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

Month: May, 2014

Future Cities Digest #27 (29/05/14)

by Diana Phiri-Witty

#Start-ups #ChallengeCup #HandUp #Mellowcabs

This month, 1776- an incubator platform for start-ups held their first annual Challenge Cup competition in Washington. Organisers scoured across the globe and visited 16 countries to hear pitches from budding technology start-ups.  The winner of the $150,000 grand prize in the Smart Cities category was San Francisco based start up HandUp. Handup is a social platform that uses technology to allow people to donate basics such as food, clothing and medical care directly to the homeless and at risk people in their community. Smart Cities runner up went to Cape Town based Mellowcabs, a company that promotes eco-friendly transportation across the city. The company manufactures their own electric vehicles and they keep the cost to the consumer down as the bulk of their income comes from advertising on their cabs. The competition brought together a wide range of companies working with innovations addressing smart cities, education, energy and healthcare.

#smart-grids #Nest #Google #IoT

Conversations around smart-grids and IoT heated up at the beginning of the year when Google acquired Nest, the smart thermostat manufacturer. Founded by former Apple engineers in 2010 it is said to turn ‘the humble thermostat into a slick, Internet-connected gadget’ and according to estimates by Morgan Stanley, it is now selling over 100,000 of these devices a month. Utility companies are somehow perplexed by Nest’s rapid growth. On one hand they seem already excited about its ‘demand response’ application – remotely tuning down people’s air conditioners to converge power on hot summer days – but at the same time feel that the company is building a foothold in their market and are not yet sure about the consequences for their business. To get the bigger picture of Nest (and its implications for the integration of city systems) it is worth returning to Dan’s opinion piece in Dezeen. Also, worth noting that back in December Google submitted a filing to a governmental regulatory body (S.E.C.) asking for permission to place ads on refrigerators, car dashboards, thermostats, glasses and watches.

 #CycleScheme #Schools #Community #STARS

A three year Sustainable Travel Accreditation and Recognition for Schools (STARS) program is working with 9 schools in 9 European cities to implement ideas for innovative cycle to school projects.  The schools based in Bielefeld, Brussels, Budapest, Edinburgh, London-Hackney, Krakow, Madrid, Milan and Noord Brabant are all working towards achieving a 5% ‘modal shift from car-to-bike.’ Collaboration is at the heart of the projects bringing together teachers, parents, school administrators and knowledgeable cyclists in order to assess the barriers children face when cycling to school. In primary schools children can gain certificates of recognition for ‘achievements in using sustainable alternatives to cars.’ For older children a STARS Youth Travel Ambassador Scheme (YTAS) encourages students to take responsibility in organising and designing campaigns to encourage their peers to cycle more. A key part of the program is also to draw on successful international best practice examples as a means of creating a ‘flexible and adaptable’ cycle scheme model.

 #autonomous #vehicles #pilot programme #Google

Despite working for the last few years with a number of car manufacturers on creating a universal operating system for autonomous vehicles, it turns out Google has been also working from scratch on its own product line. The company revealed this week that it is building a fleet of a 100 of these vehicles for its own purposes, with the aim of “bringing this technology to the world safely”. The ‘toy-like’ concept has two seats, a screen displaying the route, a system allowing for the anticipation of third-party behaviour (you can see how this technology works in this video) and a capped speed of 25 mph. The design of the car is different from typical vehicles – Google said its testing had suggested it was safer to remove conventional controls altogether because the results of a human having to take over suddenly and unexpectedly were unpredictable and potentially dangerous, and therefore the car lacks the steering wheel. You can watch the product marketing video here.

Recent reports and publications:

  • The London Recipe: How Systems And Empathy Make The City – May 2014, Centre for London (highlights: ‘key ingredients’of London as a successful city, case studies of intersections of ‘systems and empathy’, six propositions for creating ‘socially intelligent systems’)
  • Cities of Opportunity 2014 – May 2014, PWC (highlights: benchmark of 30 international cities, aggregated indicator ranking in 10 categories incl.: innovation, transport & infrastructure, technology readiness, sustainability, liveability etc.)
  • Climate Change: Implications for cities – May 2014, ICLEI (highlights: Key Findings from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fifth Assessment Report focusing on cities.)

 This weeks artefact from the future
The Roombots can attach and detach from each other on command in order to create an arbitrary structure depending on the task at hand. The research team envisions that a group of Roombots could be used to connect to each other to make different types of furniture, such as stools, chairs, sofas and tables depending on requirements. The furniture would be able to change shape over time, for example a set of chairs could connect to become a sofa and could also reconfigure for the most comfortable fit for the user. When not in use, the robots could arrange themselves discretely as a wall or a box.


Future Cities Digest #26 (22/05/14)

by Lukasz Alwast

#vibrant #cities #preservation #diversity

new study from the US argues that neighbourhoods and commercial areas with a mixture of small and old buildings are more vibrant, walkable and foster businesses diversity. Research conducted by The National Trust for Historic Preservation analysed three cities and forty metrics of economic and social life including: income, jobs per square foot, number of businesses owned by women and minorities, the mix of big chains and small businesses. The findings revealed that the areas with older and small building stock attract more restaurants, shops and thus more foot traffic. Not surprisingly, there are also opposing voices. Edward Glaeser argues that ‘preservationists who oppose new developments restrict the supply of new housing’ and thus drive the prices up – the authors argue that ‘smaller older buildings don’t lend themselves well to formulate chain stores’ and they ‘keep cities affordable for local businesses and lower income renters’.

#virtual #reality #Oculus #Rift

The virtual-reality headset company Oculus Rift attracted significant attention back in April when Facebook announced its purchase for the $2bln price tag. Following on this Wired published recently an insiders account of the birth emergence of the company and how ‘virtual reality is becoming a reality’.  The article lays out how the 21-old hardware geek (Palmer Luckey) and virtual-reality veteran (John Carmack) came together to develop what is now described as the first VR “no-motion sickness experience” and “one of the five or six tech-demos that make you think the world is about to change: Apple II, Netscape, Google, iPhone…and now Oculus”. Worth noting that for Zuckerberg the device is ‘not just a gaming tool, but a full-fledged communications platform – something that will allow to ‘share experiences’ on a unprecedented scale’. Expected applications for the Rift include: immersive gaming, teleconferencing, healthcare and education.

#architecture #competitions #bus #stops

Seven international architects were invited to design bus stops in the small town of Krumbach in Austria. The project was a collaborative effort to bring together foreign architects and local crafts people for an ‘international exchange of ideas’. Initiated primarily as a tool to encourage tourism in the area, it was supported with funding from local sponsors, businesses, craft workers and hotel and inn owners. The architects came up with a range of designs that took into account the landscape and views of the surrounding area. Some reviewers didn’t feel comfortable with the designs and questioned the functionality of the bus stops seeing them as ‘structures that split the difference between architecture and sculpture’  – however, the authors argue that the bus stops move beyond being ‘conceptual flights of fancy’ as they are generally ‘grounded in quotidian purpose’.

#data #visualisation #retail #innovation

An interesting blog post appeared recently on HBR discussing how data visualisation is supporting retailers in understanding consumer behaviour and  ‘movement patterns’ in shopping spaces. By using existing security cameras and BLE technologies retailers are striving to track the movement of their customers and identify commercially valuable insights. Color-coded data visualisations are said to allow them to turn a store floor into an analytics narrative, as conveying information on customer movements on heat maps makes it much easier to recognize what paths are people choosing or how much time they spend at certain parts of the shop. This helps owners to test out their sales assumptions and adjust staffing level and space allocations. That said – “companies are just starting to experiment with how location analytics can improve a shopper’s experience and boost their own sales”.

Recent reports and publications:

  • The Internet of Things Will Thrive By 2025 – May 2014, Pew Research  (highlights: extensive analysis of opinions about the likely expansion of IoT, a combination of 1600 survey responses and in-depth expert interviews)

This weeks artefacts from the future
Caddy Suitcase
Caddy Smart (Jihyun Seo)
[original description] “Caddy Smart Carry-on Suitcase is a high-tech suitcase equipped with an app for people to travel smarter. The concept features ‘unbreakable OLED’ on its cover and provides essential travel information. It is equipped with a movement detection system and two screens. One is a ‘quick screen’ which is activated when Caddy is stationed – to provide information about local time, exchange rate, current location, Wi-Fi, and the ‘background-screen’ shows the current weather. The bigger screen displays more specific information about travellers’ flight, navigation, world clock, world exchange rates, world weather, scheduler, and facility.”


Future Cities Digest #25 (15/05/2014)

by Diana Phiri-Witty

#autism  #inclusive #design #toolkit

Two interesting articles that have emerged recently look at how buildings and cities can be designed to make life easier for people with autism. The first article follows Cairo based architect Magda Mostafa who developed the Autism ASPECTSS Design index whilst designing a school for children with autism. The ASPECTSS index approaches built environment design through looking at different sensory sequences through spaces. It proposes ideas such as ‘escape spaces,’ and ‘sensory havens.’ The index, which is being applied internationally, was developed alongside teachers, parents and caregivers. A second article worth looking at is set in the America where landscape architecture student Elizabeth Decker has developed a toolkit forAn inclusive urban design approach to planning for adults with autism.’ Her project proposes incorporating services for autistic users into existing urban networks and future urban developments.

 #information #hubs #WiFi #NYC

New York City launched recently a request for proposals to build a citywide network of Internet hotspots, that will create one of the largest free Wi-Fi networks in the US, and facilitate a new generation of ‘information hubs’. The idea behind the concept is to use the historic part of the New York street fabric and enhance public availability of ‘increasingly-vital’ broadband access and digital services. In addition to 24/7 free Wi-Fi, the communication structures are expected to offer phone charging stations and touch screens that provide the city additional means of disseminating emergency notifications and information during citywide events. Interestingly, the current request for proposals is an outcome of a quite lengthy public consultation process that began in 2012. The city received more than 125 submissions featuring a variety of innovations – from augmented reality and hyper-local sensors, to voice and gesture controlled kiosks – all collected through ‘the future of the pay-phone’ contest.

 #smart #bike #Vanhawks  #cycle

For those who have ever had to juggle cycling busy streets whilst navigating by looking at a smartphone map, the Vanhawks Valour smart bike might be the solution to a more seamless cycling experience. A Canadian based kickstarter project has unveiled designs for a smart connected carbon fiber bicycle. The bike works by being paired up with a smartphone, which relays preset directions to the cyclist through LED lights built into the left and right hand side of the handlebars. The bike also has sensors on its wheels to detect when cars come too close. Questions have arisen as to whether it is viable to build so much technology into a vehicle that often needs repairs, but creators have at least ensured that the bike parts for the Vanhawks can be serviced at a normal repair shop.

 #V2V #standards #platforms #Nokia

Car manufacturers and third-party suppliers are both competing and cooperating to establish standards that enable cars to seamlessly connect to the Internet. At the beginning of May, Nokia launched a $100 mln. venture fund to invest in companies working on connected car technologies. According to one of the partners at Nokia – “Vehicles are becoming a new platform for technology adoption, very similar to phones or tablet”. And the Finnish company, which sold its mobile phone unit to Microsoft last week, already has a major presence in the car navigation sector. According to Bloomberg, it provides map data to four out of five car-navigation systems and companies (including Amazon, Microsoft and Yahoo). Also worth a notice, IEEE Spectrum released it’s special report on the self-driving car, where internal and external connectivity of vehicles are a major feature.

Recent reports and publications out there:

This week’s artefact from the future:
Blood/Meat Energy Future- Book for Parents (Science Museum – Dunne & Raby)
This was part of a 2004 exhibition looking at energy futures – hypothetical products were used to explore the ethical, cultural and social impact of different energy futures. The scenarios include: domestic hydrogen production and child labour with specially designed family uniforms and corporate logos; bio-fuel created from human waste; and meat-based microbial fuel cells. Each scenario is based on a real technology and simply asks what would happen if this became the main form of energy in the not too distant future.

Future Cities Digest #24 (08/05/2014)

by Lukasz Alwast

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

‘Quantified district’ – Hudson Yards in New York becoming with the help of CUSP an ‘urban laboratory for data science
Awards for urban ingenuity – Bloomberg Philanthropies announcing the European finalists of their Mayors Challenge
Android OS for wearable’s – Google releasing its new operation system focused on a new generation of smart watches
Android OS for vehicles – Audi, GM, Honda, Google and Nvidia creating an alliance to bring a common platform to allow automakers to bring cutting-edge technologies to their drivers
High-speed broadband in cars – Audi, GM and Toyota rolling-out 4G LTE communication into consumer vehicles
Bold moves in the augmented-reality industry  – Facebook taking over the virtual-reality manufacturer Oculus-Rift
Predictive events-participation analytics – a group of scientist at Cambridge Uni working with Foursquare data to anticipate events people attend
Prototyping modular phones – Google hosting a developer conference around its ‘modular-phone’ – Project Ara

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

Scenarios for the Development of Smart Grids in the UK (UKERC)
Refiling the Innovators Prescription: The new wave of med-tech (Nesta)
Millennials in Adulthood: Detached from Institutions, Networked with Friends (Pew Research Center)
The future of public health: a horizon scan (RAND)
Mapping Smart Cities in the EU (European Parliament)
Open Data for Resilience Initiative: a Field Guide (World Bank)
Smart People, Smart Places: Realizing Digital Local Government (NLGN)
The Future is Cities (MIT Spectrum)
Cities Alive (Arup)
Digital Life 2025 (Pew Research Center)
Good Incubation (Nesta)
Growing Greener Cities: In Latin America and the Caribbean (FAO)
The Medellin Declaration (UN Habitat)
U.S Views of Technology and the Future (Pew Research Centre)
Innovation Population (Nesta)

& recent books:

Urban Ecology: Science of Cities (Richard T.T. Forman)
Social Physics: How Good Ideas Spread – The Lessons From a New Science (Alex Pentland)
Well-Being and Beyond: Broadening the Public and Policy Discourse (T. Hamalainen & J. Michealson)
Internet of Things Based on Smart Objects (Giancarlo Fortino, Paolo Trufno)
A History of Future Cities (D. Brook)
Food City  (C.J. Lim)

Future Cities Digest #23 (01/05/2014)

by Diana Phiri-Witty

#mapping #jobs #transport #Conveyal

Which neighbourhoods are best suited for those who work in finance? If you are a designer, architect or artist, how many jobs are available within a half hour of your house? These are noteworthy questions that software development firm Conveyal is asking. They have created software that collates information such as census data, industry location, job statistics, public transit feeds and open source mapping. This information is then used to produce maps that detail how accessible various jobs are, and by which modes of transport, and from which areas. This type of data could further be used to explore the best areas for building new houses, determine how cycle paths or bus routes could improve job access, and inform where companies could set up their offices in order to attract employees in their industry.

 #urban #crowdfunding #projects #Guardian

Last week Guardian Cities collated and shared an interesting selection of 13 urban crowdfunding projects. Case studies include a proposition to redesign a rundown area around a road flyover in Liverpool and turn it into an urban park so as to connect pedestrians and cyclists with the heritage quarter of the city. Another venture is located in Memphis, where a crowdfunding project is aimed at raising money for a Civic Solar plant that is expected to provide solar capability for 30 different municipal building across the city. There is also an interesting project in Wales, where a group of local activists managed to crowdfund over £750 000 to create “a multi-purpose community centre to host a conference suite for local businesses and community groups, an IT centre to host workshops and facilities for young people”.

 #sunlight #cities #solar #planning

One article that has received great media interest this week explores the historical and current discussions surrounding the right to sunlight in cities. Writer Henry Grabar studies ideas of how Greek and Roman cities of the past, to modern day American cities have considered sun patterns in their planning. It is intriguing to traverse through time and see how the issue of access to sunlight has evolved from being considered as essential to the quality of life of citizens; to it’s potential of being a source of economic empowerment through urban solar panels. Graber explains how a Tokyo court in the 1970s ruled that ‘Sunshine is essential to a comfortable life, and therefore a citizen’s right to enjoy sunshine at his home should be duly protected by law,’ and we also see a case in 2008 where one neighbour was sued because their trees were casting a shadow on their neighbours solar panels.

 #mobile #transformations #Nokia #Microsoft

This week Microsoft has completed the acquisition of the devices and services wing of Nokia. The Finish company through 150 years of its history transitioned from making paper, tyres, generators, mobile phones – and is now focusing on three core technologies: network infrastructure, maps and location-based services and licensing and development capabilities. The $7.2bln deal implies that 25,000 Nokia employees are now expected to move to Microsoft and the software maker will morph into a heavy-weigh contender in the hardware industry. With its capacity of shipping more than 200 million handsets a year, Microsoft is joining the stage with Samsung, Apple, Huawei and Lenovo, in the international smartphone industry.

 Recent hot releases: 

“This book broadens the public and policy discourse on the importance of well-being by examining psychological, social, environmental, economic, organizational, institutional and political determinants of individual well-being. This book will be of interest to individuals following the current public and policy debates about well-being, as well as to policy makers in fields of social and health care, environmental planning, urban development, and innovation, industrial and economic policy.”

“As different as the origins of St. Petersburg, Mumbai, Shanghai, and Dubai are, they share a characteristic as historical outposts of Western trade, architecture, and culture. Brook explores the ramifications in chronicles of each city, prominent among which are tensions between the modernizing influences of these cities and the traditional customs of the countries in which they are situated.”

 ‘…innovative architect and urban designer CJ Lim explores the issue of urban transformation and how the creation, storage and distribution of food has been and can again become a construct for the practice of everyday life. Food City investigates the reinstatement of food at the core of national and local governance — how it can be a driver to restructure employment, education, transport, tax, health, culture, communities, and the justice system, re-evaluating how the city functions as a spatial and political entity.’

This week’s artefact from the future:
inFORM (MIT Media Lab)
inFORM is a Dynamic Shape Display that can render 3D content physically, so users can interact with digital information in a tangible way. inFORM can also interact with the physical world around it, for example moving objects on the table’s surface. Remote participants in a video conference can be displayed physically, allowing for a strong sense of presence and the ability to interact physically at a distance.