ISABEL RUBIO ARROYO | Tungsteno
The best global showcase of innovation is the CES, the largest international consumer electronics fair, which every year brings together thousands of companies in Las Vegas (USA). In the most recent edition, we have seen such amazing inventions as a mobile phone case that turns into a drone that takes selfies, a roll-up TV that retracts into a base to free up space in the living room, and a device that lets you test your eyes with phone app and know what eyeglass prescription you need. Although the fair focuses on consumer electronics, CES 2019 has left us with many technological innovations destined to revolutionise the way in which we think of cities and urban mobility.
5G for smart cities
Modern cities already have sensors that track air quality, noise levels, temperature or even the activity of pedestrians, and 5G opens up new possibilities when transmitting all the information collected by these sensors. AT&T, the world's largest telecommunications company, announced at the fair its plan to use this technology in stadiums and hospitals. With 5G a doctor could download an MRI in a matter of seconds while attending to a patient, just one example of the improvements in care and efficiency in medical centres promised by fifth-generation mobile telephone networks.
The implementation of these networks will not only bring faster data traffic on smartphones, but will serve as a turning point for smart cities. The company Skyward explained at CES that it plans to connect one million drone flights in the 5G network of telecommunications company Verizon. In addition, this technology would allow autonomous vehicles to communicate quickly with sensors on the road, traffic lights, other cars or even pedestrians and cyclists. Qualcomm works on a technology called C-V2X (cellular vehicle-to-everything) for vehicles to connect with all the systems in their environment. In addition to including a system of intelligent brakes, it also allows the connection of the vehicle with traffic signals to, for example, avoid collisions at intersections.
A jump in autonomous and electric cars
Elevate, the car with ‘legs’ introduced by Hyundai, is able to adapt to any surface. Credit: Hyundai
Ending accidents is precisely one of the goals of autonomous vehicle manufacturers, in addition to relieving traffic congestion and reducing pollution. Some companies have taken advantage of CES 2019 to show off the latest advances in autonomous driving, safety systems and driving assistance.
Some of the highlights in this regard include a BMW motorcycle capable of driving by itself—with no driver and without falling over—or Hyundai’s concept car—Elevate—a vehicle with four wheels on robotic legs capable of walking and allowing users to drive, walk or even climb over rough terrain. Uber goes further by suggesting that the next step in the mobility sector will not be on terra firma, but up in the sky. The company has presented Bell Nexus, a flying taxi with which Uber says it intends to offer journeys starting in 2023.
Another challenge for manufacturers is to improve the batteries of their electric vehicles and their charging stations. Nissan, for example, has presented Nissan Leaf e+, an evolution of the second generation of the best-selling electric car in the world, which incorporates a 62 kWh battery with twice the capacity of the previous version.
Delivery robots, waiters and pilots
Continental system uses autonomous vehicles, which transport dog-like robots to deliver packages. Credit: The Bald Futurist
In a few years, courier companies may be able to rely on delivery drivers that are not human, and on other innovations destined to revolutionise logistics. For the time being, CES 2019 provided us with a glimpse of autonomous delivery trucks like the Udelv Newton. In addition, Continental presented robot dogs similar to the machines of "Metalhead", that terrifying episode of the series Black Mirror, with which they intend to disrupt the home delivery sector.
At the fair, tech giant Samsung also released some robots with personal and commercial functions, ranging from accompanying seniors citizens to reading bar codes in a shop. For example, the Bot Retail is able to take orders in restaurants and bring the dishes to the customers using the shelves on the robot’s back. If the food has to be delivered at home, drones might also prove useful. At the fair there were companies such as Flytrex that already do pilot testing using unmanned aircraft.
More technology = more electricity consumption: How to solve this dilemma?
Energy efficiency centers the debate around smart cities. Credit: Zhang Kaiyv
The lighting of that future city—likely traversed by delivery robots on the ground and by drones overhead—will also be intelligent. AT&T announced at CES that it will test such a solution in Las Vegas with the aim of improving public safety and energy efficiency. This technology, which will use the existing public lighting infrastructure of the city, can monitor energy use and blackouts to improve the maintenance of public lighting. In addition, it will connect to air quality sensors in certain areas to provide almost real-time data of changes in temperature or ozone levels.
Paradoxically, the technological interconnection of all this infrastructure—in search of greater efficiency—results in a higher consumption of electricity from the start. In addition to increasing investment in renewable energy, there is the question of how to store and supply the energy needed in these smart cities. This has been one of the great debates of CES 2019 between the leaders of companies and the experts in urbanism, and it’s also one of the greatest challenges that the societies of the future will face.
Tungsteno a journalism laboratory for investigating the essence of innovation, devised by Materia Publicaciones Científicas for the Sacyr blog.