Amazing Tech Changing Business Around the World

Want a robotic security guard? Better set up shop in Korea. Here are technologies you'll encounter on business trips abroad--some a sign of things to come to the U.S., but others far out of reach.

Cool Tech From Around the World

Want a laptop or smartphone with a pico projector for presentations? How about ubiquitous high-speed rail, the ability to power your home office with your electric car, or a wide selection of electric scooters to lower your commute costs? If you answered "yes" to any of the above, you're better off working abroad. Although the United States leads in some areas of business tech, it lags behind in many cutting-edge categories. The good news is that you'll find this tech when you're doing business in other nations. Click through for fascinating examples.

Laptops and Phones With Pico Projectors

Pico projectors are handy for giving presentations on the go. But business travel would be a lot easier if these petite projectors were built into the mobile devices we already bring along. Two Fujitsu Lifebook laptops available in Japan, the S761 and P771, have a slide-out projector rather than an optical drive. And mobile devices with integrated projectors are reportedly under development at Apple and other manufacturers.

As for projector-equipped smartphones available now, U.S. wireless carriers currently don't sell them--but if you search far and wide, you'll find an unlocked model from some online vendors. One example is the Samsung i8520 Beam, an $800 Android phone with a Texas Instruments DLP Pico Projector that shines images or video onto any surface.

Robots in the Workplace

Robots may not be taking over the planet (not yet, anyway), but they are replacing some flesh-and-blood employees around the globe. At one South Korean prison, for instance, robotic guards (shown here) will monitor inmates' behavior during a one-month trial in March 2012. Robots have performed tirelessly in auto manufacturing and other industries for decades, and their popularity among North American businesses is on the rise. Still, you're more likely to find robotic helpers toiling away in Japan and Korea than in the United States. Do you fear the rise of robots? Your answer may depend on whether one could do your job.

Image: Yonhap News

Wicked-Fast Broadband

Hey, small-business owners, what's the fastest broadband service in your town? It's probably nowhere near as speedy as what Virgin Media is currently rolling out in Britain: 100 megabits per second. Virgin is testing 1.5-gbps cable broadband in the UK too, although exactly when its customers will see such blistering speeds is unclear. Back in the U.S., Google is building a 1-gbps broadband network in Kansas City, which is great if you live there. And Internet provider plans to offer 1-gbps fiber service in San Francisco. Wonderful, but what about the rest of us? According to a recent Akamai study, the average U.S. broadband speed is 5.8 mbps, fast (or slow) enough for a not-too-impressive 12th-place ranking globally.

Electric-Car Sharing

Dozens of U.S. cities have car-sharing services for drivers seeking a petroleum-powered ride, but what if you want an all-electric vehicle instead? You'd probably have an easier time finding an electrical rental outside of the United States, particularly in major business-travel destinations such as Paris, Berlin, and other European cities.

However, though the U.S. may be lagging in electric-car sharing right now, the situation is changing. In Chicago, for instance, the I-GO program recently announced plans to roll out an all-electric, 36-vehicle fleet, as well as 18 solar-powered charging stations. So what's your preference: EV, diesel, or petrol?

Image: francisco.j.gonzalez, Flickr

Panasonic's Waterproof, Dust-Resistant Android Phone

Panasonic isn't a name you normally associate with smartphones, at least not if you live outside of Japan. The electronics giant is hoping to change that by reentering the fiercely competitive global smartphone market, which it abandoned in 2005. Debuting in Europe in March 2012, and later in North America, China, and elsewhere, Panasonic's new Android phone will be a slim yet sturdy handset that's both waterproof and dust-resistant. Currently unnamed, the device will feature a 4.3-inch OLED screen with qHD (960-by-540-pixel) resolution. Will Panasonic be a player in the U.S. smartphone market? We'll have to wait a while to find out.

Chip and PIN Credit Cards

Has this ever happened to you? You're on a business trip abroad, and your credit card is rejected at a merchant or a payment kiosk. It's not that your credit is bad, but rather that your card is outdated by international standards. In the United States, we're still using magnetic-stripe cards, whereas many other nations have upgraded to the more secure Chip and PIN technology. Chip and PIN credit cards use an embedded microchip and a personal ID number to validate transactions. You insert your card into a point-of-sale terminal and enter your PIN.

Good news is on the horizon. Major U.S. banks, including Bank of America, Chase, and Wells Fargo, are starting to offer credit cards compatible with both Chip and PIN and magnetic-stripe readers.

Image: Chase

Using Your Electric Car as a Power Plant

It's summer, it's sweltering, and the electrical grid has just gone down due to excessive demand. It's time to shut down the home office until power is restored, right? Sure--unless you happen to live in Japan and you own a Nissan Leaf electric car, which moonlights as a power plant on wheels. The Leaf's lithium ion battery pack can store 24 kilowatt hours of electricity--enough juice to power the average Japanese home for two days. As this Nissan video demonstrates, the Leaf uses Nissan's Power Control System to store extra electricity for later use.

Sorry, North Americans, but the Leaf's power-plant features aren't available here. Perhaps that's just as well, though. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the average U.S. home uses about 958 kWh of electricity per month, or nearly 32 kWh per day. Yes, that's more than twice the amount of electricity the average Japanese home uses in two days. Maybe Americans need an all-electric Hummer instead.

Image: Nissan Technology Magazine

High-Speed Rail

Speedy passenger trains that zip between cities at 250 kilometers per hour (about 155 mph) are in wide use across much of Europe, Japan, and China. Their advantages to business travelers are many. Trains typically drop you off in urban transit centers near where you want to go. Airplanes, in contrast, are crowded and miserable--and often they're an hour or more from your final destination. Don't forget about those endless airport queues and invasive security procedures, either.

The U.S. lags badly in high-speed rail service, although Amtrak's Acela Express trains that travel between Washington D.C. and Boston can go as fast as 150 mph. (Sadly, though, they usually don't.) Wait, there's more: Persistent budgetary woes at the federal, state, and local government levels make it unlikely that we'll see a nationwide high-speed rail network anytime soon.

Image: matt-lucht, Flickr

Cheaper Work Commutes

Millions of Americans commute to work alone, and drive fuel-guzzling, 2-ton vehicles to get there. Switching to scooters would save money and resources. Sure, you're in trouble if a sleep-deprived big-rig trucker sends you skidding onto the shoulder, but life has its risks. Commuters outside the United States have a wider selection of economical, eco-correct rides, including electric scooters such as the Honda EV-neo and the Yamaha EC-03. And you can bet your car insurance payment that when the collapsible, smartphone-controllable Kobot (shown here) goes on sale, the U.S. will be left out once again.

Image: Kobot

Samsung Galaxy Note

Want a big phone--a really big phone? The Samsung Galaxy Note is a genre-bending handset that straddles the line between smartphone and tablet. Its gargantuan 5.3-inch touchscreen comes with a stylus for precision drawing and note-taking, two features that make the Galaxy Note an oddball among today's phones. That said, the handset's unique attributes may earn it a niche following among business users who need both a stylus and a nearly tablet-size display. The Galaxy Note isn't available in the United States today, but a revised model will likely arrive on our shores sometime in 2012.

Today's Best Tech Deals

Picked by PCWorld's Editors