Anyone doubting Rio de Janeiro’s techward shift need only look at the famous pavement mosaics that mark the promenade along Copacabana beach. The black and white patterns have traditionally resembled the waves across which early settlers and modern tourists travelled. Last year, however, that antique, analogue design has been partly reconfigured to reflect a digital future with the addition of tiled QR codes for smartphones.
The pavement symbols link to online maps and tourist websites. That should be useful to the throngs of visitors expected in this resort during this year’s World Cup and the 2016 Olympics, but the significance goes far beyond the mega sporting events.
The tiled codes are a small part of an attempted makeover of party-town Rio into a Latin-American technology hub. Driven by multinational tech companies, local startups and city universities, the mayor, Eduardo Paes, is trying to shape a future for this resort that is as much about being smart as having fun. This is partly an attempt to ride a nationwide trend. Brazil – which is vying with France and Britain to be the world’s fifth biggest economy – is belatedly embracing wireless technology and social networks. Thanks to a surge in recent years, there are now more mobile phones (268.4m) in this country than people. Tablet sales have jumped from 220,000 at the beginning of 2012 to more than 5m today. And Facebook use has increased to the point where Brazil is now second only to the US in terms of the number of users. (more…)