The role of Expos in showcasing timely innovations

The role of Expos in showcasing timely innovations

Now more than ever with the Covid-19 pandemic – which will hopefully be eliminated soon – World Expos have a huge role to show to the world the innovations and the best that humanity can do.

The novel coronavirus came out of almost nowhere, affecting basic daily interactions and impacting almost everything. This has included the cancellation or postponement of large gatherings such as the upcoming Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympic Games as well as various international industry trade shows like Mobile World Congress and SXSW. Even our everyday lives, from educating our children to going to the shop have been impacted, sparking fears across the globe.
This crisis also impacts the upcoming Expo 2020 Dubai that was slated to open in October this year. As announced by the BIE and reported in the media, a resolution to change the dates of the Expo to 1 October 2021 - 31 March 2022, has surpassed the two-thirds threshold of BIE Member States necessary for it to pass.

Explaining the value that Expos bring is fundamental as they are global events aimed at finding solutions to challenges facing our world, offering a journey inside a particular theme through engaging and immersive activities. World Expos, one of the four Expo categories alongside Specialised Expos, Horticultural Expos and the Triennale de Milano, are global gatherings of nations where universal challenges – impacting all of us – can be addressed.

What is unique about Expos, unlike industry trade shows, is that the events are centred around educating the public. These events therefore introduce the participants, business leaders, and political decision makers to the Expo’s theme. It gives those in the industry and government an opportunity to learn best practices and collaborate, while interacting with the public and gauging reactions to new concepts, ideas and solutions.

The list of achievements of past Expos is long, demonstrating the power of the world coming together. Here are just a few examples of success:

Expo 1986 Vancouver: innovations in transport

Monotrail, Expo 1986 Vancouver

The theme of Specialised Expo 1986 Vancouver was “Transportation and Communication: World in Motion - World in Touch.” Key innovative technologies in transport were on display throughout the Expo site and in the international pavilions. For instance, Japan, often regarded as a leader in high speed rail, showcased the High-Speed Surface Transport (HSST) maglev system, while Switzerland featured the Aerobus Overhead Transit and the von Roll/Habegger Monorail, and the Federal Republic of Germany presented the TAG Tramway. Additionally, a number of conferences and seminars, such as Communications and Mobility for Elderly and Disabled People, and Alternative Fuel and Power Systems for Transportation contributed in supporting innovation and progress in transport around the world.

Expo 1998 Lisbon: tackling environmental issues

Aquarium, Expo 1998 Lisbon

Protecting the world’s oceans was at the heart of Specialised Expo 1998 Lisbon. Visitors to the Expo could discover the past, present and future of the ocean, and its importance to humanity. For example, the pavilion of the European Union notably focused on sustainability and offered a stark comparison between a dirty beach and a clean one. The United States pavilion also addressed the question of clean oceans, with the US Navy showcasing its stewardship of the ocean, specifically the ways waste and recycling are processed when out in the sea.

Expo 1962 Seattle: Future ambitions and aspirations

NASA Pavilion, Expo 1962 Seattle

The theme of World Expo 1962 Seattle was “Man in the Space Age,” with the event giving the public a glimpse of how the future would look. With space exploration progressing rapidly, it was a time when the whole world was very much intrigued in the future and the universe beyond planet Earth. The Expo was centred around the iconic Space Needle, but many of the most innovative features were showcased within different pavilions. For example, the House of Tomorrow showcased a range of futuristic concepts such as disposable dishes, automatic windows, and changeable colour schemes. It presented Gyrocopters that could take people to the ‘Office of Tomorrow,’ where employees could communicate using a ‘micro-mail’ machine for transmitting correspondence. From today’s perspective, it is interesting to see how some of those forward-thinking concepts have come to fruition or continue to be developed.

Expo 1893 Chicago: Celebrating a milestone event

Site of Expo 1893 Chicago

World Expo 1893 Chicago celebrated the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ discovery of the Americas. As a growing global hub, Chicago’s first Expo introduced to the world an array of products and innovations that we as a society now take for granted. For starters, the Expo was one of the first events to use electricity on a mass scale, contributing to its generalisation and public acceptance. It also introduced a range of consumer goods to the mass market, including Cream of Wheat, Shredded Wheat, Pabst Beer, Aunt Jemima syrup, and Juicy Fruit gum. Architecture and public planning were other contributions of Expo 1893 as many designers from around the world looked to the architecture and city planning surrounding the Expo, particularly the spaces for recreation and relaxation such as parks and beachfronts. Finally, institutions of learning were key legacies of the Expo, with the event leading to the creation of establishments such as the Museum of Science and Industry and the Art Institute of Chicago.


At Expo 2020 Dubai, Covid-19 and its impact will most certainly be a discussion point. The Expo will provide an opportunity for the countries gathered in Dubai to not only learn from each other, but also to show how we as a human race can thrive and succeed in a post-Covid-19 world. The three Expo subthemes - Opportunity, Mobility and Sustainable - are more relevant today than ever; Expo 2020 is as important for humanity as when it was first registered. No matter when an Expo happens, its impact – and the context in which it took place – can be felt throughout history.

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