The father of the cellphone was there. So was Huawei and a host of other Chinese tech companies. Tens of thousands of visitors also flocked to the MWC tech fair to be dazzled by the latest advances in AI, smartphones, robotics and much more.
The metaverse got a lot of attention at the show, also known as Mobile World Congress, as companies cash in on the hype surrounding new virtual worlds for work and play.
SK Telecom's virtual reality air taxi flight simulator was one of the most popular demonstrations, with long lines to take a virtual ride. There were robot dogs to remotely inspect infrastructure and holograms for virtual learning, along with speeches from wireless industry executives and backroom schmoozing with government officials.
Some 80,000 people were expected to attend the world's biggest wireless trade show, which wraps up its four-day run in Barcelona on Thursday.
Here's a look at some highlights:
SCROLL AND FOLD
While MWC smartphone launches don’t get as much attention as they used to because innovations have slowed, devices with nifty screens took the spotlight.
Motorola added the wow factor by unveiling a phone with a screen that rolls out. Double tap your fingers on the side, and the display automatically extends from 5 inches long (13 centimeters) to 6.5 inches by unscrolling from the bottom.
Motorola’s owner, Chinese tech brand Lenovo, also showed off a laptop with a rolling screen, which took about 19 seconds to unscroll to its fully extended position. The company said they're concept devices and unlikely to hit the market anytime soon.
Other brands including Samsung and China's Oppo and Tecno also released their latest folding designs.
Phones with foldable screens have drawn attention from consumers, but “whether that interest then translates into sales is a different question,” said Gerrit Schneemann, senior analyst at GfK Boutique. “For the next few years, I think they’ll still be a real niche market in the overall smartphone market. Growing, but still — relatively speaking — relatively small.”
AI CHAT GLASSES
Artificially intelligent chatbots like ChatGPT have taken the tech world by storm, and U.K. startup XRAI Glass is joining the fray with augmented reality glasses.
The company's virtual assistant app was designed to work with smart viewer glasses to help people who are deaf or hard of hearing better understand what's happening around them. Speech is transcribed from other people nearby and the subtitles are displayed onto the lenses or an attached smartphone.
Now XRAI (pronounced X-ray) has integrated OpenAI’s ChatGPT technology into its app and glasses setup.
“People can ask questions such as general knowledge or recipes or anything they like,” CEO Dan Scarfe said. “Or they can actually ask questions of their conversation. So, ‘Hey, XRAI, can you please summarize this conversation?’ Or, ‘Hey, XRAI, what was the name of the town that we were just talking about?’”
For those with hearing loss, it can be helpful to have an AI assistant recap a conversation in which multiple people were talking, the company says.
People might feel better interacting with AI chatbots if they had human faces. That's the thinking at D-ID, an Israeli startup, which launched a new interface for its “digital human” — essentially an online avatar that can work with AI-chat systems to hold conversations.
“We had the chatbot in the past. They didn’t work,” said CEO Gil Perry, because they could only answer specific questions with specific answers. Now, “large language models are bringing huge improvements to traditional chatbots.”
Generative AI systems like ChatGPT can create readable text and hold conversations based on what they’ve learned from so-called large language models — vast databases of digital books, online writings and other media.
Perry demonstrated by asking a question to the chatbot's face on his laptop, whose response was eerily lifelike. He said safeguards would prevent D-ID's technology from being used maliciously.
“The idea here is not to replace anyone and not to convince anyone that what they’re seeing is true," Perry said. It's just that humans are “used to communicating with faces.”
At German mobility startup Vay's display, a driver was steering a car around a course marked with pylons. But the car was 1,800 kilometers (1,118 miles) away in Berlin.
The company's technology enables cars to be driven by remote “tele-drivers.” So far, so standard.
The twist is in Vay's business model, which is a cross between taxi service and car rental. When a user hails a ride, a tele-driver will steer one of its electric cars to the pickup point for the customer, who will take over the driving duties. At the destination, the car will be taken away by a remote driver. No need to park.
The company says it's the first in Europe to be allowed to operate cars on public streets without a human driver inside. It has 20 certified tele-drivers so far and plans to launch the service soon in Germany and the U.S.
“We’re talking, you know, hopefully months,” CEO Thomas von der Ohe said.
One of the main goals is to rid city streets of cars that are parked and not used for most of the day.
The service will be “a big step to start creating an alternative so people don’t buy the second car or the third car maybe in the near future," von der Ohe said. "Also not the first car. ”
AUGMENTED REALITY EXPERIENCES
Software company Amdocs demonstrated AR technology that could be used for “next-generation immersive experiences” for both fans and security staff at big-ticket sports games.
For example, soccer fans attending a match in person could buy a package of extras for their AR glasses, including exclusive replay videos and live stats shown on their lenses to “augment” their game experience.
The same glasses also could be used as an extra tool for security staff at the game, with additional safety features including a security database.
In a simulation at MWC, guards were alerted to rowdy fans trying to climb the gates. A known soccer hooligan was flagged on the database, his face and details flashing up on the lenses.
Users, viewing the scene from the guard's perspective, scanned the crowd as the glasses picked out faces before identifying the suspect so he could be apprehended — an unsettling display bordering on Orwellian.
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