Technology you didn’t know you couldn’t live without

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Technology you didn’t know you couldn’t live without

thinkSPAIN Sun, Mar 3, 2019 @thinkspain

NOTHING newly-invented in the world of technology is ever missing from the Mobile World Congress, the biggest and most bang-up-to-date trade fair on the planet.

Hosted annually by Barcelona, the 2019 edition of the prestigious MWC ended on Wednesday after welcoming tens of thousands of mostly corporate visitors from every square inch of the globe.

Each year brings a heap of gadgets and concepts designed to make our lives easier and more efficient, to embarrass the living daylights out of those who still use fax machines and tape the music charts on a Sunday, and to show us what the near future of everyday living and working is likely to hold.

Not a single corner of life is missing from the technological revolution: farming, education, healthcare, entertainment, cooking and cleaning, and communication are just a handful of the activities pervaded by digital progress, and it’s all seen under one roof in Spain’s second-largest city every February.

Here’s what’s new from the MWC 2019, and you’ll wonder how you coped before they were invented.

Surgical streaming

Using 5G technology, the world’s top surgeons can talk local hospitals through complex operations without even having to board a plane. Barcelona’s Hospital Clínic gave a real-time demonstration of how a top doctor on another continent can oversee the process when you go under knife.

All we need now is a home version for DIY surgery to cut waiting lists – or a direct 5G streaming service to Obstetrics in case your wife goes into labour at home and it’s too late to get her to the maternity ward.

…and Maori tribal dancing…

Another display of how clever 5G is and how it can reach the most remote enclaves of Planet Earth was presented by telecommunications operators Orange and Ericsson: they showed live footage of New Zealand’s indigenous Maori tribes performing a traditional folk dance. In theory, you could save yourself a fortune on exotic holidays and just 5G-stream your way around the world…although there’s no substitute for seeing, feeling and breathing the real thing.

How much data?!

It seems only yesterday that the earliest home and office computers had only a few megabytes of memory and you could fill up a floppy disc with a few typed documents (using WordPerfect, not Microsoft Office, unless you were posh). Now, one of those desktop PCs would be filled up by just one of our holiday snaps.

The concept of a gigabyte (one million bytes) as opposed to a megabyte (1,000 bytes) seemed futuristic, although now a 2GB SanDisk card on your mobile phone wouldn’t be enough to hold more than a year or two’s worth of pictures, videos, Apps and music. You can probably fit 10 years’ worth of PC files on a 64GB card, but it’s a hassle going to your nearest Carrefour or MediaMarkt to buy another once a decade. Enter the SanDisk Extreme, with a whole terabyte (1TB) of memory – that’s one billion bytes, being about a million standard photos, well over 100,000 songs or films, about a quarter of a million videos, or over four million Word documents. It processes data at a rate of 160MB per second and will be on the market before summer. The downside is that it will cost in region of US$450 (just under €400). But the best technology never promises to be cheap.

Eaten too many Hula-Hoops?

Step-counters are sooo year-2000. If you really want to know how well your fitness régime’s going, and whether it’s true that UK residents need to walk to the Isle of Wight to burn off their Christmas lunch (although nobody’s said where from. Presumably from Portsmouth harbour if you stuck to the vegetables, or from the Outer Hebrides if you took a second helping of plum pud and brandy butter), go ‘old skool’ and indulge in one of the world’s favourite playground sports instead. Swinging your hips in a hula-hoop is great for muscle toning, even if – along with skipping – it sorted the ‘cool crowd’ from the playtime pariahs, with those who just couldn’t get the hang of it relegated to the latter.

But nobody’s going to be judging when you step inside your Vhoop, except the inbuilt technology designed by Virfit Corp, which will tell you how many calories you’re burning. Synch it with your mobile via Bluetooth, compare your results with hoopers all over the planet, and then take it apart to stuff in a handy little bag and carry it away with you.

T-shirt that’s got your back

After mental health conditions – depression, stress, anxiety, et al – back complaints account for the highest numbers of sick days taken from work and cost firms, the State, or the workers themselves if they’re self-employed, thousands of euros each per year. As much musculo-skeletal pain and stiffness is caused by desk posture, which is hard for staff to police for a full eight hours a day, it’s usually the mere act of going to work that leaves you too sick to go to work, if you follow. In fact, 71.1% of work-related injuries are of precisely this nature. Enter the Wearlumb, a ‘smart’ T-shirt developed by SGS Tecnos, Worldline and Eurecat Technology Centre, which tells you if you’re sitting badly and corrects your position. It doesn’t matter if your office dress code doesn’t allow for T-shirts – even under shirts or blouses – since the idea is to wear it for short periods throughout the day to enforce the habit of sitting properly. Plus, you don’t want to have to wash it too often: the sensors wear out after it’s been through the machine 30 times.

A comfy Seat – in miniature

Move over, SmartCars – Seat’s just produced one that’s even smarter. It practically parks itself, and costs next to nothing to refuel, which takes minutes. The homegrown Spanish manufacturer, based in Martorell (Barcelona province), introduced the Minimó at the MWC – a car that does what it says on the tin, as in, minimal driver input required. Self-drive cars haven’t yet taken off, but the Seat Minimó caps your speed so you can concentrate on the road in front of you rather than clock-watching, and even picks up on your age. If you’re between 16 (the youngest you can legally be to drive in the USA), and 18 (the minimum driving age in Spain), the Seat Minimó restricts its speed to between 45 and 90 kilometres per hour to prevent newly-qualified drivers carrying out their dangerous and all-too-common ritual of ‘let’s see how fast this thing can go’.

The car interacts with you through voice based upon a ‘Digital Access’ key using (you’ve guessed it) 5G technology, takes up very little parking space as it’s only 3.1 square metres in size (compared with 7.2 for a standard commuter vehicle), being 2.5 metres long and 1.24 metres wide. Obviously, it runs on electricity rather than conventional fuel, has space for one passenger, and its ‘battery-swap’ system means you can recharge in a matter of minutes, always have a spare fully-charged battery, and each of these will keep going for 100 kilometres.

It’s the robot’s turn to wash up

Never have another row about the domestic chore split again: robots that do your housework for you are on their way over from east Asia. Taiwan Excellence presented Kebbi at the MWC, a droid which recognises the faces of the usual occupants of your home, takes orders, entertains by playing and dancing, can help children with their homework, sew on buttons and take hems up, make you a coffee, cook and clean, interact with humans, and even fill car petrol and diesel tanks using the right type of fuel. Kebbi’s brother Robelf can make ‘admin’ calls for householders – such as ringing the electricity board and complaining if there’s a power cut – tells you the latest news as it breaks, helps build cultural bridges by explaining jokes, and recognises when someone is a stranger so as to provide home security. China-based firm CloudMinds introduced female versions, Nicole and Rachel, which are also capable of all this.

Once, the job of a housewife (always female, until recent decades) involved sore knees and stiff joints, backache and chapped hands from energetic scrubbing, washing, mangling, chopping and rug-beating, meaning even without childcare on top it was a much more arduous full-time job than the men who ‘went out to work’ did. In modern times, a housewife or househusband is only considered as such if their chief role is as child caregiver, and for childless adults, housework is something annoying you get around to when you can or just before you have visitors. The future will see a return to the Victorian-Edwardian upper-class lifestyle where ‘keeping house’ merely means barking orders and deciding what meals you want served to you. We can’t wait.

A longer life in better health

It was bound to happen: humans being chipped with microscopic bionic devices, or bionic replacement parts such as hips and knees substituting the usual bog-standard metal, so as to regulate homeostasis from the inside and ensure all organs and functions are working properly. This way, health problems would be jumped on before they even started, and resolved there and then, and any limitations, difficulties or disabilities overcome by additional functions to replace the lost natural ones. The result: a longer life, but with greater quality to it, as our extended years would be much healthier and more active.

We’re not there yet, but the bare bones of the idea are being researched; bones that will also be connected to the internet (no more asking bar staff for the WiFi password or hovering near their premises on a bench after closing time), explained Kaspersky’s business development manager Serge Kravchenko at the MWC. But he also warned humans with bionic bits could be vulnerable to hackers. Yes, really. In future, if a person has a virus, they may need reprogramming rather than a steaming mug of Frenadol (Spain’s answer to Lemsip). Medical complaints of tomorrow might require an IT engineer rather than a doctor. Just as long as these cyber-assaults never manage to hack the human brain: how embarrassing if some geek in Boise, Idaho discovers your devastating crush on Chris in Accounts or that you’d rather spend your Saturday nights on WebSudoku than partying with the local crowd.

No pressure

Part of the Future Cities display at the MWC, a mains water and drainage pipe system invented in Toronto, Canada shows how technology can improve the way we live even if we still own tube TVs and don’t trust microwaves to cook things properly. Technology even nonagenarians will be using, without realising it. The waterworks in Toronto – a reproduction of which was shown at the MWC – contains multiple sensors which detect anomalies in pressure. These predict spikes in demand – ideal for coastal Spain, when the population doubles or even trebles in summer – and pick up leaks or cracks, as well as adjusting the water pressure so it’s not so high it bursts your boiler nor so low that anyone above the second floor can’t have a shower.

Full of hot air

Airships join mini-CDs on the list of the most failed inventions of the 20th century – those giant floaty blimps that looked like airborne beached whales never really took off, literally. Although they could be making a comeback, fuelled by our new best friend 5G: a 10-metre-long version, a replica of which was brought to the MWC from South Korea, was used during last year’s Winter Olympics in PyeongChang and is currently employed in the east Asian country to patrol the coast and help seek out missing persons. A retro-style drone that doesn’t need a pilot on site, as the manufacturers showed at the MWC: they controlled the Zeppelin’s movements, in South Korea, from inside the exhibition hall in Barcelona.

Bee healthy

Benign furry insects that single-handedly produce all the honey we eat on earth are currently at the centre of huge environmental campaigning and conservation efforts now that they are recognised as potential saviours of the world: without bees, there would be no flowers, thanks to their pollination trick, and they are also remarkable living sensors that pick up signals of poor planet health. Bees are highly-sensitive to pollution, pesticides and climate change, and studying their behaviour and wellbeing has generated vital information in the battle against global warming and atmospheric contamination.

Keeping bees healthy is also crucial to this, and doing both with as little human intervention as possible is vital. Enter the ‘digital hive’, which monitors and controls temperature and damp and keeps an eye on the insects’ movements, by being able to connect to the internet. To avoid extra stress on the creatures, co-designer Andrew Parker replaced each bee population in the MWC hive daily so no buzzing community had to work longer than one 12-hour shift.

Double vision

Enhanced virtual reality and hologram views are not just for geeks, gamers or Back to the Future fans: these intangible creations are highly-useful for architects, designers, engineers and doctors, especially surgeons. Being able to view microscopic parts in extreme detail and with twice the field of vision allows for better precision and results. But it isn’t exactly a bargain: the Microsoft Hololens 2 glasses (first picture), the demonstration of which was among the most popular at the MWC, will set you back a cool €3,500 a pair. If you’ve got the cash and your profession demands it, though, they’re a brilliant investment – you can see, touch and even interact vocally with holograms, and the glasses detect what you’re looking at so it can calibrate your view of it. Eyeball recognition means they can adjust to your individual visual capacity and remember who you are. For non-professionals, uses could include being able to book a hotel room after taking a life-sized virtual tour of it, or even fixing simple machinery when you’re a cretin with a screwdriver. Fitting like a cap and made from ultra-light carbon fibre, they can be neatly folded up when not in use and are surprisingly feather-like in weight.

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