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CES 2017: Honing in on Smart Cities, Intelligent Highways and Airport Robots

Some of the same technologies used in Japan will be put to work in Colorado to make highways smarter and safer.

LAS VEGAS — Panasonic officials trumpeted a “strategic alliance” with Disney theme parks during their Wednesday press conference at CES 2017, bringing none other than Mickey Mouse on stage to do it.

But they turned serious, bringing on Denver Mayor Michael B. Hancock to discuss Pena Station Next, the 400-acre residential, mixed-use development that is home to Panasonic’s Enterprise Solution Division.

Smart streetlights that automatically adjust to the time of night and light levels have already gone in. French-made, driverless shuttles will start running this year, and an “iconic” quarter-mile-long LED sign near the Denver International Airport is planned, Hancock told a packed room at this year's Consumer Electronics Show.

Hancock called these “foundational opportunities” that will be the underpinning for the smart city to come.

“We’re going to continue to evolve. Those opportunities are going to continue to evolve,” Hancock said. “And we look forward to our solar panels, our solar grid. That’s awesome stuff but it’s just the beginning.”

For Joseph M. Taylor, CEO for the Panasonic Corp. of North America, being part of Pena Station Next is one of the things he’ll be most proud of.

“This never could have happened without your partnership and support and the support of Governor [John] Hickenlooper,” he said.

Another Outing For Road X

Also during Panasonic’s Wednesday press conference, Tom Gebhardt, president of Panasonic Automotive Systems Co. of America, discussed the company’s involvement in Road X, a joint project with the Colorado Department of Transportation to alert and interact with drivers on Interstate 70.

The interstate connects Denver with prime Vail and Aspen ski country – but alarmingly, the state has seen a 10 percent year-over-year increase in accidents during the past two years, said state Department of Transportation Director Shailen Bhatt.

“We’re going the wrong way,” Bhatt said. “That’s the genesis of our Road X program, where we go to the private sector and say, ‘What ideas do you have to make driving safer?’”

Panasonic, Gebhardt said, is bringing some of the same technologies it has used in Japan to work at the state highway, “to make highways smarter and safer.”

Smart 70, one Road X project, will begin to build out smart communication this year on 90 miles of the interstate, Bhatt told Government Technology.

“What we’re starting to lay the foundation for is the communication between vehicles with the infrastructure and vehicle-to-vehicle,” Bhatt said.

Another Road X project, Smart 25, will deploy an algorithm on a 15-mile stretch of northbound Interstate 25 in the Denver metropolitan area, in an effort to cut traffic congestion.

A similar effort in Melbourne, Australia, cut urban motorway congestion by 40 percent, he pointed out.

“I may not get 40 percent," Bhatt said, "but if I can get 20 percent, that’s the equivalent of adding a lane."

LG Announces Its Airport Guide Robot

Robotics is one way forward for the Internet of Things that could have interesting implications for public agencies, representatives of electronics giant LG said during their press conference Wednesday at CES.

As it unveiled smart refrigerators with interior cameras and intelligent grocery lists at the 50th CES, an LG executive said that later this year, examples of its Airport Guide Robot will greet travelers at Seoul’s Incheon International Airport.

It’s an effort not unlike that of Mineta San Jose International Airport, which in October introduced three robots by Future Robot of South Korea. San Jose’s program, which cost $120,000, hired “Norma,” “Amelia” and “Piper” to tell visitors how to find restaurants and shops via touchscreen.

LG’s robots may lack colorful names (and their cost wasn’t revealed), but they’ll do a bit more legwork for weary adventurers.

The company said via press release that the robots will answer questions in English, Chinese, Japanese and Korean; offer “detailed information” about boarding times and gate locations by scanning a ticket; offer weather forecasts; show distances and walking times in the airport; and even escort lost or late travelers to their gates.

The electronics company’s DeepThinQ machine learning platform will help robots and other appliances make connections, said David VanderWall, vice president of marketing for LG US.

“LG DeepThinQ, powered by cloud-based big data … will enable our appliances not just to be smart," he said, "but to be learning."

Bosch’s Internet of Things Includes Personalization, Smart Cities

Also on Wednesday, an official from electronics company Bosch, making its fifth CES appearance, discussed personalizing IoT and smart cities.

Werner Struth, a member of the board of management for Robert Bosch GmbH, said the company is more enthusiastic about IoT and things that “act as partners with individuals.”

“This is why we see personalization as the next big connectivity front, and we are focusing on coming up with personal, emotional and responsible solutions,” Struth said, discussing integrating motorcyclists with their machines through paired smartphone and helmet headsets with handlebar controls.

“In the years to come, demand for innovative solutions like these will continue to increase," he added. "By 2020, the global IoT market is projected to be worth some $250 billion."

Bosch launched an IoT cloud in Germany last year, Struth said, and intends to do the same in the U.S. this year.

The company is also working on technology to empower vehicles to find their own parking spots.

“What is a car without brains, without a smart city, to match it,” Struth said.

Theo Douglas is assistant managing editor for Industry Insider — California, and before that was a staff writer for Government Technology. His reporting experience includes covering municipal, county and state governments, business and breaking news. He has a Bachelor's degree in Newspaper Journalism and a Master's in History, both from California State University, Long Beach.