Our weekly synopsis of stories & signals that might impact the way people live in future cities

Future Cities Digest #21 (17/04/2014)

#urban #sensing #data #NYC

Hudson Yards, one of the largest estate developments in New York City is to become an ‘urban laboratory for data science’. A few days ago a group of developers announced that they are teaming up with CUSP to create a ‘quantified community’. Among the elements of the environment expected to be measured and modelled are: pedestrian flows, street traffic, air quality, energy use, waste disposal, recycling, health and activity levels of workers and residents. Besides this, researchers are particularly excited about the opportunity to research the ‘conditions under which people feel comfortable sharing their personal information’. The first office tower is scheduled to open next year and the first residential building in 2017.  You can read the full article in NYT Bits.

#city #services #technology #diffusion

Equity, public versus private delivery of city services and worker displacements – argues Brook Rainwater – are the key concerns cities might experience when introducing driverless cars, drones and on-demand transportation. In a FastCoExist article Rainwater insists city leaders need to already start developing plans (and frameworks) for the potential impact driverless cars and drones will have on city services. For example: if a city adopts a predominantly private driverless cars system, usage and support of bus and wider transit systems could be affected and lead to less community support. Another valid questions is  what to do with underutilised parking garages, spare street lanes or unused on-street parking etc.? Quite a good piece for a quick read.

#modular #phones #Google #Ara

Google is hosting this week the first developer conference for its Project Ara – a prototype of a modular phone announced back in October. The idea for this project is to provide a highly customizable, from a hardware perspective, smartphone (‘Android for hardware’). One of its main objectives is to cater people in the developing world who otherwise would never be able to buy a smartphone, and thus open new market opportunities. The project is (yet another) in Google’s portfolio that steams out  from DARPA’s Advanced Technology and Projects groups, which models a small-team, tight-deadline approach for delivering innovation. ‘Innovation under time pressure, is higher quality innovation’ – argues the team leader. Full article available here.

#behaviour #modelling #social #engineering

A very interesting book review (and short critical analysis) appeared in this week’s MIT Tech Review. ‘Social Physics’ by Alex Pentland, director of MIT’s Human Dynamics Laboratory,argues that ‘our greatly expanded ability to gather behavioral data will allow scientists to develop “a causal theory of social structure” and ultimately establish “a mathematical explanation for why society reacts as it does”’. And deciphering people’s behaviour is perceived only as a first step, and Pentland sees ‘the prospect of using digital media and related tools as a vehicle to change people’s behaviour and motivate groups and individuals to act in more productive and responsible ways’. However, the reviewer finds some of the assumptions problematic, as he thinks defining social relations as a pattern of stimulus and response makes the math easier, but ignores the deep, structural sources of social ills. Insightful read – available here.

Recent books releases:

“How does nature work in our human-created city and suburbs? How is ecology, including its urban water, soil, air, plant, and animal foundations – spatially entwined with this great human enterprise? And how can we improve urban areas for both nature and people? The book explores the  urban area: from streets, lawns, and parks to riversides, sewer systems and industrial sites; presenting models, patterns and examples from hundreds of cities worldwide.”

“The book focuses on exploring recent advances in architectures, algorithms, and applications for an Internet of Things based on smart objects (SO). Topics include insights from advanced IoT projects:  methods for SO development,  IoT networking, middleware for SOs, data management for SO,  agent-oriented SOs and applications of SOs in smart environments: smart cities, smart health, smart buildings, etc.”

“Social physics is about idea flow, the way human social networks spread ideas and transform those ideas into behaviors. Pentland shows that, in fact, humans respond much more powerfully to social incentives that involve rewarding others and strengthening the ties that bind than incentives that involve only their own economic self-interest” [review above]

Spirit of times
spraydrone
Spray-paint-wielding drone (Katsu)
“Katsu, who gained graffiti fame in the 1990s in New York City, showed a series of paintings created by the flying machine at the Silicon Valley Contemporary art fair last weekend. The splotchy canvasses wouldn’t necessary stop you in your tracks, but the process by which they were created is entirely new. Katsu pilots the craft remotely, but every movement is translated through the machine’s need to keep itself aloft.”

Future Cities Digest #20 (10/04/2014)

#urban #data #behavioural #analytics

Interesting work happening at Cambridge Uni – a group of scientists are working on add-ons to the  ‘next generation recommendation engines’ thatshould be able to use behavioural and location data to determine events we’re most likely to attend – music festivals, sporting events and conferences. To get their insight, the group gathered and analysed Foursquare data on the movements of some 190,000 people in London, New York, and Chicago during an eight-month period in 2010 and 2011. The results provide a useful insight – it turns out that ultimately, the major influence on attendance is whether our friends are also there. This has a significant influence on recommendation engines, as anticipating consumer behaviour alongside social network data allows to increase sales – a feat that is often beyond conventional marketing and advertising techniques.

#tracking #developments #Yimby #NYC

 A useful online service has been recently launched in New York – a website which allows people to track the progress of new developments in the city. The website is called New York Yimby(Yes in My Backyard) and has floor plans, renderings and photography’s of buildings in the city,  as they are constructed. The creator of the website is 23 year old Nikolai Fedak, who collects data from developers, architects and The Department of Building. The site is primarily a platform for sharing information, but also construction workers appreciated the effort and started uploading instagram pictures to illustrate the developments in progress. Despite the political divide about the effects of real estate in New York, Fedak’s website has been described – even by estate policy critics – as a tool that provides a ‘useful perspective’ and ‘performs a real public service’.

#battersea #housing #desconstructivism  #Gehry

 The big news in the world of architecture this week has been unveiling the designs for the third phase of the Battersea Power Station redevelopment. Frank Gehry and Foster & Partners offices have joined forces to create a new ‘landmark neighbourhood for London’ – with shops, a community center, parks and 1300 new homes. Not surprisingly,  Gehry’s famous style of deconstructivism reigns strong, with curved forms and organic distorted facades, but there has been some criticism accusing the designs for being too ‘flamboyant’ and ‘fatally compromising the landmark status of the power station.’ Also, none of Gehry’s flats will be affordable social housing due to an agreement between Wandsworth council and the developers which caps affordable housing at 15%. But as Gehry argues: ‘I can’t demand there will be social housing in the middle of this project. This will be a real people thing for the city. I can’t tell London what to do.

#systems #design #algorithms #Superflux

 Alexis Lloyd, Creative Director of R&D at the New York Times, wrote an interesting guest blog for Superflux’s website about our relationship with technology and information. The article focuses on algorithmic systems and how we gradually start to prevail to some of them. Alexis main argument is that more systems should be explicitly showing the assumptions on which they are running, especially if they rely on behavioural data(increasing credibility and transparency). She advocates that the systems we create should contain affordances for all kind of skilled techniques that can become embedded into processes and cultures, meaning that designing interactions should allow us to ‘converse across complex networks, where we can understand and engage in informed and thoughtful ways, where the systems around us can respond with equal nuance’.  Interesting read.

Recent reports & publications:

  • Digital Life 2025March 2014, Pew Research Center
    (highlights: insights from interviews with over 2500 technology experts, 15 theses about ‘the future of digital life’, a LOT of great opinions and quotes)
  •  Good Incubation – April 2014, Nesta
    (highlights: different models of social venture incubation, success factors, case studies from around the world)

Spirit of times:
gravity
Gravity (RCA students – video)
A group of students from the Royal College of Art have invented avirtual reality tool that allows designers to sketch in three dimensions. It consists of a stylus and a tablet that have been adapted specifically for sketching in 3D. The tools can link to almost any augmented reality headset and the team have also connected it to an Oculus Rift. “Gravity was developed specifically for creative. We designed it to be simple enough so it could be used by everybody without prior explanation. It makes creating shapes as easy as doodling on a piece of paper.” The designers believe the technology could be applied to a multitude of fields, from animation to medical science. 

 

Future Cities Digest #19 (03/04/2014)

#BigData #insights #Harford #FT

One of the most commented and shared articles last weekwas Tim Harford’s piece on Big Data. The author’s key message was that ‘Big Data has arrived, but big insights have not’. He backed his argumentwith a number of cases where the use of very large data samples deceived its users, meaning they skipped in the process some of the classical statistical checkpoints and jumped to quick – and in the end misleading – conclusions. In principal, Harford doesn’t disagree that ‘large, cheap datasets and powerful analytical tools will pay dividends’ but argues that big data will not solve the problem that ‘has obsessed statisticians and scientists for centuries’: the problem of insights – inferring what is going on, and figuring out how we might intervene to change a system for a better. Article worth a 10-minute read – available here.

#innovation #platform #cars #Android

Back at the beginning of the year four major car manufactures (Audi, GM, Honda and Hyundai) teamed up with Google and NVidia to develop an open model and common platformthat will allow automakers to more easily bring cutting-edge technology to their drivers, and create new opportunities for developers to deliver powerful experiences’ – in other words, an Android OS for cars. At the same time, Audi has released an interesting vision for a virtual cockpit that would accommodate ‘the smartphone generation in cars’. The system could be interconnected with popular music and entertainment services from the cloud, have an inbuilt, universal Google search function and be controlled through natural language voice control. Most cars fitted with this new kind of system will be available from 2015 (with a handful like Volvo and Ferrari making it to the market this year).

#connectivity #drones #Internet #Facebook

Facebook’s $2bln acquisition of Oculus Rift, a virtual reality head-set manufacturer, seemed to be the big tech news last week. However, what passed slightly less noticed was  Facebook confirming rumors that ‘its engineers are working on developing a fleet of solar-powered drones that can beam internet access down to people in remote regions of the world’.  According to Internet.org, a partnership between Facebook and six major mobile phone companies, the drones could fly autonomously for months (at a time)  at an altitude of 20,000 meters. Worth noting that the kind of drones described by Facebook are rather similar to MQ-9 Reapers, than the smaller octocopters, that people often associate with urban applications. Also, worth seeing a link between this project and Google Loon- a ‘balloon-powered Internet for everyone’.

#wereables #IoT #embeddables #buzzword

A new buzzwordin town? Forbes published last week an excerpt from a forthcoming book  ‘Designing for Emerging Technologies’that discussed the future of ‘even more personalized computing’. It brought up the concept of ‘embeddables’, associated with the big idea that everyday objects will become ‘responsive and predictive, connecting us to data and reducing the distance between our skin and the surfaces of the made world’. Based on a few, quite legit trends – wereables, living services, IoT, smart materials – the latter description made it more difficult to ‘buy’ the authors vision, as theydrifted towards heralding ‘a revolution in functionality, that will dramatically alter how people fit into society, affect human psychology, and even propel us toward intellectual or spiritual transcendence’ - in some way revealing a classical question / doubt whether its technologyshaping human behaviour, humans shaping technology, or a bit of both (and if so, skewed towardswhich?). For you to decide.

Recent reports and publications:

  •  The Future is Cities – Winter 2014, MIT Spectrum
    (highlights: a series of articles from MIT scholars discussing urbanism, DIY manufacturing, urban data visualization in healthcare and many cities-relevant topics)
  •  Cities Alive – March 2014, Arup
    (highlights: how the creation of a linked ‘city ecosystem’ [parks, streets, squares, woodlands] can help to create a healthier city, 5 requirements for the future design of cities)

This weeks’ artefact from the future:
facedetection
CV Dazzle Anon Salon (Adam Harvey)
Is a world first hairdressing and makeup salon where the artist applies makeovers to visitors using geometric designs and making them invisible to Big Brother’s CCTV facial recognition software. The work deals with the most current of issues in secrecy, surveillance, aesthetics and design.  According to Harvey, the method is effective at blocking the face recognition used by Facebook, Picasa and Flickr — and it doesn’t simply cause some mild confusion, it actually prevents the software from detecting any face at all.

Future Cities Digest #18 (27/03/2014)

#predictions #futures #TED #Google

Last week passed in tech-world along the lines of the 30th anniversary of TED conferences. On this occasion many of the celebrity-guests where asked a question what will blow your mind in 30 years time? Many of the answers referred to advances in medicine & health-care (ie convergence of technology with the body), ubiquitous integration of ‘the virtual’ with ‘the real’, a new degree of human computer-interaction and machine consciousness. An interesting conversation took place on the stage between Charlie Rose and Larry Page. The two spoke about the vision and future of the Internet, privacy, and Google. Page’s main point was that ‘computing is still kind of a mess’ and there is much more than can be done to understand information which at the moment is still ‘very clunky’. Page also highlighted his excitement with the acquisition of DeepMind and his belief in using machine learning research to improve data interpretation accuracy. You can watch the full interview here.

#cities #case #studies #WorldBank

In one of its recent blog posts the World Bank Urban Development team have announced that they are working on a Competitive Cities Knowledge Base (CCKB). Under the label of ‘Competitive Cities’ they’re looking in more depth at ‘cities that significantly outperform their national economies and regional competitors’. The project is said to include case studies of successful cities across all continents, including Bucaramanga (Colombia), Patna (India), Bandung (Indonesia), Agadir (Morocco), Kigali (Rwanda) and Izmir (Turkey). The interesting aspect to this study is that it targets predominantly medium-sized and secondary cities, less explored than the “global cities” the literature focuses on – eg cities in high-income economies that have successfully reinvented themselves (Barcelona or Boston), global technological leaders (Silicon Valley or Austin), or hotspots whose growth is based on unique endowments that are difficult to replicate (Singapore). Full blog post available here.

 #gardening #commute #wellbeing #Japan

We’ve seen in the recent times a number of ideas that work around the issues of enabling commuters to ‘get more done’ during their usual journeys. Amazon has explored the idea of delivering packages to transit spots and Tesco tried to implement virtual supermarkets  on train platforms in South Korea.  Also in Asia, this time Japan, an idea emerged to allow commuters to garden on top of roof gardens at train stations along, or before/after their commute.  This initiative is seen as an opportunity to participate in owning a small garden, an obviously scarce recourse in the world’s most populated cities. The project was initiated by East Japan Rail Company who provided seeds, garden tools and gardening advice to commuters. The gardens are in parallel being used as places where people come to relax, have picnics and meet new people.

#ageing #alzheimer’s #Abilia #Norway

Alzheimer’s is considered as one of the big longevity diseases of our times. With the increase of life expectancy and the growth of the ageing population, the market recognizes the need for new ideas that’ll empower older citizens and reduce the strain on health facilities and governments. For that reason a system called Abilia is currently prototyped in Norway to help Alzheimer’s patients live independently at home. Abilia uses sensors throughout the house to monitor the patient’s engagement with objects, such as – closed/open doors, switched on/off stove , or suspicious motion, and alerts the patients and care workers of any danger. The system is controlled on a central memo planning monitor that displays day to day tasks, giving them a sense of clarity about the time and structure of their day.

Recent reports and publications:

  •  The future of public health: a horizon scan – RAND, Dec 2013
    (highlights: future of public health and related scientific services, literature review and insights from key informants, cross cutting themes and findings)
  • Mapping Smart Cities in the EU – European Parliament, Jan 2014
    (highlights: classification and typology of ‘smart cities’ in Europe, Smart Cities technology roadmap [in the EU], 20 case studies)

Spirit of times:
Sergey&Edward
Appearing by telepresence robot, Edward Snowden speaks at TED2014 about surveillance and Internet freedom. Chris Anderson interviewshim with special guest Tim Berners-Lee – you can watch Snowdens talk hereandthe NSA’s deputy director reply (also as a TED Talk). On the picture Sergey Brin (Google) and Edward Snowden (physically in Russia), during the break.

Future Cities Digest #17 (20/03/2014)

#taxi #data #NYC #MIT

More and more questions are floating around the evidence-base for creating and backing-up car-sharing schemes. For that reason scientists at the MIT Sensible Lab decided to request from the NYC Taxi and Limousine Commission all the data about the 150 mln+ trips that happened in 2011 – in and out of Manhattan. They asked themselves the question ‘Are people from the same place going to the same destination at the same time, and if so, could they share rides?’. According to their results, nearly 80 percent of trips could have been shared if passengers were willing to travel no more than three minutes out of their way, and the efficiency benefits from car-sharing could quickly kick-in even if only a small share of riders were willing to join. On the HubCab project website (supported also by Audi and General Motors) you can see a nicely done interface for visualizing, and interpreting all of this city data.

#wearable’s #Android #watch #Google

Google announced this week that it has been working on an operating system called Android wear, dedicated for a new generation of wearable devices. The first publically available products are expected to be the LG G Watch and Motorola Moto 360. One of the most communicated advantages of the new devices is that a number of applications that are now only available for smartphones will ‘provide contextual information at-a-glance view’. The backbone of the OS is the Google Now service, marketed as providing ‘useful actionable information whenever a user needs it’ and quite strongly relying on voice-recognition commands. The first devices using the system are planned to be distributed later during the year, however, Google is already releasing software development kits for its maker’s community.  The OS seems to be a consistent part of a larger (and still fairly new) ecosystems for Google’s future services – including Google Glass, Google Tango, and now – the G Watch .

#cars #connectivity #dashboards #Audi

An interesting article in the MIT Tech Review foresees that in the incoming months major car manufacturers will start introducing high-speed Internet connection within their vehicles (similar to those available on fastest smartphones). The first U.S. models with ‘fast’ wireless connection are expected to be deployed in 2015, but other manufacturers, including GM, Toyota and Ford, are also following suit. Taking advantage of internal dashboards and creating apps, car manufacturers are seeing an opportunity for product differentiation. The proliferation of these technologies could also in the long-term support the establishment of vehicle-to-vehicle communication, and ultimately, allow the introduction of semi-autonomous and fully-autonomous vehicles.

#ultravision #lenses #graphene #IEEE

Researchers at the University of Michigan are experimenting with optical capabilities of graphene, a carbon composite material, hoping to enable infrared vision in contact lenses. According to IEEE Spectrum, researchers have already been able to create infrared sensors of the size of a contact lens and are eagerly envisioning its functionality with other types of wearable’s. Not left without any technical challenges, the military and medical industries seem to be the target groups expressing most ‘initial interest’. The interesting aspect to this story is how certain types of scientific outputs are more and more associated with future consumer products (as here, contact lenses or wereable’s) to communicate their foreseen functionality and impact.  

Recent reports and publications:

This week’s artefact from the future:
MastersArchive

Master’s Archive (IDEO & MIT Media Lab)
There are skills books just can’t teach. We really need to use tools and materials to understand how they work. But what will a making education look like in the future? We think the recent explosion in camera technologies will create new styles of learning. Imagine a depth camera tracking our movements as a professional gives you guidance. Or seeing your hands super-imposed on a screen as you learn new motions. We wondered how new sensors and new social elements could shape our learning environment. Could you use cameras to track your hands as you learn to knit? Could you use lasers to guide new interactions? Could you learn the nuances of a skill from master craftspeople? We designed the Master’s Archive to understand how mastery might be passed between student and teacher (watch the video).

Future Cities Digest #16 ‘revision edition’ (13.03.2014)

A short summary of the themes and stories which emerged in the last 8 weeks:

We’ve also picked-up on the following, interesting publications:

Internet of Things (Frog)
Operationalizing the Buzz: Big Data 2013 (Pentaho)
How Can Cities Nurture Cultural Entrepreneurs (The Kaufmann Foundation)
100 Data Innovation (The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation)
Cities Outlook 2014 (Centre for Cities)
2013 Global Go To Think Tank Report (University of Pennsylvania)
Climate Action in Megacities Version 2.0. (C40 Cities & Arup)
Emerging trends in Real Estate: Europe (PWC & Urban Land Institute)
Big & open data in Europe: A growing engine or missed opportunity? (Demos Europa)
What Do the Best Entrepreneurs Want In A City (Endeavour Insights)
Metro Growth: The UK’s economic opportunity (City Growth Commission)
Chicago Open Data Annual Report 2013 (Chicago City Council)
Smart city framework: guide for establishing strategies for smart cities and communities (BSI)
Climate change and social justice: an evidence review (Joseph Rowntree Foundation)
Infrastructure Investment Policy Blueprint (World Economic Forum)

& books

Public Space in Urban Asia, W. SW. Lim
Smart Communities: How Citizens and Local Leaders Use Strategic Thinking to Build a Brighter FutureS. Z. Moorse
The City as Interface: How New Media Are Changing the City, M. d. Vaal
The second machine age: Work, Progress and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies, E. Brynjolfson & A. McAfee
Visualizing the Data City: Social Media as a Source of Knowledge for Urban Planning and Management, L. Simeone, G. Lupi, P. Ciuccarelli
The Moment of Clarity: Using the Human Sciences to Solve Your Toughest Business Problems, C. Madsjberg, M. Rasmussen

Future Cities Digest #15 (6.03.14)

#street #lights #mobile #networks

During last weeks Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Philips and Ericsson jointly released a public announcement of a collaborative programme on a ‘connected LED lighting model’. According to IEEE Spectrum, the lighting-as-a-service model is pairing Philips street lights with Ericsson’s small cell mobile networks. The proposed light poles will now include small cell mobile telecom equipment that cities could rent to telecom operators. The payments from telecom providers should then help to pay for the infrastructure and help to scale the deployment of mobile broadband technology. The small cell (low-powered radio access nodes) seem to play an important for 3G data offloading & LTE development, in particular as telecoms are struggling with expensive infrastructural investments. Sensors embedded in these LEDs could be also used for other applications, including ‘understanding traffic patterns’ – quite an interesting attempt to combine retrofitting with economic incentives.

 #wireless #charging #mobile #MIT

The limited lifespan of batteries in portable devices is a continuous constrain for users and technology manufacturers. On one hand their energy efficiency is increasing, but on the other, technological sophistication of new tools makes the demand repeatedly higher. For some time now, the industry has been working on addressing this challenge with inductive / wireless charging. Back in 2011, Qualcomm along with TfL announced trialling such solutions for electrical vehicles in London, and in 2012, Nokia annouced it’s ‘charging pillow’ for the Lumia phone. Recently, according to MIT Tech Review, the ‘industry is starting to coalesce around a variant of wireless charging that has a much greater range’ meaning devices won’t have to be placed directly on special pads any more and could be bolted beneath existing surfaces at restaurants, airport waiting areas, and many other settings. The company that leads on this technology is a spin-off from the MIT physics department – Witrinicy of Watertown (and the global certification programme for this initiative is called Rezence).

 #multimodal #transit #dashboards #PSFK

PSFK picked up this week (and raised profile) of a new transportation software initiative available in NYC, Washington and a couple of other US cities. Transitscreen is a live transportation dashboard – a service that displays real time transit information of various modes of local transport networks. Co-founder Matt Caywood envisions that ‘this service will be a tool that changes people’s mindsets about only ever using one mode of transport’. The main idea behind the service is that a commuter can see at the same time – on a digital display – a variety of different means of transport (eg city bikes, buses, subways) and accordingly choose the most convenient / efficient. The application of these dashboards is marketed for property and estate managers, public institutions, bars and restaurants, so that they can offer their customers convenience and ‘peace of mind’ when thinking about local transportation.

 #Internet #networks #outages #resilience

Ever wondered how the spatial layout of Internet networks can be designed to reduce damage during a natural disaster? A team of mathematicians argues on behalf of MIT Tech Review that although Internet systems are currently laid out in a decentralised network, they still are quite highly vulnerable to disaster strikes. A report by the European Network and Information Security Agency (ENISA) released in August 2013 highlighted how internet and telephone outages with the longest recovery time are caused by natural phenomena. A study of 79 Internet and telephony outages found that storms – especially snowstorms – caused significantly longer outages than cyber-attacks. A point worth remembering when thinking about infrastructural resilience (full article available here).

Recent (and future) book releases:

In The Second Machine Age MIT’s Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee reveal the forces driving the reinvention of our lives and our economy. As the full impact of digital technologies is felt, ‘we will realize immense bounty in the form of dazzling personal technology, advanced infrastructure, and near-boundless access to the cultural items that enrich our lives’. Drawing on years of research and up-to-the-minute trends, Brynjolfsson and McAfee identify ‘the best strategies for survival and a new path to prosperity’.

The book investigates novel methods and technologies for the collection, analysis, and representation of real-time user-generated data at the urban scale in order to explore potential scenarios for more participatory design, planning, and management processes. The authors present a set of experiments conducted in collaboration with urban stakeholders at various levels (including citizens, city administrators, urban planners, local industries, and NGOs) in Milan and New York in 2012.

In The Moment of Clarity, Christian Madsbjerg and Mikkel Rasmussen from ReD Associates examine the business world’s assumptions about human behaviour and show how these assumptions can lead businesses off track. Why? ‘Because, more often than not, these tools are based on a flawed model of human behaviour. And that flawed model is the invisible scaffolding that supports our surveys, our focus groups, our R&D, and much of our long-term strategic planning.

This week’s artefact from the future:
FabToYou
Just in time manufacturing (IFTF)
Your friendly neighborhood mail truck is now your custom wedding gift truck, too. Using state-of-the-art 3D fabbing, the postal service has turned thousands of low-value post offices into neighbourhood production centers for all kinds of gifts—just minutes from their destination. Online registries mean the happy couple’s gifts don’t have to travel from all corners of the earth to get to the church on time. Of course, the postal production office also delivers Christmas and birthday presents, and even your monthly supply of coffee filters, slashing the cost of shipping.

Future Cities Digest #14 (27.02.14)

#emerging #technologies #futures #WEF

The World Economic Forum introduces annually a list of 10 emerging technologies which are considered as ‘high potential’, but still experience gaps in investment streams, regulation frameworks and public understanding. Within the group of 17 decision-makers – including scientist from top international research institutions and tech organizations – was also Sir David King. Not surprisingly, the majority of the listed technologies can be considered as impacting the way people might experience future cities – ranging from body-adapted wearable electronics, nanocarbon structured composites, through grid scale electricity-storagenano-wire lithium batteries to screen- less displays and predictive analytics for the quantified self. The particularly interesting aspect of some of these technologies is their potential for convergence – eg. one could imagine a novel application of lithium batteries to a certain group of wearable’s that further unlock quantified-self (or bionic) functionalities [etc.]. Having said that, it’s worth having a look into the 2013 list and see what came across as accurate, and what didn’t.

#context #awareness #mobile #Google

The big news from Google this week is Project Tango – ‘a project to give mobile devices a human-scale understanding of space and motion’. Highlighted in this week’s IEEE Spectrum, it is said to add an additional layer of depth to mobile phones, as it ‘allows to create 3D maps of whatever someone points out’. According to Google, the current prototype is “a 5” phone containing customized hardware and software designed to track the full 3D motion of the device, while simultaneously creating a map of the environment. These sensors allow the phone to make over a quarter million 3D measurements every second, updating it’s position and orientation in real-time, combining that data into a single 3D model of the space around you.” In the next days, Google is to release 200 development tools, which are addressed at professional developers ‘with dreams of creating more than a touch-screen app’. The kit is supposed to be used in projects in the areas of indoor navigation/mapping, single/multiplayer games that use physical space, and new algorithms for processing sensor data. If you find a few spare minutes, it’s worth watching the product launch video.

#design #incubator #co-working #NYC

New York is the host city for the first museum-led cultural incubator- a shared workspace for ‘kickstarting the business of design’. The new workspace called New Inc intends to attract artists, designers and technologists from various disciplines to collaborate in a lab-like environment. With New York being the place with the largest number of graduate designers in America, New Inc wants to be a place that brings together mentors, graduates, museum artists in residence and professionals to co-work, share resources and utilise the working museum. The non-profit incubator hopes to focus on themes such as Architecture and Urban Planning, Fashion and Wearable Tech, Interactive Installations and Web and Mobile Development.

#fountains #public #spaces #London

The British magazine Architects’ Journal and a tile company Turkishceramics challenged some of London’s top architects to design water fountains across sites in Kensington, South Bank and Soho. The six participating design studios were Zaha Hadid Architects, Studio Weave, Hopkins Architects, ADAM Architecture, Eric Parry Architects and Alford Hall Moaghan Morris. Although the designs served as a tool to advertise Turkish tiles, the idea questioned how city facilities and services can challenge the way we use public space and the meaning of public facilities. One advantage presented for the use of water fountains was the possibility of cutting down the costs and waste created from the use of plastic water bottles. After all, according to the authors, one of the reasons water fountains have fallen out of favour is the wide availability and popularity of bottled water. The design gallery is available in the FastCompany article.

This week’s reports and publications:

  • Infrastructure Investment Policy Blueprint – Feb 2014, World Economic Forum (highlights: a practical set of recommendations for governments on attracting private capital for infrastructure; policy and regulatory enablers for strategic infrastructure visions)

This week’s artefact from the future:
 DorTal
Future Control (Dor Tal - Bezalzen Academy)
Israeli designer Dor Tal has designed a set of gadgets that monitor data generated on social networks to help users predict the future and take action ahead of time. Dor Tal’s Future Control project imagines a personal horoscope built on your data that could predict everything from when you’re most likely to go to the gym, to what mood your partner is going to be in when they get home. Dor Tal‘s concept works in two ways. The first requires the user to download an app on to their smartphone that scours social networks for any data generated about the user, or other people and organisations that might affect them. An algorithm then detects any patterns of behaviour that could be forecast ahead of time. The more accounts the user adds, including credit card information, Google, Apple and Facebook, the more intelligent the device becomes.

Future Cities Digest #13 (20.02.2014)

#transformative #companies #MIT #TechReview

MIT Tech Review published recently a list of 50 ‘smartest companies‘ that in their opinion represent ‘companies that made strides in the past year that will define their field’. The top three are Ilumina, Tesla Motors and Google. Ilumina was ranked first, as it is becoming the dominant supplier of fundamental technology – both software & hardware – for the age of genomic medicine. Second is Tesla Motors, pioneering electric vehicles and selling twice as many cars as either Nissan or GM did when they first introduced their battery-powered vehicles. Thirdly – and not surprisingly - Google, with its strengthening capabilities in consumer electronics. Other organizations on the list worth the attention include: D-Wave - for trying to build the quantum computer, Bright Source – for deploying the world’s largest solar plant, Oculus VR – for spearheading virtual reality headsets, Jawbone - for making wearable and tracking technology mainstream, and Uber - for disrupting the taxi business.

#glass #wearable’s  #diffusion #Google

Google’s flagship wearable – Glass –  tackles with problems of ‘being a device which is so different from existing mobile computers, having a software ecosystem which is immature, and a concept which seems too geeky to be a successful mass-market product’. For that reason Google already engages in initiatives ‘de-geekyfing the user experience. It is carefully selecting its early adopters (in the ‘Explorers Programme’), introduces mass-market designer frames, and releases a guide for nor being a ‘Glasshole’. After all, one of the thorniest questions is about privacy — or rather, privacy perceptions – the main problem remaining: how do we prove we’re not taking a picture? Another unsettled aspect is usability – Google’s voice recognition works extremely well for navigating menus (because it’s easy to match a second of speech with one of a dozen possible menu choices) but the technology is not as reliable for captioning photos and replying to messages point, especially in crowded settings. There is a good, comprehensive article about the device – worth the time for those interested.

#snow #neckdowns #traffic #Economist

What does snow tell us about natural traffic control? The Economist dedicated this week a column to an initiative supported by Streetfilms, a company which specialises in using short films to highlight how transportation design (and policies) lead to ‘smarter cities’. It has been engaged in raising awareness about ‘sneckdowns’ (originating from ‘snowy’ + ‘neckdown’), an idea that takes advantage of using snow accumulated after storms for designing safer streets. The snow acts as ‘nature’s tracing paper’ and unravels how cars and pedestrians use the street. This reveals where cars carve a path through the city and more importantly, the parts of the road left untouched by the wheels. These surplus spaces could be then used for ‘traffic calming’, narrowing roads or introducing street furniture. Also, people are encouraged to get involved in raising awareness about their area by taking pictures of their streets and uploading the content via twitter. This initiative corresponds quite well with yesterday’s presentation from Claire about human-centred design and creating cities for people.

 #design #futures #architecture #NYC

The Museum of Modern Art PS1 and the art institute in New York have recently selected architect David Benjamin as the winner of their annual Young Architects Program competition. The winning building called Hi-Fy is marketed as a showcase for ‘a new paradigm in design’ –  a combination of self-assembling, industrial and compostable elements. That said, Hi-Fy is a self-assembling fungus tower. It is made up of bricks composed of chopped up corn husks and mycelin (fungus). Once these two elements are combined they are placed in a rectangular mould made up of rectangular shapes allowing for the building to grow into place – morphing the disciplines of biological technology and architecture. The building will be grown in July 2014 at the MoMA PS1 site in New York.

New releases on Amazon:

William SW Lim, chairman of the Asian Urban Lab, brought together architects, designers, historians, sociologists and urbanists from the region to discuss public space in selected Asian cities – Chongqing, Hong Kong, Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore and Taipei.  The book emphasises how engaging with the present actuality of cities and public awareness of spatial justice are crucial  for the achievement of spatial justice that helps to create a greater level of happiness across societies.

Based on the results of research by the Pew Partnership for Civic Change, “Smart Communities” provides directions for strategic decision-making and outlines key strategies used by thousands of leaders who have worked to create successful communities. The book offers leaders from both the public and private sectors tools they need to build a civic infrastructure and create a better space for all the community’s citizens.

De Vaal’ book discusses the ways in which digital and mobile media are changing urban life and our everyday experience of our physical surroundings; it ask how do they affect how the city functions as a community and provides both examples of new media implementations as well as some historical case studies.

This week’s artefact from the future:
 ChoiceReducer
Choice Reducer 5000 (IFTF)
3:11 pm, your weakest time. You’ve already reached your calorie limit for the day, but the vending machine still calls. Time for a new defense — an app for your augmented reality glasses that blocks from view the foods that you shouldn’t eat. Instead, the app shows minutes of treadmill time to work them off. Your best friend Neela is your food coach, and she even removes your worst weakness altogether. Mounting evidence shows that the plethora of choices we face when finding food are bad for our peace of mind and self-control, but store formats are slow to change. Manufacturers are in a bind between simplifying and catering to fragmenting desires. But in this future, an individual reclaims choice through voluntary simplicity: using augmented reality to mask temptations and stick to health goals.

Future Cities Digest #12 (13.02.2014)

#hyper-local #partnerships #Foursquare #Microsoft

Microsoft has agreed last week an important partnership with Foursquare - the ‘deal’ gives the Seattle-company access to Foursquare user data about physical movements and preferences among real-world shops, restaurants, bars and the like. Thanks to using this data Microsoft should be able to personalize search results, and better target ads on its Bing search engine. As some comment “Foursquare will be providing ‘rich data’ straight into Microsoft devices” which indicates current users may realize that their Foursquare data will meaningfully improve the search results they get from Bing. This deal suggests an early indication of how Microsoft might plan to compete with the likes of Google and Facebook in the ‘future of the retail / internet’ battleground – especially, as deep artificial intelligence (at the core of Google’s recent DeepMind acquisition), and consumer products like Google Shopper, might soon learn and begin to anticipate our shopping needs and preferences.

#government #futures #artefacts #UAE

At the beginning of this week Dubai was hosting the 2014 Government Summit led by the UAE government in partnership with the UN, World Economic Forum and the OECD. The main plenary sessions covered the usual conversations on ‘First Hand Discussions from Global Cities’Futures of Education ServicesHealthcareTransportation and Government Service, ‘Smart Societies for Smart Cities’ and ‘Smart Government Services’ – and invited guests ranged from mayors of Barcelona and Seoul, to the likes of Klaus Schwab, Francis Maude, Richard Florida, Peter Diamandis and other government leaders (full list available here). A particularly appealing addition to the summit was the Museum of Future Government Services – created in collaboration with SuperfluxFabrica and Institute for the Future - which showcased a design futures exhibition with interactive artefacts on international travel, healthcare and education, as well as 8 trends that will impact the future landscape of government services.

#wayfinding #community #project #Lambeth

A very interesting, ‘collaborative wayfinding’ project has recently been completed in Lambeth, South London, run on behalf of a housing estate developer Network Housing Group as part of a long term cultural strategy to refurbish the area. The ‘culture and placemaking’ consultancy called Future City have co-ordinated the overall cultural strategy and appointed the design company Hat-Trick designs to undertake the project. Local artists were commissioned to come up with a ‘palette of patterns’ that represent local culture, history and architecture of the area. ‘The brief we were given was to help the estate feel more accessible and welcoming – the signs needed to be clear and simple, with the aim of helping both the first time visitor and residents of the estate. The estate has a wide variety of buildings and surfaces within it, so the signage needed to be adaptable.’ According to the project leaders, it has brought together a wide range of artists and designers in working together to ‘create a more welcoming and accessible estate’.

#DIY #design #collaboration #LosAngeles

In Los Angeles, the city Department of Transport has launched sometime ago DIY (Do-it-Yourself) Design Kits that allow to ‘create pedestrian plazas, mini parks, and bike parking’s’ to re-appropriate any of the 7,500 miles of street within the city, through a community transformation project called People St. The kits consist of pre tested, pre-approved designs and whenever a community is interested in changing their streets, the only thing they need to do is: apply for the kit and pay for materials and installation – hence, skipping the bureaucratic city planning limitations. The kits have been developed over a number of years through the collaboration of community groups and various other stakeholder all working towards the larger goal of ‘improving the quality of life in Los Angeles’.

 Recent reports and publications out there:

  •  What Do the Best Entrepreneurs Want In A City – Endeavour Insights, Feb. 2014 (highlights: surveys and interviews with founders of 150 fastest growing US companies, key message – pool of talent, liveability, access to suppliers & customers [and personal reasons] more important than taxation or bureaucracy when choosing where to launch a company)
  •  Metro Growth: The UK’s economic opportunity – City Growth Commission, Feb. 2014 (highlights: comparative stats of UK cities [metro area] in a regional and European context, mostly economic, labour and migration indicators + a long-list of the Commissions programme focus)
  •  Chicago Open Data Annual Report 2013 – Chicago City Council, Feb. 2014 (highlights: review of the Chicago Open Data initiative, useful descriptions and commentary of currently used public datasets [in transportation, admin, housing, health etc.] + strategic direction of key new data initiatives)

This weeks’ artefacts from the future:
NoPathogens
Border control of the future (Museum of Future Public Services)
“With big data, intelligent sensors and better coordination, metal detectors, immigration queues, passports and visas will become a thing of the past – allowing for a more welcoming and humane experience. Travellers passing through the border control of the future will have their data scanned passively and unobtrusively as they walk through a specially designed corridor of light and sound. Humanoid-robot hosts and hostesses will be welcoming at the entrance and exit, adding a ‘personal touch’ for an improved experience of travel and security.”

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