Screens that fold or project onto your hand and other MWC 2024 curiosities

Motorola’s flexible phone, Humane’s AI pin and an autonomous vehicle that drives around serving coffee are some of the most eye-catching technologies at the Barcelona trade show

Motorola’s flexible screen at its stand at the MWC in Barcelona.P. B.

At any given edition of Barcelona’s Mobile World Congress (MWC), visitors will be amazed by the latest technological oddities. The 2024 event is no exception. It is easy to encounter a small autonomous vehicle gliding through crowded aisles and a robotic dog stomping across the floor of an exhibit. However, this year, MWC’s most attention-grabbing eccentricities come in the form of a screen.

The cameras were frantically snapping away around Lenovo’s display at its transparent laptop and also at Motorola’s flexible smartphone prototype in close proximity. But if there was one stand that caught the eye, it was the one projecting the AI pin.

A smart device with an AI pin you can hold in your hand

Founded by former Apple executives in 2018, the startup Humane only unveiled its first product at the end of last year. This is the AI pin and at MWC we were able to get a first-hand glimpse of how this technology works. It takes the form of an electronic device that you clip onto your clothing, at chest level, and is designed to perform the functions of a smartphone.

Humane AI Pin.

The pin uses artificial intelligence — specifically OpenAI’s GPT-4 model — to facilitate interaction with the user. This means that you can ask the device to play music, translate a conversation, take a photo or simply to provide ChatGPT-style responses. An additional feature is that a green phosphorescent display can project onto your hand or another surface. This allows you to read texts or access an interface that is controlled by movements. Moving your hand to one side or the other navigates through the menu and closing your fist enters the selected option.

A Humane spokesperson points out that the purpose of the AI pin is not to replace smartphones entirely, but to do so in certain situations. If a user is going on a hike in the countryside and does not want to carry their smartphone, the new device could serve as an alternative. It provides 4G connectivity, although the processing of AI tasks is carried out locally, meaning that there is a certain degree of latency. Currently, outside the U.S. it is only available online, retailing for $699.

A laptop with a transparent screen

Lenovo unveiled a unique functional prototype at the show — the ThinkBook Transparent Laptop Concept, a 17.3-inch notebook. It stands out because all of its surfaces are transparent. Only five units of this product have been produced and they have practically been handmade, because they have been assembled by hand.

Aiguo Zheng, CEO of Lenovo and the person behind the project, reveals that the transparent display serves a practical purpose. For professionals who design objects, this laptop allows them to visualize how digital 3D models look in a real-life scenario. You just have to orient the computer to the place where the designed objects are to be positioned, such as a bookshelf or the living room of a house. In addition, the panel provides a more immersive experience in the digital entertainment realm.

Image of Lenovo’s transparent laptop.P. B.

It still needs to refine certain aspects if it is to be released on the market. The device will need to have a stronger glass to prevent damage. Also, with the transparent screen material there is not much resolution, only 720p. However, this is where Zheng encounters a problem: the more pixels introduced into the panel to increase the resolution, the less transparent it becomes. Then there is the biggest stumbling block — it is too expensive at the moment.

An electric car manufactured by a mobile brand

This is not one of the most spectacular gadgets — for want of a better word — but the Xiaomi SU7 falls right into the definition of a MWC curiosity. It is the first time that a company broadly known for selling smartphones has launched itself into a sector that is as complex as the automotive sector. It certainly steps in with the full force of the brand image that mobiles carry.

The Xiaomi SU7.

The Xiaomi SU7 is an electric car with an aspirational design. It is reminiscent of Tesla and presumably, just as it tries to imitate Apple in smartphones, Elon Musk’s company has been the inspiration for this vehicle. It guarantees a range of 800 kilometers and boasts a power output of 664 hp, with a top speed of 265 km/h (155 mph). Inside, it is equipped with a 16-inch, 3K resolution screen.

Motorola’s flexible mobile phone

Motorola’s new adaptive screen prototype is also among the MWC 2024 extravaganzas. This is not a foldable smartphone, though, as this would require a hinge that enables it to be opened and closed like a book. Instead, this device folds, so much so that you can attach it to your wrist and it becomes a wearable item. With a 6.9-inch pOLED panel, this device is currently intended for display only, as a commercial product has not yet been developed with this technology. This is only a glimpse of what could come further down the line.

A coffee machine in an autonomous vehicle

The Italian company Rhea, which specializes in coffee vending machines, has developed a prototype that radically diverges from its typical product range. The company calls it the “Barista On-Demand” and it consists of an autonomous vehicle that contains all the necessary equipment to make and serve coffee. The idea, as detailed by the company, is to fully capitalize on the hustle and bustle of the population. This static machine can operate at a high volume and serve numerous coffees at a certain time of the day, but also only a few at other times. Rhea’s vehicle cruises around in search of caffeine-craving customers.

The autonomous driving system is being developed by the Chinese company Neolix and the rest is the work of Rhea. The Italian company indicates that its vehicle will start operating at Shenzhen airport (China) most probably in the next two months. It is in this type of crowded setting that this unique vehicle will perform best. University campuses or parks are other favorable scenarios for autonomous coffee delivery.

Rhea, a coffee vending machine installed in an autonomous vehicle.P. B.

Electronics filter down to rings

Another one of the attractions on display at MVC 2024 is the Samsung Galaxy Ring. Although this is not yet a final product, the Galaxy Ring has roamed around the fair — or better said, its display case — to reveal a few glimpses of its capabilities. It uses your finger to measure different physiological parameters, such as heart rate, respiratory rate or sleep onset latency.

With the data obtained, which are sent to the smartphone and mostly analyzed locally, it can provide insights into personal wellbeing and health. These are incentives to allow the user to change habits and behaviors, if necessary. The device developed by Samsung — which has invited EL PAÍS to Barcelona for the MWC — has the aim of attracting new users who have not purchased other wearable items, such as smartwatches or smart bracelets.

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