Tech exhibit offers a peek at the futureEnvisioning the lifestyle of the future is often part of science fiction films, but Korean techies wanted the experience to be as real and tangible as possible.
At the Ubiquitous Dream Hall, an interactive gallery in the Ministry of Information and Communications building in downtown Seoul, visitors can get a taste of this utopian vision of life.
Voice commands to a micro-computer worn on the wrist can operate household appliances and cars, and pay for groceries at the supermarket. At home, Ubi, a lively and vigilant virtual robot, awaits the owners while maintaining the optimal temperature and humidity. A mirror panel on a closet provides a weather forecast and traffic information as well as suggesting a pair of matching trousers for a new shirt.
In this new vision of life the Korean government has devised, called “Ubiquitous Korea” or “U-Korea” for short, even the indispensible multi-functional credit card becomes a thing of the past.
The Ubiquitous Dream Hall was built jointly by the ministry and Korea’s leading information technology companies ― Samsung Electronics, LG Electronics, Korea Telecom (KT), Korea Telecom Freetel (KTF), SK Telecom and LG Telecom ― to showcase Korean digital technologies applied to daily lives. According to Choi Sang-man, the director of the Korea Home Network Industries Association, a non-profit organization of 80 Korean companies working to develop home networking systems, the various settings suggest actual technologies that are expected to be in widespread use in five to 10 years, when the IT-839 strategy is completed.
IT-839 stands for eight new services, three infrastructure projects and nine upgraded technologies. The newly implemented services are, among others, Wireless Broadband (WiBro) services, which enable flawless Internet connections even during high-speed travel; Digital Multimedia Broadcasting (DMB) services, which enable CD-quality sound and visuals through seven-inch-wide screens; and home network systems, which make services like long-distance health care possible.
Information Minister Chin Dae-je, wrote in a book, “IT-839 Strategy,” published by the ministry, that “Korea, one of the strongest IT nations in the world, is now faced with the infinite global competition that justifies survival in the manner of ‘Winner Takes All.’ The ministry aims to fortify the Korean IT industry to become a pioneer in the world.”
The first floor of the Ubiquitous Dream Hall contains a viewing room, as well as galleries showing a house, street, car, office, supermarket and cafe of the future, through which visitors can walk. The second floor has an entertainment room, equipped with PCs and arcade games and a lounge with comfortable chairs. The tour takes about one hour. There are 300 to 500 visitors a day, according to association staff member Kim Sun-young.
The “Ubiquitous” home is filled with state-of-the-art appliances which are activated through voice commands, and is designed to make occupants’ life as convenient as possible. The television of 2015 makes “distance meaningless.” On a voice command, a video phone message from a relative living in the United States is displayed, and the call can be returned on the spot. A daughter who’s studying in Sydney can get on-the-spot help with her homework through multiple screens that can be layered on the wall.
The Korean refrigerator has been upgraded as well, informing the user that he or she has run out of food, automatically ordering food online from a nearby supermarket and listing recipes that can be made with the food inside.
Ubi the robot speaks through a digital picture frame on the wall and asks the user: “Would you like to watch TV?” If the answer is “yes,” the robot helps in the search for a program. If “no,” Ubi asks the user to choose a painting to be displayed in the frame.
It appears that exchanging letters will make a comeback in the future. When a paper envelope is tacked onto a digital message board, the board can read the contents of the letter out loud, and also display a video clip.
Regarding transportation, a large electronic panel at a bus stop displays traffic conditions and customizes travel information after recognizing the computer worn on a user’s wrist.
At a supermarket, human workers at the checkout counter and cash become obsolete. All information regarding a purchase is available on flat screens near each shelf; the food that was ordered via the refrigerator at home can be processed electronically.
The “Ubiquitous” cafe recognizes a returning customer’s name and previous order and asks: “Would you like to drink the same latte?” An R2D2 look-alike rolls out to serve coffee.
At the end of the tour is a gallery that displays the latest phones and services, such as the DMB phone, which enables you to watch TV on your phone via satellite; the 3D game phone with realistic graphics; video phones and phones that can check your blood sugar level and send the information directly to a doctor.
This holistic network in society can be made possible through Radio Frequency Identification technology (RFID), one of the eight services in the IT-839 strategy. The technology uses radio chips embedded in products; it sends and processes information via radio frequencies, even from long distances, and is already widely used to track inventory in the logistics industry.
Korea plans to widen its use by implanting the chip in almost every product. This will enable people to buy products, find information and engage in many other activities simply by swiping the product or connecting it to a mobile phone or a wrist computer.
Three-quarters of Korean households subscribe to broadband Internet service, which makes Korea the country with the most subscribers in the world. The IT-839 strategy is aimed at keeping Korea at the forefront of the current IT era.
According to Mr. Choi, the Ubiquitous Dream Hall opened in March 2004 as a display gallery for new technologies. It closed for renovations in January 2005 and opened in March as the interactive gallery it is today. The hall is scheduled to be closed again next January for further upgrades, including human-interface robots.
by Ines Cho, Kim Ji-hyun
The Ubiquitous Dream Hall is located in the Ministry of Information and Communications building in downtown Seoul. The nearest subway is Gwanghwamun station on line No. 5, exit 2. The hall is open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturdays. Tours are available in Korean, English, Japanese, and Chinese. Reservations are necessary. For reservations, visit the Web site, www.ubiquitousdream.or.kr.