Hannover Diary, Day One
What does the future of manufacturing technology look like? I'm not sure anybody has the answer to that, but I'm going to be getting a look at a lot of possibilities in the next couple of days. I'm over in Hannover (also known as Hanover; I have no idea why they sometimes spell it with one "n", and sometimes with two), for the big German manufacturing and automation trade show known as Hannover Messe.
There aren't a whole lot of Americans over here, either exhibiting or attending, and I think I know one of the reasons why: There isn't a direct flight from any U.S. city to Hannover. Instead, you have to fly to some other city, like Amsterdam (which is what I did), or Paris, or Hamburg, or Frankfurt (which I did last year, and if I can help it, I'll never make that mistake again). Here's my "planes, trains and automobiles" nightmare from my previous visit to Hannover. I got to the Hannover airport bright (actually, it was still pitch black) and early to catch the first leg of my return flight to Cleveland. It was supposed to be relatively simple: Hannover to Frankfurt; Frankfurt to Newark; Newark to Cleveland. Didn't work out that way.
Although arriving plenty early for my flight, thanks to mechanical failures, the Frankfurt flight ended up being cancelled not delayed, just out and out cancelled. Which meant that everybody on that flight had to go through the extremely tedious process of having their flight rebooked. Hannover is a relatively small airport, and like I said, there are no direct flights to the U.S., so I got to join my fellow passengers in an extremely long and slow-moving line, waiting for our turn to find out exactly how we'd be getting home. About two hours later, I finally got to the front of the line, and after the mercifully patient and industrious clerk ran through a few dozen scenarios, she finally found me a way to get home without having to spend the night in Newark. I could instead fly to Chicagomeaning I would fly several hundred miles past Clevelandand then hitch another flight that would take me back to Chicago. The hitch in that plan was that I still had to fly out of Frankfurt, and there weren't any flights going to Frankfurt that would get me to the gate in time.
So insteadand I'll give the clerk a lot of credit for being resourcefulshe hired a cab and had the cabbie drive me to the Hannover train station. Once I got there, I hopped a train that would get me to Frankfurt in about two hours, which would be just about enough time to make the flight. Except that going through the Frankfurt airport is a wee bit different than going through Hannover. The security line in Hannover (which, as you'll recall above, I originally went through at about 5:30 am), took me about 10 minutes to get through; in Frankfurt, in the middle of the afternoon, not only did I have to wait in an interminable line to go through security, and then go through Customs, but then I had to go through security yet ANOTHER time. Yeesh! But, somehow, I made the flight and I did indeed land in Cleveland the same day I left Germany (if 11:58 pm counts as the same day), although it was about eight hours later than originally scheduled. So needless to say, the idea of flying into or out of Hannover isn't high on my list of "favorite things to do." I'll have to admit that my inbound flights yesterday were uneventful; I hope I'm not jinxing my outbound flights later in the week, though.
Anyways, I'll give you the rundown on some of the more interesting applications of technology at the Hannover Messe in the coming days, once the show gets going. The Germans, by the way, take this event very, very seriously, to the extent that the Chancellor herself, Angela Merkel, is speaking at the opening reception. The Chancellor is not expected to discuss what she is most famous for, as far as U.S. citizens go: the famous/infamous back rub from President Bush.
Shinzo Abe, former prime minister of Japan, is also speaking (Japan is co-hosting Hannover Messe this year). Abe is not expected to discuss why he left office after only one year.
What is expected to be discussed at the trade show are some rather unusual applications of technology, some practical, some novel, some just downright quirky. For instance, there's supposed to be something called a bionic jellyfish that demonstrates energy efficiency; a nanotech compound that combines diamonds with plastics; RFID tags that can track individual grains; and a soccer match between robots.