The Future is Now – in Vegas

Written by Mark Golombek

Las Vegas is known around the world for impressive casinos, surreal entertainment venues, shopping and a nightlife that rivals any city in North America. It is also recognized as the premier location for conventions and company retreats. From March 7 to 11 of 2017, the Las Vegas Convention Centre was host to the biggest CONEXPO-CON/AGG to date. A wondrous display of high technology construction machinery and innovation splayed across 2.8 million square feet of showroom.
The first CONEXPO convention was held in 1909, and the first CON/AGG show was held in 1928. The two merged with the first joint show in Las Vegas in 1996. This trade show has become the essential gathering for the construction industry and is the largest in the western hemisphere. People come from all over the world every three years, to catch up on the latest trends and technologies in the construction industry. This year’s event, as promised, was the biggest ever with 2,800 exhibitors.

There was a lot more to this year’s event than in past years. There was the all new Tech Experience pavilion, which served to bridge the gap between technology and construction. The Infrastructure Vision 2050 Challenge put up $100,000 to search for solutions to infrastructure issues in the U.S. The Tech Talks forum included global innovators and technology leaders. There were also international exhibit pavilions, with representatives from across the globe. The multi-platinum-selling rock band Foreigner provided entertainment for the crowd.

There were many highlights, but the big news at this edition of the expo had to do with the world’s first three-dimensional (3-D) printed excavator. This piece of equipment was on display with the steadiest stream of convention-goers looking on.

The theme of the 2017 show was ‘Imagine What’s Next,’ and the three-dimensional printed excavator was a definitive presentation of the possibilities that the future may hold.

Another revolutionary technology introduced at the exposition is the Hyperloop. The proposed new foray into high-speed transit will best the bullet trains of Japan. To put things in perspective, the fastest train in the world is Japan’s maglev train which runs at speeds of 374 miles per hour. The Hyperloop would be able to reach speeds of up to 671 miles per hour, taking a passenger from Los Angeles to Las Vegas in twenty minutes.

“The last new mode of transportation was over one hundred years ago, and we’ve only had incremental improvement since,” says Hyperloop Vice President for Strategic Communications Bruce Upbin in a technology talk at the exposition. “We think we can deliver that and have our Kitty Hawk moment here in Nevada in the first half of 2017.” A nationwide network may cost upwards of $1.5 trillion but would create interconnected regional economies and produce an estimated eleven million new jobs.

The 75,000-square-foot Tech Experience had an emphasis on technology and the visions for infrastructure and construction. The Tech Experience is an all-encompassing look into the future, and it has impressed attendees who did not realize that certain technologies were commercially ready.

As part of the Tech Experience, there was a showcase of protective wear. The Wearables showcase had a fashion show hosted by David Turin, of Discovery Channel’s Gold Rush. Companies such as Caterpillar, Night Runner and Illumagear put forward new clothing lines that support job site safety and productivity.

The goal is to find cost-effective ways to reduce downtime from injury or accident. Technologies have been developed that will, in effect, warn workers about the potential for injury. Sensors in clothing or protective gear can detect when workers are overexerting themselves and notify them.

Other articles of note that have come out of the CONEXPO-CON/AGG fashion show include the V22 ErgoSkeleton from StrongArm Tech. This lift-assist device is designed to prevent back injury and other muscle strain when lifting heavy objects. It works by shifting the weight, so it is supported by stronger muscles.

Synchronized communications can shorten response times in case of an emergency. This technology is being produced from other wearable developers.

The Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM) owns and produces the CONEXPO-CON/AGG show. Its vision includes planning and the development of innovative technology to deal with the country’s infrastructure issues. One way it has tried to tackle this is through the Infrastructure Vision 2050 Challenge.

The Vision 2050 challenge was sponsored by the AEM and HeroX (an organization that awards people for taking on challenges that address problems). The AEM booth was the scene where the five finalists were gathered to hear the outcome. In the end, a team from the University of California at Berkeley won top prize for their idea to “leverage autonomous vehicle technology to develop a surge priced Hyperlane, to ease congestion and improve mobility.” $100,000 in prize money was awarded.

The idea behind the Hyperlane is that autonomous vehicles would enter a dedicated lane or road and controlled by the Hyperlane’s computer. Vehicles could be tightly spaced in the lane, easing congestion on regular roads.

The expectation going forward is that each convention will be bigger in scope than its predecessor. One way to ensure that is to take the younger people under its wing. The organizers have taken steps to accomplish that through the young attendee meetups. Anyone under forty is encouraged to partake in the four-day event to further their professional growth.

From Wednesday to Saturday, young attendees can hear from a motivational speaker, network, help with a fundraiser, participate in raffles and enjoy the party at night where the socializing can continue Vegas style. Attendees came from around the world to study other companies and meet with people from other industries.

The size of the latest CONEXPO-CON/AGG can be daunting for anyone who attends. After all, it has an area with over fifty football fields’ worth of construction products, equipment and technology. Events and displays seemed to satisfy even the hardest to please. Attendees expressed astonishment at the equipment size and the massive scale of the exposition and how much effort had gone into the coordination of the event.

There was much optimism at the latest CONEXPO-CON/AGG, and a pro-business environment has many in the construction industry hopeful. Sales were up, as was the total attendance with 128,000 people. This traffic exceeded expectations, and the 2020 exposition is already in the early stages of planning.



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