While everyone frets and raves about the changes occurring in India and China, there are two countries that are sneaking up on the rest of us and are reaching incredible heights in business, design, technology and energy: Brazil and Korea. Last week I had the opportunity to spend some time in Seoul after my week in Japan, and one company I visited, SK Group, invited me on a tour of what could become the future of how we live and work sooner than we think.
One of SK’s futuristic buildings in north Seoul, the T Tower, hosts T.um, or “Ubiquitous Museum.” The tour is part Avatar, part futuristic living room and also provides a view of how our transportation options are going to change. A walk through T.um offers everything from a futuristic shopping experience to a lesson on how the delivery of health care will change our lives. What was especially riveting, and very cool I must add, was the demonstration of what driving could look like within a generation. And of course, all of this was done with my little pet avatar, or “T.me,” which guided me along the way via a smartphone.
The highlight during this cyber tour was the U.driving Experience, where mobile technology meets electric vehicles. While it was a simulation and not an actual drive, the quick hop in the car gives an idea of what transport can look like in a world where advanced battery technologies, smart grid and virtual (and eventually augmented) reality converge.
Upon plunking my smart phone on the car’s dashboard, the tour of a futuristic city begins. The car suggests we can ramp up from zero to 150 kilometers (93 miles) an hour in a matter of seconds. We drive along a highway where a whole host of options greet us that either will make us more efficient or, perhaps, even end up distracting us even more. For example, in case we are running late, we can have a teleconference with the office and view it on the lower windshield. Directions that we currently would read on a GPS device are also available on the windshield, too--with the idea that we can see what is going on without looking to our side or on the car seat. Midway throughout the commute, we have an option to recharge our car quickly. We can also sell any excess battery energy via wireless technology to other cars on the road during our journey to the office. And finally, a range of entertainment options can keep us entertained--or distract us--from the daily grind.
So is this the future? Korea’s competitive spirit has led to over 90 percent of its people having access to broadband and telecommunications technology, a number that leaves the rest of the world green with envy. Speaking of green, a country with almost no domestic fuel supplies has realized that that it has to push the boundaries of clean energy if it is to maintain energy independence. Smart grid technology thrives, and a trade show I attended on Friday was a showcase of fuel cells, electric vehicles and smart appliances that combine sleek design with energy efficiency.
What was refreshing about SK’s T.um and the U.driving experience was the dismissal of the dystopian view of what the future will be and instead painted a portrait of a clean, modern and vibrant way of life.
Will it actually happen? Who knows? But as SK’s employees told me, just about everyone who tours T.um is impressed--except for their Korean visitors, who sniff at the displays as a life they already know and live.
Photos by Leon Kaye.