Mobile World Congress Features Rescue Drones, Self-Driving Race Cars, and Mixed Reality

IEEE senior member gives his top picks of new products from the showroom floor

15 March 2017

At Mobile World Congress—the world’s largest gathering for the mobile industry—leaders in the field, including Nokia, Sony, and Verizon as well as startups, unveiled their latest smartphones and gadgets. More than 100,000 people attended the annual event, held in Barcelona from 27 February to 2 March, to test out new products and learn about advancements in augmented and virtual reality, transportation, health care, and other areas.

The first day of the conference featured keynote speaker Reed Hastings, cofounder and CEO of Netflix. He expressed confidence that all TV content will be viewed over the Internet in just a few years—and therefore the need for carriers to build networks that can support the “bandwidth beast” that is video is all the more urgent, he says.

I spent much of the summit exploring the latest gadgets. Here are the five that impressed me most.

  • RESCUE DRONE

    The Ooredoo Rescue drone is designed to help coast guard rescue units transport a life raft to those in distress in the fastest time possible. Once the solar-powered drone arrives at its destination, it deploys the raft; the imperilled person holds on to the flotation device until the coast guard’s rescue team can reach him. The drone is outfitted with a live video feed so coast guard personnel can determine the person’s condition. The aerial vehicle is supported by buoys that anchor the drone, and each buoy is equipped with cameras that can monitor the conditions of the sea in real time. This information is fed through to the coast guard’s control center.

  • SELF-DRIVING RACE CAR

    Roborace unveiled Robocar, the world’s first artificially intelligent, self-driving electric race car. The vehicle can reach a top speed of 320 kilometers per hour, comparable to a traditional race car. Roborace is behind the world’s first motorsports series for driverless cars, in which the software is the real star. Teams compete to design software that gets their car to the finish line the fastest, without going off track. Software designed for Robocar could potentially make its way into self-driving cars on the road as well.

  • MIXED REALITY

    Those in virtual reality immerse themselves in their own worlds, leaving the rest of us to wonder what they are viewing. HTC introduced its mixed-reality platform, in which the person in the VR setting can transpose himself and his virtual world onto a TV screen so others can watch. They don’t even need to put on headsets. For it to work, the user must be in front of a green screen. The user can take any camera that has a video output function and strap a Vive gaming controller to it. The controller then determines where the camera is facing in relation to the user. The images from the green screen are overlaid onto the images from the virtual world, while bystanders watch the action on the screen.

  • DIGITAL KEYS

    Do you still use physical car keys? It may be time to upgrade. Carmaker Seat showcased its digital key technology, which allows users to lock and unlock their car doors with their mobile phone. They also can turn on the air conditioner, and open and close windows remotely. Another neat feature is you can authorize someone else to drive your car without giving them the physical key, such as letting your kids borrow the car or loaning it to a friend. (Let us not think about the security implications for now.) The digital key technology is also great for car-sharing services. In fact, Seat is launching a pilot program this year in which the company’s 14,000 employees will be able to use the digital key technology to share and exchange vehicles throughout Spain.

  • BLOOD PRESSURE MONITORING

    High blood pressure leads to more than 7 million deaths annually, according to the World Health Organization. The condition is easily treated once diagnosed, but many people are unaware of the signs. Leman Micro Devices is making detection simpler with its product, which can be connected to a smartphone. The gadget, embedded with chips and sensors, measures blood pressure. The user places her finger on the device, which relies on a pressure sensor covered by a flexible pad just a few millimeters in size to detect when blood flow stops and starts. The gadget contains infrared emitters and receivers that allow it to measure pulse rate and blood oxygen level as well.

IEEE Senior Member Kevin Curran, professor of cybersecurity at Ulster University, in Northern Ireland, is an IEEE Public Visibility technical expert on consumer electronics.

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