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.