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5G, Connected Cars and Robotics Reign at the Mobile World Congress 2017

Event Report

March 06, 2017

MWC: The Biggest Showcase of Cutting-Edge Technology

Michael O'Hara, Chief Marketing Officer of GSMA, the trade body behind the Mobile World Congress(MWC), recently described why the event has become so much more than a simple showcase for devices and carriers:

"Over the past three decades, mobile has evolved from an emerging communications technology to a phenomenon that is now at the foundation of everything we do."

The event has become a hotbed for unveiling technology that attracts people seeking a glimpse at future trends. The MWC boasts more than 2,200 brands and companies exhibiting with tens of thousands attending. The numbers are growing rapidly every year, with much attention and expectation from the media, as well as tech enthusiasts, worldwide. On display are new technologies, such as artificial intelligence (AI), drones, the Internet of Things (IoT), robotics and virtual reality/augmented reality (VR/AR).

Advanced Technologies that Gear the World to the Next Generation

Perhaps the most discussed technological advancement at this year's congress was something that doesn't exist yet and that we won't actually be able to see when it is rolled out.

5G was one of the event's real buzzwords, with every company exhibiting eager to explain how it will be at the forefront of the 5G ‘revolution’.

With talk of 5G's impact being similar in scale to that of the smartphone upon its release, Shinya Kukita, Chief Engineer at NEC, said "it is a very good time to prepare and to pave the road toward 5G deployment".

The official specifications of 5G are yet to be agreed upon by telecommunication companies. Technical standards will be set by a private sector-led process, much in the same way as it was for 4G. Initial tests by companies like Verizon and AT&T, though, have shown that it could be up to a thousand times faster than 4G, allowing you to download files hundreds of times larger than movies in just a few seconds.

However, according to a study carried out by European Commission in 2016, 5G could cost €56bn to deploy by 2020 in Europe alone. The flipside is that the social economic benefits predicted over the following ten years are at €113bn.

Another advance in the real world that we won't be able to see with the naked eye is graphene. Its practical application, however, was fully on display at the congress. The one atom thick material, which is invisible to the eye, can be used to control a robot-like prosthetic hand.

IIT*1 and INAIL*2 showed off their graphene-based electrodes for wearable prosthesis at the event. The thin layer of pure carbon, graphene, allows the technology to be fully embedded in the socket of a prosthetic. Amputees will be able to control the prosthetic hand with muscle movements on their forearms, upper arms and their shoulders.

*1:Istituto Italiano Di Tecnologia

*2:Istituto nazionale per l'Assicurazione contro gli Infortuni sul Lavoro

AI and robotics were also a big draw at the event. Ubuntu showcased two robots outside their stand; Reem and Reem-C were developed by PAL Robotics, a Barcelona based company. Reem is a humanoid service robot that can be used to inform guests at events and conferences, whilst Reem-C is a full-size biped humanoid robot used for various forms of research, including AI. It stays stable even when someone tries to push it off balance, as was shown at the Ubuntu area demo. Although neither of the models is widely available to the public, both were on display at the event, running on Ubuntu Core, a transactional version of Ubuntu primarily for IoT devices.

At the NEC stall, PaPeRo, a human companion robot, was showcased with security capabilities, its face recognition capacity allowing it to detect criminals and help in different scenarios. One of the demonstrations showed how PaPeRo could help find a lost child in the shopping mall through face detection.

The most interesting real-world applications for VR, perhaps, could be seen at the 4YFN (4 Years From Now) congress event. The startup-centered event area showcased various real-world applications for VR that could come into the fore over the next few years. These included a new prototype for inflight entertainment called Inflight VR, as well as a project that aims to enhance experiences such as education or retail with its AR and VR, called LiveRoom.

Connected cars and autonomous vehicles were also unveiled at the MWC. Roborace showed off the "robocar", and Peugeot introduced its Instinct concept. The Instinct concept car, which is designed to integrate with Samsung's ARTIK IoT platform, will feature two self-driving modes and two active modes, allowing drivers to decide how much control they cede to their vehicle.

Samsung also laid much emphasis on practical AR/VR, with Relúmĭno, a smart visual aid that remaps blind spots for visually impaired people and Monitorless, a sunglass-shaped headgear that allows you to switch between VR and AR in order to control several devices without a monitor.

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