Future Cities Digest #29 (12/06/2014)

by Diana Phiri-Witty

#pop-up buses #predictive analytics #Bridj #Boston

The New York Times covered an interesting story about an emerging ‘pop-up’ bus service in Boston this month. Technology start-up Bridj aspires to become a ‘data-driven’ shared transportation service, and has started offering a smartphone app that aggregates data about peoples commutes (reportedly, from Foursquare, Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin), and tailors shuttle-bus services depending on demand. The service is a bit more up-market than the bus or metro-tram, but much cheaper than taxis or services similar to ZipCar. On tested routes the service is said to save approx. 1h of daily commute (2x 30 minutes), it arrives on time, and offers onboard services such as Wi-Fi and refreshments. Back in 2013, similar services designed for tech-companies in Silicon Valley were met with public protesters accusing the idea of being a process  of gentrification, but it seems San Francisco is keen to experiment with its own pilot programmes. Worth noting that one of the primary financial backers of Bridj is Jill Preotle, an early investor in Zipcar, who said she was drawn to the company because of its potential to reduce car ownership, and therefore traffic and air pollution.

 #air quality #sensors # citizen participation #Know your air

The potential of citizen deployed air quality sensors was discussed this week in an interesting article that explored methods in which sensors have been introduced into various neighourhoods across the US and Europe. Some of the benefits of citizen participation in air quality data collection are that it could potentially lead to greater area coverage and thus better levels of comparative analysis. The article also mentions the work of Boston College professor Mike Barnett who sees the distribution of sensors as a way ‘…to get science in places where people wouldn’t normally see it, and get people talking about it.’ Barnett’s ‘Know your air’ project works by placing sensor kits in local stores and community centers, and linking the sensors to interactive display screens for the purpose of educating the public. However there is awareness that citizen deployed sensors are cheap and therefore often inaccurate, which questions whether governments will encourage collaboration between city driven and citizen driven air quality data.

#Keiichi Matsuda #Mobility #Augmented Reality #Technology

Imagine a subjective city that visually caters to your preferences and needs. Keiichi Matsuda is the latest designer to discuss his vision of the future of mobility for the Dezeen and Mini Frontiers exhibition, which will open in September. Matsuda envisions a city where virtual worlds can be layered onto physical spaces. The content of the layers could be personalised so that individuals could select the layers best suited for their tastes and interests. For the exhibition Matsuda will present a video showing what the driving experience might be like through augmented reality. The ability to see numerous layers whilst driving could open up new levels of perception and thus revolutionise how people interact with transport infrastructure. As for the interface from which the virtual world could be accessed, Matsuda envisions going beyond surfaces like Google glasses and interacting with virtual reality through smart contact lenses or even direct projection onto the retina.

#shared-economy #market valuations #Uber #Airbnb

A few months ago some big news in the tech-world was Airbnb’s market valuation at $10 billion, more than the market estimates of long-established hotel chains such as Hyatt Hotels and Wydham.  Now, the valuation frenzy has moved to the next ‘shared-economy’ wonderchild – Uber. According to Businessweek, the on-demand ride service has just raised $1.2 billion venture capital in a fundraising round which now values it at $17 billion. This makes its valuation higher than the market capitalization of rental-car giants such as Hertz ($12 bln) and Avis ($6 bln). Whether this is reasonable or not, you can try to deduce from 4-nicely laid arguments in Slate. According to some critical voices, although these companies (Uber & Airbnb) facilitate the use of underutilized resources, their business models might be based on evading, or lagging with the spirit of times regulations. This weeks protests of cabby drivers in London is an example of how the market reacts (or, defends the ‘status quo’).

Recent reports and publications:

This weeks artefact from the future:

Recycling shower of the future (Orbital Systems)
A Swedish technology company called Orbital Systems is tackling the issue of water conservation with a new household shower that purifies any water that goes down the drain and sends it back to the shower head. By the company’s estimations, its closed-loop system could retain over 90 percent of the water and 80 percent of the energy consumed by an ordinary shower.