Wednesday 17 January 2018

Caring robots, '4K' and fridges you can chat to at the IFA tech expo

There was more to the IFA tech expo than tablets, says Adrian Weckler in Berlin

The Furo-S robot
Bosch washing machines.
Adrian Weckler

Adrian Weckler

IS there any more to Berlin's giant IFA tech expo than smartwatches, smartphones and tablets?

Fifty thousand visitors might say there is. Here is a selection of the best of the rest of trends from Europe's largest electronics fair.

Remember 3D? That is so 2011. In fact, other than one giant novelty display from Korean manufacturer LG, there was barely a mention of the speciality viewing format.

I asked Sony's head of marketing for Europe, Gildas Pelliet, about it. "Well, you may not see too much about it on stands but at least we can say that it is built in to the best televisions," he said. "It has established a market in cinemas."

Mr Pelliet, who is very well regarded in the industry, is being admirably diplomatic. 3D just hasn't worked.

So what is the new 3D? 4K, if you believe the likes of Sony, Samsung, Panasonic and others. 4K is short for 4,000 and refers to the number of lines across a television. In plain English, it has twice the resolution clarity of an existing high-definition TV.

Most of the manufacturers already have models for sale (Sony is ahead of the pack, generally). The technology has three major challenges. First, who cares? Existing high-end tellies do a pretty fine job of delivering excellent picture quality. Second, a full-length 4K formatted movie would be about 100 times the size of a current Blu-ray movie. So no downloading and no compatible discs. Lastly, they cost a fortune: generally over €3,000.

What is a tech expo without robots? The best of this year's crop at IFA are 'caring robots'. These are droids that talk to us and encourage us to use their large touchscreens to play a game, call a friend or brush up on some learning.

I stopped to hang out with FutureRobot's Furo-S model for a few minutes. She was solicitous, asked me questions and listened to my answers. She also did not keep looking (she has a human avatar face) over my shoulder when talking to me. "People get lonely," said Ingu Kang, FutureRobot's sales and marketing director. "Our robots can help." Furo-S costs about €2,400.

One company in no mood to scale back on the free chocolates, pens or USB keys is Vodafone.

Staff manning stands in its giant hall (just opposite Samsung's GPO-sized demesne) had more than a small spring in their step as they explained to daytrippers how 4G (but not 4K) would change their life. It probably has nothing to do with the company's €100bn cash injection resulting from last week's Verizon buyback deal. The high incidence of tech executives from other firms dropping by to leave their business cards also probably has nothing to do with that event.

The IFA expo is not just about gadgets. Over a fifth of the entire floor space (which totals about 25 Croke Parks) is given over to the latest home appliances.

That means giant stands from Miele, Bosch and other marques that get mixed in to aspirational small talk at certain dinner parties.

One sales rep from LG even managed to convince passers by to talk to a fridge.

Irish Independent

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