Surrounded by the gleaming silverware in FC Barcelona’s impressive museum, guests reach out their hands and pinch a digital icon hovering in front of the football boots in the glass box in front of them. A hologram springs into view displaying photos from a landmark match in which the boots were worn.
The event is a party celebrating Rakuten and FC Barcelona’s partnership, but the technology, mixed reality, was on display almost everywhere in the city last week – the week of Mobile World Congress, the largest exhibition for the mobile industry in the world. According to Kelvin Cheng, computer vision and interaction scientist for Rakuten Institute of Technology (RIT), mixed reality, as well as the related technologies of augmented and virtual reality, could transform the way people shop, work, learn and interact with their surroundings.
Visitors to MWC appeared to agree. Hundreds of people queued for virtual reality demos that took them on board hot air balloons, down dramatic ski runs and around motor racing circuits at high speeds. At the Hypervsn stand, an animated hologram of a magical landscape hovered in mid-air, while in the Vive booth two men wearing headsets played a vigorous game of table tennis without a table.
Sensing the future
While virtual reality was a highlight of MWC, there was plenty of other technology on display. An egg-shaped flying taxi was the centerpiece of Huawei’s X-Labs display, while two manufacturing robots worked tirelessly away on the China Mobile stand, highlighting how 5G mobile technology will help usher in a fourth industrial revolution in which intelligent automation is the norm. BeWhere was demonstrating a connected punch bag that could immediately tell you how hard you hit it – a concept that could help minimize impact damage in an industrial supply chain.
Many stands were adorned with gleaming vehicles, some without steering wheels or controls – a pointer to how connectivity is beginning to enable self-driving cars. Equally impressive were the very high-definition maps that will guide these vehicles through narrow city streets. At the Alibaba Cloud stand, large screens showed detailed, real-time 3D maps of an urban area, flagging roads that are congested and the numbers of taxis, ambulances and fire engines in operation.
Connected sensors allow city administrators, companies and even sports teams to understand and analyze the world in unprecedented detail. During the conference program, two-time Formula 1 world champion Fernando Alonso explained how his McLaren team performs around 20,000 simulations on the eve of a race to determine the optimum race set up and pit-stop strategy. On the show floor, visitors could admire the Williams Mercedes FW38, which raced in the 2016 season and has more than 350 sensors that can collect 15 billion data points during a Grand Prix weekend.
Extending innovation into new areas
At the other end of the spectrum, Jit Bhattacharya, CTO of Fenix International, described how mobile money services are enabling people in Africa to pay-as-you-go for solar power, bringing electricity in their homes for the very first time and allowing them to create a transaction history that can be used for credit scoring. In the same conference session exploring a future cashless society, speakers discussed how trials of “contactless buckets,” which can be pre-set to deduct two euros from a payment card, have generated a sevenfold increase in the funds collected by some homeless people.
At the Congress, one of the exhibition halls is given over to mobile apps and the surrounding ecosystem. Here, inside the French Tech pavilion, Rakuten Aquafadas gave attendees glimpses of the future of digital content and mobile solutions. Running alongside the MWC, the 4 Years From Now event brought together more than 600 start-ups from 45 countries. At that event, the Techstars Rakuten Accelerator team was busy meeting entrepreneurs and evaluating the latest innovations, in time for the July 2018 launch of the “Rakuten Accelerator.”
Many of these entrepreneurs are looking to harness the rapid advances in artificial intelligence and computer vision to create life-changing services. The potential of this technology was very visible on the realCV stand in the Congress exhibition. As people approached the stand, a video camera could scan their face and determine their gender and age. Within a few seconds it had enough data to identify the face again and potentially pick it out of a database of millions of records, according to the realCV executives at the stand. The system can even be used to detect feelings and emotions – an exciting and unnerving prospect.
By enabling 100,000 visitors to get up close and personal with such advanced technologies, the 2018 edition Mobile World Congress provided a wide-screen window into a continuously connected future. And by bringing so many inquiring minds together, the Congress helped us take yet another step toward the brave new digital world.
For more coverage of Mobile World Congress 2018, see here.