the phones – Google will cater for all the needs around us and replace smartphones with the IoT cloud – whether it’s worn on us in the form of clothes or goggles or even lenses that will still transmit data to us using AR or mixed reality.
At D-Link’s booth, there was a whole range of smart home products and Google’s staff made sure that we knew all their possible applications.
You can now control the lighting of any device connected to a power outlet via a smart socket. Now you can also create entire macros by controlling multiple devices with one command and assigning them your own commands. For example, you enter the children’s room and say ‘Hey Google, abracadabra’, at that moment the lights go out, the TV turns off, the windows blackout and the loudspeakers start to play a lullaby …
But that’s not all, you can go even further. You can start by managing your day in front of the bathroom mirror.
The intelligent mirror allows us during our morning ablutions to check the daily schedule, check the weather, read the feeds or change the mood – you can see the share prices and then listen to the calming music – depending on whether we need to raise our blood pressure or calm down. You can also ask for fresh coffee from anywhere in the house – don’t worry, the Smart Coffee Maker will take care of it. A smart washing machine will wash and order powder,a dishwasher will order dishwasher tablets…
The convention also showcased the newest version of Google Daydream.
Daydream is a headset for the phone. In the older version, it worked with Google phones, i.e. with Pixels. You do not need a new phone anymore, all of the equipment is supplied by Lenovo. You can play VR games, watch 360 videos, move to the virtual world and see everything you want here and now.
The new equipment and the ways of its use were here shown by HTC.
In addition were the new controllers installed on legs, as shown in the picture:
thanks to which you can play football. You can even carry out the full training of you employees, for example on a production line:
You can also teach professions that require far more advanced techniques and much greater accuracy, such as how to perform a medical operation as part of a team:
How can you diversify a children’s drawing activities? By adding AR. Drawing is a very useful game for children’s development, but can be, well, boring. Now, using the same smartphones as they always use, children can now enrich their drawing expectations. The application enlivens drawings and, what’s more, paints these characters to look exactly as they do on paper.
When it comes to VR / AR it was also possible to see their alternative uses. Thanks to the glasses and harnesses that can be equipped when using VR technology, you can arrive, for example, on the Moon, fly in a balloon or without a harness, or even play a game of tennis.
In general, I got the impression that the presented solutions were either event miracles or forced solutions. Who really needs to kick the virtual ball into the virtual goal? Or play virtual tennis?
That being said, its application will have structured benefits. – with the proliferation of VR equipment, it will start to become much cheaper. Then it may even enter schools or become commonplace in the home. During this time and funded by its users, modern techniques of presenting content will be delivered and UX and UI problems will be solved. Perhaps soon someone will be able to reduce the effects of motion sickness, which manifests itself in quite a number of users of this type of toy. We’ll all get used to this technology and the possibilities are huge. Mark, who was somewhere in Ireland, gave me a ballistics lesson. At the end of the lesson, I sank a virtual ship with a virtual cannon, but to do it, I had to make correct trajectory calculations. I did not have the slightest problems with learning, but after a few minutes of ‘goggle lessons’, I realised that for many people it could be an ideal method to understand concepts such as gravity and its impact on the world around us, served in a much more attractive form than a chalk-smeared board.
For now, no-one has seemingly shown one killer app for AR / VR, although trends from Korea show where it can lead us – virtual social media, where avatars created only for this purpose come back to the beginnings of the Internet – when everyone hid behind them.
On the other hand, a completely different approach has been proposed by startups that develop their visions of smartphones to identify clearly our identities. Various initiatives have been created to create safe ecosystems where the societies of the future will be provided with conditions for economic development. The larger ones, such as Dark Matter, already create really advanced solutions that protect all transactions on the Internet.
Thanks to modern devices, it is now much more possible to check your health condition. Motorola presented Health Mood which measures your blood pressure, breathing, heart-rate and temperature.
In turn, thanks to the utilisation of the headband, you can check your brain activity and show how you feel at that moment. It can measure levels of stress, the degree of rest and brain balance.
You can even check when your brain is in the best condition for learning or working. This can also be useful for examining employees in occupations where high concentration is desirable or where fatigue is the number one enemy – e.g. pilots, drivers and heavy equipment operators.
Our phone can also come in handy in everyday situations. It can now, for example, measure our blood pressure.
Before the end, I want to make a few words about security. The biggest companies do not even mention it – it is understood by itself. For them, years of experience and artificial intelligence work and also billions of dollars have been invested in its pursuit. The smallest companies, often producing equipment that floods all continents, seem not to care. Fortunately, a lot of startups have been active participants in creating offers for well-secured products, especially in the IoT industry. In my opinion, however, this is not enough. Meanwhile, technology is rushing at such a pace that it is difficult to rely on every company that is working within a trend, even whilst we entrust technology with a growing proportion of our lives.
The largest absentees
There were three companies whose presence I expected there but did not find.
The first of these was Microsoft, which two years ago operated under the slogan ‘Mobile First’. This is even in the context of the cloud and AI, as I will not mention their phones.
The other was Apple. I had the impression that the company under the leadership of Tim Cook has fallen victim to what it has grown – it has ceased to be innovative and has nothing new to show.
Facebook was the third. But I can understand them – they keep everything back for the F8 in early May.
And finally a curiosity.
Our country was represented by about 60 companies at the convention. And this was the leaflet you could get at the Polish stand.