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Welcome to your future in Expo's corporate pavilions

IMAGINE a refrigerator that orders your groceries. Or a house that builds itself. Or a car powered by the sun and the wind.

These concepts and many other futuristic ideas - some already in use, some within reach, some just a dream - are being sketched out for Expo visitors.

A refrigerator of the future reads expiration dates and orders new food. A toilet analyzes urine for medical information. An aerial tramway includes special cars to carry bikes, so riders can cycle to and from stations. A store does not require you to carry your purchases around; you note the item with a handheld device and pick it up as you leave.

Most of these concepts are not found in the Expo's national pavilions, where individual countries offer exhibits about their history and traditions.

"I don't feel like we've seen the future," said Annika Isfeldt of Copenhagen, Denmark, echoing the reaction of many who dropped by pavilions hosted by nations from around the world.

Visitors who spend some time in the Expo's corporate zones, however, where companies, government agencies and a few localities have sponsored pavilions, will find a number of exhibits on new technology, products and designs.

One pavilion shows an experimental car called the Leaf, developed by SAIC, the Chinese partner of General Motors Co and Volkswagen AG. It looks like a Smart car, but produces its own energy from the sun and wind.

A pavilion hosted by Cisco Systems explores a technology called TelePresence, which is a live video network that connects many different devices and systems. Imagine a large screen in your living room that enables you to communicate with friends, family and co-workers in a live video feed.

The system can let you take a class remotely or help you change your travel plans if a storm brews.

A film shows a pregnant woman using it to talk to her doctor while sending him data through a small device that she places on her stomach.

"These are the kinds of products you will have in your home in 10 years' time," said Cisco pavilion director Anthony Elvey.

In China, where new residential areas are being developed all the time, the technology and resulting "connected communities" could be in place even sooner.

"In cities starting from scratch, hopefully some of them will step right into the next level," Elvey said.

The Expo also showcases some new design ideas. Imagine a remote that is not an ugly piece of black plastic, but that is instead made from wood or a white, translucent, leaf-like shape. Imagine a clear plastic touchpad the size of your cell phone, or a mini-desktop communications and data console that is transparent, with no wires or other visible hardware.

Architects propose parallel residential structures, 30 stories high, that run on for miles, and homes that build themselves.

Other exhibits are for dreamers only: a single global currency to allow for a seamless world economy; a seastead, like a homestead on the ocean, or an orbiting city in space.

Then again, the television and air conditioning seen at the 1939 World's Fair in New York probably seemed just as outlandish and out of reach.


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