Sunday, September 6, 2009

A Day in the Korean Capital

Seoul, the hotbed of early adoption of high tech, has a 95% household broadband penetration. This densely packed city teeming with 20 million people is the most wired city in the world. The way Seoul has embraced technology has not only transformed South Korea’s economy, it has also profoundly changed the way the city is governed.

Image from The Korea Times / Courtesy of Seoul Metropolitan Government

Several months ago, Cheonggye Stream in downtown Seoul set up a marriage proposal spot near Dumul Bridge, where citizens can have their own video clip played on a big screen as the backdrop to a romantic proposal. The clip can feature their marriage proposal, which will be played to their prospective lover.

That may sound like a once-in-a-while occasion, but the the famed ubiquitous city (U-city) project in Seoul also promises several new experiences in the day-to-day lives of citizens. I am listing eight here. Some of them are already operational, others are due anytime.

  1. You are at a restaurant. To catch a waiter’s attention, no need for waving or calling out any more – just touch a wireless device at your table, and your waiter will show up.
  2. Bus stops carry displays that show you where your bus is, so you can decide whether to wait for it.
  3. Media poles along sidewalks help you search for city information.
  4. You need a copy of your vehicle registration. At any subway station, walk up to a kiosk that recognizes your thumbprint and issues public documents. You have your paperwork in minutes.
  5. A child wears a U-tag which alerts parents on cell phone if he/she leaves a designated safety zone, such as a school campus.
  6. Before you venture along a route, check air quality and traffic conditions over cell phone.
  7. Leave a city-issued RFID tag on your car’s dashboard. If you don’t take your car out on the streets for a day, you automatically receive an insurance discount.
  8. When you get on and off a bus, swipe a plastic card and it calculates fare based on how far you went.
The technology for doing all this is no big deal. We are talking about RFID, GPS, Bluetooth, touch-screens, fingerprint recognition, GIS and mobile messaging. Pretty routine stuff. What’s unique is the way this city has weaved it into the lives of its people. People need to interact with the transit systems, with the city, with businesses and with each other. U-city project has laid the groundwork for that.

It is easy to see how the downtown’s four-mile long Cheonggye Stream walkway will be a fertile ground for launching innovations in interactivity.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Vikas,

    Yes, very true, Koreans have embraced technology and that has changed the way city is governed.

    Technology plays an important part in the lives of Koreans, but the people to people connection still exists. Last week I was in Seoul for Harbinger Conference and Partner meet, and I would like to share one incident here which further strengthens my point.

    We were staying in the downtown area, and I decided to walk to the nearby places with my colleague in the evening. We were looking around, talking, taking snaps and somehow lost our way back to the Hotel. We showed our Hotel card to one young guy on the street, he was not able to speak or understand English but he could make it out that we are foreigners and we have lost our way back to our Hotel. He looked at the card and immediately pulled out his mobile phone to check the exact location with the Hotel. He asked us to follow him by waving his hand, and walked with us to our Hotel. We thanked him for his help.

    Amazing, isn’t it.

    Best Regards,

    Naveen Shukla