Mobile technology is on the verge of creating "smart cities," using wireless applications to improve energy conservation, health care, transportation, recreation, retail activities, public safety, education and government, Qualcomm CEO Paul Jacobs told the San Diego Downtown Partnership during its annual dinner Thursday night.
Jacobs told the audience that discussions of "smart cities" dominated his visit last month to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where he was part of a panel discussion on technological innovations that could change the global marketplace.
Noting that Qualcomm (Nasdaq: QCOM) is conducting pilot programs in the local market for some of these innovations, Jacobs told the audience the Downtown Partnership's meeting, estimated at slightly less than a thousand business, civic and political leaders, that "San Diego can be the birthplace and showcase of this new technology."
The technologies that drive smart cities are seen as a growth area for Qualcomm, whose microchips are embedded in the platforms of many of the new innovations. But Jacobs suggested that they can also save billions of dollars in energy, health care and government, as well as saving lives by providing better medical information.
• Energy -- Jacobs cited studies estimating that the United States could save $63 billion per year by shifting smart energy systems, from meters that help utilities wirelessly keep track of usage patterns to "smart thermostats" that can better regulate the use of heaters and air-conditioners.
Just last month, Google Inc. (Nasdaq: GOOG) spent $3.2 billion acquiring Nest Labs Inc., a major pioneer in smart thermostats, which Jacobs cited as an example of the growing interest in wireless-driven energy savings.
But some analysts suggest Google may have been over-eager, because the entire global market for smart thermostats is projected to generate only $1.4 billion in revenues by 2020, less than half the purchase price, according to a recent report by Navigant Research.
• Health care -- Mobile health-monitoring systems are expected to save between $2 billion and $6 billion in health care costs worldwide this year, with further savings projected as the systems spread into more hospitals and clinics.
In his speech to the Downtown Partnership, however, Jacobs dwelt more on the potential effects for patients. He said it is estimated that wireless technologies can lead to a 45 percent reduction in the death rate from diabetes attacks by alerting patients about their glucose levels.
Qualcomm has also funded a study at a local biotech company aimed at developing wireless sensors as small as a grain of sand that can be injected into a person's body to alert them as much as two weeks ahead of time about the risk of heart attacks.
And Qualcomm is working on technologies to keep adult children posted about the health of their elderly parents, such as whether they are taking their medicines on time or receiving needed medical care. Qualcomm has already launched a pilot program in its offices in Kearny Mesa, providing its India-born engineers with real-time medical alerts about their parents 9,000 miles away.
• Public spaces -- Jacobs promoted wireless technologies as a way of helping parks, museums and stadiums provide information on a wide variety of topics, ranging from the location of nearby restaurants to background information on museum exhibits to traffic patterns of the cars leaving a big sports event or concert. Just last year, Qualcomm installed a Wi-Fi system at Petco Park that can provide free wireless access to visitors and serve as the infrastructure for more localized information services.
• Transportation -- Jacobs noted that many cars already have wireless systems that can provide entertainment, communications and mapping, but he envisions those systems expanding to warn drivers about potential collisions or particularized information about traffic conditions or the best places to park.
Jacobs said that kind of information can help reduce energy use, citing a recent study that estimated Americans drive as many as 950,000 miles a year just looking for parking spaces. He said that eventually roadways could be embedded with technology that would wirelessly allow car electronics to be recharged when they're on the road, instead of at home or a service station.
• Government -- Jacobs said wireless technology could save money by letting people vote or answer census questions through their phones, and also save lives through early warning systems about natural disasters.
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