Posted on 1st March 2013
As we mentioned in an earlier article the Fira Gran Via, the gigantic venue for the 2013 Mobile World Congress, is also home to the Connected City. This stand demos some of the more challenging uses for wireless technology that we can expect in the next few year. Here's a little more of what Carphone Warehouse found on our stroll along the Connected City streets.
If you live in a city, you've probably seen the small, plastic smart cars. Well, in the General Motors section of the Connected City, they've got proper smart cars, the Cadillac ATS and Cadillac Malibu. Built into the car is a 4G mobile data router, so it can get on the net. You can also connect your smartphone to the Cadillacs as the cars can act as a Wi-Fi router. In fact, multiple devices can connect at once. Once connected you can stream videos to the cars screen for back seat entertainment. The Cadillacs can run apps too, such as TuneIn Radio, the Weather Channel and apps specifically built for car use.
It doesn't stop there. The Cadillacs can be hooked up to security cameras, so you can monitor your car for security...and it can monitor itself. If it looks to the car like something suspicious is going on, it can send you a text to notify you. Then you can view the cameras from a remote location, such as your office. Availability? GM said in North America the smart Cadillacs will hit in 2014, but 2016 is the expected date for Europe and the UK.
Sticking with an automobile theme for a minute, there was also an interesting concept by eCooltra on display. By putting special trackers and NFC capability into a scooter, they're showing that renting a scooter can be done entirely via a smartphone. Instead of having to go online or ring a company and then go to a building and show documentation so you can pick up keys, the process will go like this. Log on to the website or open the apps, select where you are, select the time and date you want to ride and book. The closest available scooter will be chosen, and you'll get direction right on your phone. Place your smartphone on the NFC pad on the scooters dash, and the scooter will fire up. Pull away and obey the road regulations.
After you're done you'll get full trip information on your phone. This includes distance, emissions, the route you took and so on. The tech will also, of course, work in cars in the near future too. NFC might yet have a big impact...
Not only can smartphones control things like a TV and stereo, they can control your entire home. The AT&T stand had a cool demo of the various applications they're working on. From a tablet, running Android or iOS, you can control your home's thermostat from any location, and change timers so it'll be warm the second you wake up in the morning, but not when you're at work. You can switch on or individual lights in each room, and even lock and unlock doors. Door locking can be synced too, so you'll never forget to lock the front door again. And if you do, fire up your smartphone and lock it over the internet.
There are safety considerations too, so the system can be set up to automatically call the police if a previously locked door is suddenly unlocked, saving valuable response time. If it's a false alarm, pull out your smartphone again to cancel the call. There was also a particularly awesome fridge. The LCD panel on the front can of course control the temperature of the freezer and fridge compartments, but it'll warn you of expiry date. Out of milk and fruit juice? Order them straight from the fridge as it's hooked up to your home's internet too. Don't know how to cook a Spanish paella? Look up a recipe and save the battery life of your tablet.
In the UK you've probably noticed we've quite a number of CCTV cameras. Many of them are still manned, with a human watching a number of screens at once. Soon, we'll have smart cameras, closed circuit television systems that will not only record, but watch. They're calling it video analysis. Systems that run the CCTV will be able to recognise different activities, such as traffic violations, breaking and enterings, robberies, assaults and much more besides.
Keeping on the security theme, how about some pet tracking? Anyone with a pet will know how they literally become part of the family, so technology now lets you track a pet. If you've a high energy Border Collie or Grey Hound that likes to run flat in a park, just have them wear a tag and GPS tracking will tell you where they going.
The demo was also focusing on when we move house. Cats are notoriously difficult to move as they roam a few miles around the areas they live. If you move and your moggy does a runny, it'll be much easier to track him or her down and try encouraging her to stick around with edible treats.
Of course, all this technology doesn't need to just be aimed at the twenty-somethings that live and breathe binary code. The Fujitsu stand was home to the a prototype cane, a smart walking stick with a built in module. It can be programmed with directions for certain routes. Designed for people with mobility and even memory issues, it can direct users when a turn is needed by vibrating and showing an arrow on its display. The user can also be tracked, so if the movement stops, it can be looked into. There is also pulse monitoring, so if the user is in some kind of stress, action can be taken immediately.
Fujitsu were also very clear on why they chose a cane and not a smartphone or a pair of glasses. The answer? If you need a cane, you'll never leave it at home, whereas almost anything else is easily forgotten.
One of the more touching displays was actually from Vodafone, although technically this is a story about an unconnected city. Vodafone had hooked a bicycle to a solar panel. Called ReadySet, from Vodacom, it lets anyone charge up a mobile phone via the panel on the bike, allowing phones to be charged in communities that aren't on an electric grid. A story from Nuru Omarym, from Tanzania, one of the poorest countries in the world, told how she made an extra 2,500 Tanzanian Shilling pounds from selling her phone charging capabilities. Because she also didn't need to buy Kerosene to power her shop, it completely saved her life, and enabled to begin selling Airtime, so the whole community has a better service too.
So, this is just some of the things that MWC had to show us for the future of wireless technology. Let's hope this all happens sooner rather than later!