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CES 2020

Smart cities: Samsung and Toyota sketch future urban life at CES

Two global manufacturers move beyond machines to user experiences

Samsung's Sero, a television that can be viewed horizontally or vertically, is shown at the 2020 CES in Las Vegas. The South Korean group envisions smart cities equipped with connected devices.   © Reuters

LAS VEGAS, U.S. -- Two very different companies -- Samsung Electronics and Toyota Motor -- have offered dueling visions for building communities of the future at the year's biggest consumer electronics show, signaling greater competition in this field.

Both concepts bring together sensors and wireless communications to connect machines in ways that blur traditional industry lines.

The two manufacturers are trying to extend their reach into consumers' lives, just as such tech groups as Google, Amazon.com and Alibaba Group Holding are through the internet.

"Today, half of the world's seven and a half billion people live in urban areas -- and by 2050, that number is going to skyrocket to 70%," Samsung's Emily Becher said in a speech here at CES on Jan. 6.

But "we're fortunate to live at a time where innovation can help us address these challenges," said Becher, who heads Samsung Next Global, the company's new business and investment arm.

Samsung's smart-city concept includes buildings that use sensors to save energy. To reduce congestion, Samsung is moving to commercialize a connected-car system that uses 5G communications.

Samsung plans to bundle these products and services as an all-in-one package accessible from smartphones and other devices from the company. Some of these services have been launched here in Las Vegas, as well as in Seoul.

Toyota will take the concept a step further with a 700,000-sq.-meter prototype "city of the future" in Japan. This will occupy a former factory site near Mount Fuji, with groundbreaking slated for as early as 2021.

The automaker sees around 2,000 employees and other people living in the new community, which will feature autonomous vehicles and in-home robots. 

"This will be a truly unique opportunity to create an entire community or 'city' from the ground up and allow us to build an infrastructure of the future that is connected, digital and sustainable, powered by Toyota's hydrogen fuel cell technology," President Akio Toyoda said.

Toyota Motor President Akio Toyoda speaks Jan. 6 in front of a rendering a smart city planned for the base of Mount Fuji.   © Reuters

Pushing Samsung and Toyota into smart cities is the spread of the "internet of things," where devices communicate with one another and artificial intelligence is used to analyze data.

Connected devices are seen increasing to 56 billion by 2025, roughly seven for each human, Intel CEO Bob Swan told reporters on Jan. 6.

For both Samsung and Toyota, providing user-friendly experiences to consumers will become key in the coming years. Smart cities offer a foundation for such business.

"We are not looking to spend our money on things -- we are looking to buy convenience, peace of mind and enjoyment," said Kim Hyun-suk, president of Samsung's consumer electronics division, in his keynote speech. "We are looking to experience life."

Samsung is up against American tech companies aiming to ensconce themselves in every area of daily life. In China, meanwhile, a proposed smart city in Hebei Province's Xiongan New Area is expected to draw up to 2 trillion yuan ($288 billion) in public and private investment, with Chinese e-commerce leader Alibaba as a backer.

Safeguarding data has come up as a topic at this year's CES. Samsung highlighted a commitment to security, while Google and Amazon.com announced privacy protection measures.

On the other hand, stricter controls can hamper business. "The key to success is having a framework that makes it easy to do business," a Toyota executive said.

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