I've seen the future and it's in Seoul!
Today I visited the T.um.
T is a marketing icon for SK Telecom. They have several shops called T-world, you can get T internet and TV in your house, and cell phones from SKT all have T labels on them. It’s basically SK’s brand for telecommunications products.
The .um part stands for “ubiquitous museum”. So I went to the SK Telecom Ubiquitous Museum. There SK has set up a showcase of possible future uses of its products. It was really impressive.
I’m really not jerking your chain here. It really did kind of blow my mind away with how awesome some of the stuff in there was!
Now, you can’t just show up and visit, you have to go to the website and make a reservation. They only seem to have weekdays at 11:00 available, but if you can make it there, it’s well worth the trip.
So let me tell you about what I saw in there!
The T.um is located in the T Tower, in the Uljiro district of Seoul. The T Tower, as you can see, from an architecual standpoint, is pretty impressive even before you enter the building. It looks like it was made of individual blocks and that it’s bent in the middle, almost as if it is going to fall over. That’s really cool. The T.um is only on the first and second floors of the building, so the rest of it must be office space.
When you go in, you check in at the desk, and since I was early, I relaxed in the cafe for a bit. I didn’t realize until it was too late, but instead of going to the counter to order something, each seat had a touch screen, where you could place an order. The coffee and other items would then be brought to you by the staff. Some people who have SK cell phones could pay for their items by waving their phone over one panel, the cost would be sent to your phone bill. In the future, money will be obsolete.
I waited for a while, as most of the 11:00 crowd rolled in. Most of the people there were Koreans, though a few were visibly foreign, and a group of the Koreans were conversing in English, which leads me to believe that they may have been Korean Americans.
Why does the national origin of the other guests matter?
Well, it doesn’t really. The reason I mention it though is because the staff of the T.um were all bilingual. The tour is primarily conducted in Korean, but they have a supplementary tour guide for English speakers who will assist those who need it. Normally I hate it when they try to force English on me because of the way I look, when I am perfectly capable of handling myself in Korean, but I need to get it through my head that not everyone in Korea speaks Korean, and the fact that they specifically hired people who can speak English, and well, is actually a plus for the T.um, not a reason to throw myself into an identity crisis, or throw a tirade or rant (similar to when people commend me on my skillful use of chopsticks, haha). In the end, I thought that was a nice touch.
In the lobby, I noticed that there was the pond pond.
The pond pond? What’s that?
It’s a pond. Here, take a look at this picture…
I call it the pond pond, because it’s clearly labeled “POND” just in case you didn’t know what it was. I instantly thought that this was going to be a really lame tour because of this. In my experience living in Japan, all too many times things that didn’t need to be labeled in English often were (such as a snowman labled “Snowman”) and things that probably should have been labeled in English were not (such as “Emergency Exit”). I fully expected the rest of the tour to have labels that aren’t at all necessary for the benefit of English speakers. But luckily my assumption was wrong.
The pond pond is basically a fountain with monitors in the bottom. It makes it look like the water itself is the medium that the image is being cast onto. It was pretty cool, but certainly not anything useful.
As I was taking pictures of it, one of the polite staff informed me that I wouldn’t be allowed to take pictures for the rest of the tour. I was a little bit bummed about that. But I thought it would be important to mention because this is the reason that the rest of the pictures aren’t my own, but are taken directly from the T.um website itself. I guess they don’t want spies in there or anything. I understand.
Well, they next handed us a smartphone that would be our key to using the rest of the exhibits in the T.um. After registering my name in the smartphone, we all moved up to the second floor. The first exhibit was the U.home.
The U.home is an exhibit with a smart desk and a smart wall. That is, a desk where the entire surface is a touch screen and a wall that acts as a monitor in tandem with the desk. It can be controlled from the desk itself, or by using motion sensors in front of the wall. This alone amazed me, but what’s more, you could take the smartphone, simply place it on the desk, and make calls, look at files, and transfer files without even needing to connect anything with a cable. It really bothers me that they didn’t allow me to take any movies of this part, because it was really cool. They made a sample video call to someone and you could see the person’s face on the wall. They put two smart phones on the desk and using the touch screen you could take a file from one and slide it into the other. Finally, we watched one of the smartphone video files on the wall. It seemed like we were in a movie theater. If this is the home of the future, I want the future right now!
The next part was a gaming center called U.entertainment. It was basically a game station that you could control with the smart phone and play against other networked players all over the world. The game they had loaded was a racing game, and you controlled your vehicle by tilting the smart phone left and right. My control was a little off so I wasn’t too impressed by it, but if they can improve the response and have a different kind of game, then it might be better. I’m an accomplished gamer, but I came in last place because of the less than responsive controls.
The next part was called U.driving. It looks like it’s a simple driving simulator, but it shows the benefits of having a totally networked car. With your smart phone, you can unlock the door to the car, start it, program a destination into the navigation system, choose a route, and keep track of traffic conditions. It’s not as complicated as it sounds, the connection with the car is over wifi, and all of these functions are done with the touch of a button.
The next, and probably the most impressive part is called U.fashion. The webpage doesn’t have a decent picture of it, but I found this Korean blog that shows in depth about it. I don’t know how that blogger was able to take all those pictures, but I guess he is more sneaky than I am. It starts with a bodily scan to make your avatar. This takes about 2 minutes. The avatar looks surprisingly very much like you. It takes exact measurements of your body, even with your clothes on, because it uses radio waves to scan you as if you were naked. It then takes measurements of your face and gives you a pretty accurate representation of yourself. After that, you can have your avatar try on different clothes and choose colors and sizes from a third person perspective. Then you can see your avatar hit the runway and act as a model in a fashion show featuring all the clothes you picked out.
The avatar’s resemblance to you is uncanny.
Let’s see yours then.
No. Mine doesn’t look good.
Let’s see it!!!! Show us!!!!
Ok… but keep in mind that I chose the most comical hairstyle there was just for laughs. The image they sent to me was also very small, so even if you see it, you still won’t get a good idea of what I look like. Even so, I swear it looked exactly like me.
The rest of the tour showed a shopping section, where you could take pictures of items you wanted to buy, then use your cell phone to buy them all. I presume they would all be sent to your house. You could also take pictures of commercials on TV and buy the item they are advertising. Talk about instant gratification!!!!
The final section of the tour showed off current SK products like smart phones, home appliances and the like. Probably the most interesting thing I saw was taking a 2D movie and through some SK technology making it 3D. This is simply amazing, because the way 3D movies have traditionally been made, it requires filming with a 3D camera. This takes already existing movies and makes them 3D. I heard of something similar and my dream of seeing Star Wars in 3D will soon be a reality. (Though I think ILM, not SK is responsible for that one.)
Overall the experience at the T.um was highly entertaining, and I recommend it to everyone in Korea. I’m being totally honest here. Sure it’s a thinly veiled advertisement for SK products, but when you get to actually USE the products on the tour, you can form your own opinions about them. It was awesome, and I actually want to go back.