Future Cities Digest

Our weekly synopsis of stories & signals that we believe might impact future lives in cities.

Future Cities Digest #38 (30/09/2014)

Media stories

Reports and publications:



Future Cities Digest #14 (27.02.14)

#emerging #technologies #futures #WEF

The World Economic Forum Global Agenda Council on Emerging Technologies introduces annually a list of 10 emerging technologies which are considered as ‘high potential’, but still represent gaps in investment streams, regulation and public understanding. Within the group of 17 committee member – including scientist from top international research institutions and tech organizations – is also Sir David King. Not surprisingly, the majority of the listed technological fields can be considered as substantially impacting the way people live in (future) cities – this ranges 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 these technologies is however their potential for convergence – eg. one could imagine a novel application of lithium batteries to a certain group of wearable’s that unlock advanced quantified self-functionality etc. Having said that, it’s worth having a look into the 2013 list and see what was accurate, and what wasn’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:

This week’s artefact from the future:
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:
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 Services, Healthcare, Transportation 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 Superflux, Fabrica 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:
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.”

Future Cities Digest #11 (6.02.2014)

#vehicle-to-vehicle #communication #sensors #US

The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHSTA) announced recently that it is finalizing a trial with 3000 cars in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and will soon draft rules that would “require vehicle-to-vehicle devices in new vehicles in a future year”. As envisioned by the agency, vehicles equipped with V2V could send position and speed data to one another (ten times per second over an ad hoc wireless network), so on-board computers could then calculate whether nearby vehicles are a threat and alert drivers. Future protocols might also incorporate information from on-board sensors that are growing more popular among carmakers, creating a road-spanning network of sensors alerting cars to problems that are up or down the road. The NHTSA commented that “anonymous data from connected vehicles will be open to the public and could be used for a myriad of new safety, mobility and environmental applications.” Back in Europe, the Car to Car Consortium is still in the process of developing an open-European standard.

#disabilities #empowerment #tech #Microsoft

Big news for Microsoft this week – the company has announced its new, third in the 40 years history of the company CEO, Satya Nadella. Days before the announcement, during last week’s Superbowl, Microsoft also launched its recent social campaign ‘Empowering Us All’. The company communicates its message with 6 video stories, each presenting a material illustrating lives of people with disabilities and the positive impact technological innovation have had for them. Two videos particularly seem to be worth the attention as they illustrate some of the non-immediately-business-orientated technologies that Microsoft seems to be enthusiastic about. The first story tells us about Steve Gleaseon (a former NHL player, touched with ALS) and his daily use of eye-tracking and text-to-speech technology. The second brings up the story of a medical centre in Seattle, which uses the Kinect controller to browse 3D images of patients X-ray’s during severe surgical procedures (using both 3D imaging & gesture recognition) – good examples to see technological convergence. All the videos can be watched here.

#housing #shortage #agile #spaces

Last month the Economist covered in detail the story of the ‘UK housing problem’ – addressing the challenge of growing urban population, stressed public infrastructure and people having to adapt to smaller living spaces. Next to this, on the other side of the Atlantic architects and designers have been coming up with various designs that  recognize loopholes in city planning regulations and propose using the “if you can’t go up, go out” cantilever system to tackle issues of limited space. This is not a new trend, but fits in a larger picture in architecture with similar designs over the last few years being parasite architecture that latches onto an existing building for support. On a similar topic of space saving, a design studio from Spain – Elii Architects – has come up with an interior layout of moving walls that effectively use space and allow for multiple functions  – a clever solution that addresses the shortage of space by suggesting ways of making small spaces flexible and adaptable.

#underground #retrofitting #farming #subways

From the air to underground, two UK entrepreneurs have set up a 2.5 acre crop farm below the Northern Line, near Clapham North in London. 100 feet under the streets ‘nutrient rich’ water and LED bulbs are being used to grow the plants which are (planned) to be sold to restaurants and supermarkets.  At the same time, in Paris, there are plans to make use of abandoned subway tunnels by turning them into entertainment venues – including proposals for a nightclub, a theatre and a swimming pool. These examples show an interesting design trend in reclaiming parts of the city and giving them a new function to enrich urban space and life.

 Recent reports and publications out there:

This weeks artefacts from the future

Willie Bus

Transparent LCD ‘Willie’ Bus
“A city bus that can be transformed into a mobile billboard displaying advertisements or film clips in the most attractive parts of town or provide passengers with additional information and entertainment such as route plans, weather reports, press and TV coverage as well as tourist information presented at bus stops in an eye-catching way – „Willie” represents minimalistic and elegant design that emphasizes the functional aspect of this mode of transport.“


Your Own AI-Personalized Companion [Her – The Movie]
“Stories of a dystopian future often depict one of two different forms of human slavery. The first invokes the fear of pain; the second points to the appeal of pleasure. “Her” – Spike Jonze’s new film, depicts a dystopia of pleasure, because it casts new light on a phenomenon that is unique to our time: personalization. It shows a story of a man who falls in love with the voice of his computer operating system, and illustrates the simultaneous comfort, stimulation and artificiality of less-than-human connections -– with phones, with tablets, with operating systems of all kinds. “

Future Cities Digest #10 (31.01.2014)

#car #free #zones #Hamburg

The city of Hamburg declared recently that it is planning to have a car free city centre within the next 20 years. City officials proposed a ‘Green Network’ that will cover 40% of the city, incentivising citizens to travel through it by public transport, on foot or by bike. Some argue that this scheme will take up land that could otherwise be used for housing, while others, that the green network will attract educated and competent people to the city. Similar projects, at a smaller scale, are also being happening in Auckland, New Zealand – for example a ‘pop up’ car free zone that closes up its streets to cars on a Saturday afternoon. An interesting piece collating similar visions appeared a few months ago in Web Urbanist, exploring 14 concepts for mobility intervention and master plans for car less cities.

#mobile #data #analytics #patterns

Scientist at the Institute de Physique Theorique in Paris decided to use mobile phone data to map the structure of cities and how people use it throughout the day. The group worked on a database of mobile phone calls made by people in the 31 Spanish cities that have populations larger than 200,000. The results reveal some interesting patterns – for example “every city undergoes a kind of respiration in which people converge into the center and then withdraw on a daily basis (…) almost like breathing”.  As it turns out, during the week the number of phone users peaks two times – at about midday and then again at about 6 p.m. Interestingly, the second peak starts about an hour later in western cities, such as Sevilla and Cordoba. As they suggest “these results point towards the possibility of a new, quantitative classification of cities using high resolution spatio-temporal data”.

#design #flooding #drainage #resilience

Design is at its most significant when it works not just as a tool for aesthetics, but a tool for creating safer, more resilient cities. Urban designers from De Urbanisten have come up with a clever way of treating urban drainage as an art form, while controlling the flood levels of the city. Interestingly, their solution takes into consideration that the city will flood, but instead of fighting against it, they embrace the presence of water through the use of rain gardens. Another valuable case of urban drainage is a design from Denmark which also cleverly incorporates drainage with recreation. Not surprisingly, some of the major developments in this field are happening in Venice – a city which is prone to flooding and gradual sinking.  In the recent weeks the city has successfully tested giant robotic gates to keep the water at bay, but in parallel, they are also experimenting with architect and researcher Rachel Armstrong  on how to use ‘programmable water drops’ to carry limestone to fortify the island foundations Venice sits on.

#vertical #farming #food #GreenFarms

The New Scientists dedicated recently a column to the increasing presence of vertical urban farming facilities. The concept is not particularly new – promoted strongly since the end of the 1990’s by Columbia University ecologist Dickson Despommier – but as it seems, some projects are beginning to gain some momentum. In March, the world’s largest vertical farm is to set up open in Scranton, Pennsylvania. The storey covering will reach 3.25 hectares, housing 17 million densely stacked plants, with an expectation of up to 14 crops per year for some vegetables (eg cabbages). Similar attempts are also taking place in Singapore and Sweden. Also DARPA experiments with vertical farming, as in its Texas facilities it produces genetically modified plants that make proteins useful in vaccines. An particularly interesting aspect to these projects are the parallel developments in facility management software & hardware systems which allow the farm managers to remotely operate nutrient levels, soil pH and light exposure of their farms.

Recent reports out there:

  • 100 Data InnovationJan 2014, The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation [highlights: a long list of data-driven innovations that happened in the last year in business, government and non-profits [mostly US]
  • Cities Outlook 2014 – Jan. 2014, Centre for Cities [highlights: recent statistics on UK cities, incl. employment and migration patterns, start-up ‘density’ and ‘chunk’ rates, patent data on city level]
  • 2013 Global Go To Think Tank Report – Jan. 2014, University of Pennsylvania [highlights: trends and challenges facing international think-tank organizations, ranking of top institutions in different expertise areas – ranging from development, sci. & tech. to governance]

This weeks’ artefact from the future:


Feral Zones (IFTF)
Some places just aren’t safe to drive—and your insurance company knows it. What’s more, it can warn you as you enter feral zones where it simply won’t provide coverage. And some of these zones might take you by surprise. You don’t have to go to Afghanistan to find an economy dominated by the opium trade. Northern California’s seemingly pastoral Mendocino County, long known for its hidden forests of marijuana, is now a growing zone for poppies and headquarters for a nationwide drug distribution network that keeps the unemployed living an apparently middle-class existence. 

Future Cities Digest #9 (24.01.2014)

#automation #future #jobs #Economist

A major theme in the last edition of the Economist was the discussion about the future of jobs and the automation of labour – a regularly returning conversation as labour markets evolve. The authors argue that in the past technological revolutions have always delivered more (not less) long-run employment, but this might now change as we’re experiencing ‘a dramatic acceleration of automating brain-work’.  According to a group at Oxford, within the next two decades jobs are at high risk of being automated in 47% of the occupational categories into which work is customarily sorted – including accountancy, legal work, technical writing and a lot of other white-collar occupations. Disagreeing with this notion are two MIT economists, Andrew McAfee and Erik Brynjolfsson who believe subsequent waves of automation will enhance the general condition of the economy, but still remain in the back seat – in the end, we have yet to see a truly creative computer, or an innovative or entrepreneurial one, nor have we seen a piece of digital gear that could unite people behind a common cause. Building on that, a more humoristic approach to future jobs has been recently showcased in a slide show by spark & honey, including ‘digital death managers’, ‘crowd-funding specialists’ and 18 other ‘future’ occupations.

#shipping #patent #logistics #Amazon

Amazon received quite a bit of media attention last week by spreading the news about filling in for an ‘antipacitory shipping’ patent – a solution to reduce shipping time within a delivery system to a degree that it anticipates orders before the client even decides to order one. The patent is said to exemplify a growing trend among technology and consumer firms to anticipate consumer needs even before consumers do. In deciding what to ship – Amazon officials say – the system may consider previous orders, product searches, wish lists, shopping-cart contents, returns, or even how long an Internet user’s cursor hovers over an item. It might also suggest items that are already in transit to customers using its website to ensure they are delivered. It’s not clear if Amazon has already deployed or will deploy the technique, but the patent demonstrates one of the ways Amazon hopes to leverage its trove of customer data. However, apparently, present delivery models are still far from perfect. As when forecasting goes wrong, even Big Data fails to prevent Christmas package delays.

#wearables #technology #lenses #Google

Google unveiled this week that within its portfolio of projects it has been working recently on smart contact lenses that can help measure glucose levels in tears. Google is investigating the potential for this to serve as an early warning for the wearer, exploring integrating tiny LED lights that could light up to indicate that glucose levels have crossed above or below certain thresholds. The lenses use a tiny wireless chip and miniaturized glucose sensor that are embedded between two layers of soft contact material – and the testing prototypes can generate a reading once per second. Google is not the first to have announced such initiative. Back in 2011 Microsoft was also sharing its concept for contact lenses monitoring blood sugar and a few companies in Switzerland and Korea are also quite advanced in the field. Still, even today Google official claims that it’s still early days for the technology and multiple clinical research studies are yet to be undertaken in order to refine the prototype. In principal, the company wants partners to use its technology to develop these lenses and also build apps to make the measurements available to users – all quite closely corresponding with the technological ecosystem developed for Google Glass.

#self-repairing #cars #software #Tesla

Both Tesla and General Motors have recently had problems with fire-related recalls in their cars. As it seems, GM trucks left idling can overheat and catch fire, while Tesla’s have a problem with overheating chargers. What seems really interesting is the difference how these two manufacturers approached their issues. Tesla’s remote software updates allow to detect charging problems and decrease charging rates avoiding overheating. This means that while owners of 370 000 Chevrolet Silverados and GMC Sierra needed to find time to take their pickups to the dealer, the 29 222 Tesla Model S electric cars have been fixed wirelessly. Originating from Formula 1 innovations,  over-the-air updates are expected to become more common, and although companies will need to work to make sure they can be done securely, not only are they more convenient, but they can also substantially improve safety, as appropriate updates can be made right away.  .

 Recent reports and publications:

  • Internet of Things – Jan. 2014, Frog [highlights: how IoT creates value, six key characteristics of the paradigm, few case studies]
  • Operationalizing the Buzz: Big Data 2013 – Nov. 2013, Pentaho [highlights: 12 key findings of a comprehensive Big Data research survey, 6 case studies that display trends in Big Data]
  • How Can Cities Nurture Cultural Entrepreneurs – Nov. 2013, The Kaufmann Foundation [highlights: research on cultural entrepreneurs and artists in cities, 7 strategies that mayors and city councils may champion to foster creative entrepreneurs]

 This week’s artefacts from the future:

Mood Sweater. SENSOREE

Mood Sweater (SENSOREE)
SENSOREE has crafted a soft sensor design called the The GER: Galvanic Extimacy Responder, which promotes what is called extimacy – externalized intimacy. The sensors are located on the hands and read excitement levels and then translate the data into a palette of affective colors. The design of the bowl shaped, high collar is positioned with LEDs that reflects onto the self for instant biofeedback as well as act as a tele-display or external blush for the other. Located around the larynx, the visual interface replaces speaking, as the wearer’s truths are instantly expressed with color.

Future Cities Digest #8 ‘revision edition’ (17.01.2014)

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:

The Future of Wearable Tech (PSFK + Intel Labs)
Open data or closed doors? Supporting research in cities (Centre for Cities)
Internet Monitor Report 2013 (Berkman Center, Harvard University)
Streets as Public Spaces and Drivers of Urban Prosperity (UN Habitat)
The Emergence of Civic Tech: Investments in a Growing Field (Knight Foundation)
Envisioning 2030: US Strategy for the Coming Technology Revolution (Atlantic Council)
1000 Companies to Inspire Britain (London Stock Exchange)
Outlook on the Global Agenda 2014 (World Economic Forum)
Hong-Kong: Cities, Health and Well-being (LSE Cities)
World Cities Culture Report 2013 (Mayor of London)
Designing with Data: Shaping Our Future Cities (Royal Institute of British Architects)
Smart Cities and the Internet of Everything (CISCO)
Roadmap for Financial Inclusion (World Bank)
Environmental Indicator Report 2013 (European Environmental Agency)
Rethinking Parks: New Business Models for Parks (NESTA)

& books:

The New Science of Cities, Michael Batty
Megacities and the Coast: Risk, Resilience and Transformation, Mark Pelling
Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, Jeff Peck
The Art of Shaping the Metropolis, Pedro Ortiz
How to Study Public Life: Methods in Urban Design, Jan Gehl
Urban Retrofitting for Sustainability: Mapping the Transition to 2050, Tim Dixon
Street Design: The Secret to Great Cities and Towns, Victor Dover
Radical Cities: Across Latin America in Search of a New Architecture, Justin McGuirk
Shrinking Cities: A Global Perspective, Harry Richardson

Future Cities Digest #7 (10.01.2014)

#technology #transfer #research #EPFL

In the last few weeks EPFL (Ecole Polytechnique Federale the Lausanne – one of the leading European polytechniques) published a nicely curated review of its key scientific and technological achievements of 2013. From the list of over 35 highlighted projects, interesting ones include a doctoral student developing microphones that monitor road traffic – which he claims are capable of not only determining how much traffic there is, but also how fast vehicles are going & their size, a statistical model of extreme rainfall from the Swiss Val Ferre valley, which could be used around the globe to provide risk analyses for use in insurance, flood mitigation and infrastructure design and a large scale integration of solar windows, said to be the first step in creating a Swiss solar-park for research and development on photovoltaics.

#car #data #sensors #insurance

A few months ago the BBC covered the story of how car insurance firms are currently in a race to convince consumers that letting them monitor their driving behaviour is actually a good thing. And now, a group at Rutgers University published result of their work claiming that they have developed  an algorithm that works out a vehicle’s destination using only its starting location and speed throughout its journey. “With knowledge of the user’s home location, as the insurance companies have, speed data is sufficient to discover driving routes and destinations when trip data is collected over a period of weeks” – said the project leader. To test the algorithm, the group measured the speed characteristics of seven drivers travelling from their homes to 46 different destinations over 240 journeys (also cross-checked by measuring the location of the cars using a GPS device to give ground-truth data) and the results revealed that they were able to predict the final destination to within 500 metres for 20 percent of the journeys. Something to think about next time you opt for a usage-based insurance policy.

#predictive #analytics #BigData #NYT

An interesting conversation about Big Data and industry-focus appeared recently in the New York Times Bits column. The context to the article is, that according to Google Trends, the term “Big Data” has peaked in October reaching an end of its nearly three years climb. The author suggests that this could mean that the term Big Data might be entering into a subsequent phase of its hype cycle, in particular for the conversations in the public domain, so more attention could be now dedicated to think how to best integrate human knowledge, algorithms and diverse data sets, rather than focusing on back-end technologies, such as new types of storage and database frameworks. And some organizations working on Big Data – examples of Kaggle and Palantir given – are for that reason re-focusing to suit specific industries. An insight worth having in mind following the Big Data debate.

#obesity #city #programs #TED

A quite compelling, and well received story on issues of public health (obesity) and city policy was presented last week by Mick Cornett (Oklahoma city major) on TED.com. Cornett started his story by saying that not that long ago the city was considered by the media as one of the US most obese cities – a tag neither the city official nor citizens where happy about. Oklahoma was also one of those US cities which seemed to be more designed to be ‘liveable for cars’ than people. For that reason, the city decided to start a conversation, launch a big campaign and challenge its citizens to loose altogether a million pounds of weight. This included a communal weight loss programme (modelled on gamification), a strong health agenda into any new infrastructural development that were happening, and active encouragement of local companies to participate in the program. As it seems – from the majors standpoint – not only where they able to achieve this ‘collective goal’ – loose the million lbs., become known as one of the most health-orientated cities – but at the same time, revitalize the city’s image and start to attract young people and new families, which is equally as important.

Recent reports & publications out there:

  •  The Future of Wearable Tech – Jan. 2014, PSFK + Intel Labs [highlights: key trends driving the form and function of personal devices, forecast of wearable tech.]
  •  Open data or closed doors? Supporting research in cities – Dec. 2013, Centre For Cities [highlights: city level benefits of opening up of public and private data, 11 case studies on the use of government data by cities]
  •  Internet Monitor Report 2013 – Dec. 2013, Berkman Center, Harvard University [highlights: key debates in the digital environment, case studies on how actors within government, industry, and civil society are dealing with the changing power dynamics of the digital realm]

This week’s artefact from the future:


New Yup (ActivatAR)
“New Yup is an augmented reality sculpture – it has two components: an image zooming into the universe and a rotating wireframe sculpture that moves slowly through and around the moving image. This artefact could allow to carry the universe in your pocket living in a channel on top of the Metrocard, and afford the viewer an alternative to the repressive here-ness of the New York Subway system. This project is aimed at tearing the fabric of one experience of object, site, and definition towards another potential development of a media object.”

Future Cities Digest #6 (3.01.2014)

#tech-horizons #HCI #makers #IFTF

The Institute for the Future announced recently its 2014 Research Agenda for the Technology Horizon Program. The main themes for the coming year are ‘Human and their Machines’ and ‘Maker Cities’.  IFTF claims to look beyond current handheld-devices and wearable technology and try to map the human-machine interaction with a focus on cutting edge sensory-interfaces.  The research will not only look on how we interact with machines, but also on the ‘story of human relationships and identity’. The second stream of work will explore the role of makers in cities – the explored themes will include: How are makers shaping the development of emerging technology? How are they reinventing critical systems, shared infrastructures, and ideas of participation? What will the growth of maker cities mean for living, working, and doing business ten years from now? Organizations which are already involved in this co-shared research effort include: AT&T, Intel, NATO, Procter & Gamble, Siemens and Swisscom.

#cities #specialization #diversity #Hausman

Last week Ricardo Hausman (former planning minister of Venezuela, Harvard professor of economics) shared an article on Project Syndicate discussing ‘the specialization myth of cities’. Hausman claims that advising cities-states & countries to solely focus on their economies comparative advantage might prove to be wrong and dangerous. “Specialization at the individual level leads to diversity on the higher level and specialization of individuals leads to diversification in the city. Larger cities are more diversified than smaller and among cities with smaller populations, diverse cities are richer than specialized(eg Curitiba, Guadalajara or Monterrey). One way to think about this is to think of industries as stitching together complementary bits of know-how. And likewise, the more bits of know-how there are available, the more industries can be supported and the greater their complexity can be” – writes Hausman. And for that reason – he argues – cities should be ill-advised to focus on a few “clusters” and consolidate the value chains in their locations and instead worry about being a node in many different value chains (which requires finding other industries that can use their existing capabilities).

#science #communication #futures #TED

One of the most commented articles from last week Guardian was Benjamin Bratton’s (Director, Centre for Design & Geopolitics, University of California San Diego) criticism of TED and the challenges of a broken model of communicating science, philosophy and technology – as he argues – embodied by TED Talks. Bratton in particular took a strong take on some of the rhetoric’s of epipchany and personal testimony coupled with oversimplifying of complex challenges and technological solutionism. Bratton argued that instead of dumbing-down the future, we need to raise the level of general understanding to the level of complexity of the systems in which we are embedded and which are embedded in us. This is not about “personal stories of inspiration”, it’s about the difficult and uncertain work of demystification and reconceptualization – the hard stuff that really changes how we think’. The responses to Brattons article (based on comments & tweets) were twofold. Some expressed enthusiasm on ‘whatmany already though about TED Talks’ whilst others criticized Bratton for expecting from TED ‘doing or being things that TED never set out to be’ and ‘not recognizing its value as a proven route to a global audience without any vetting or control by “old elites” ’. As there is much more to this topic than the digest can cover, it’s probably worth the few minutes of reading or watching to come up with your own opinion.

#futures #transformations #LarryPage #Google

An older piece, but still worth the attention – Larry Page’s (Google co-founders) presentation from the company’s annual Zeitgeist conference from September last year [ed. note: Page has partial vocal cords paralysis]. In a ten minutes presentation Page shares his thoughts on some of the recent changes to the structure of Google (after slashing a number of project divisions), electrical vehicles, Fibre and other moon-shot, Google X projects. Page reflects in particular on the too often experienced (by businesses) underestimation of large scale transformations and lack of attention to future-orientated projects. He backs this with Google’s own example of Android, which Google acquired back in 2004, and its only recent true transformational impact. Page argues that if one wants to work on the edge of technology and innovation, ‘you need to start today’ because there are already people doing this for years, and it becomes almost impossible to catch-up – eg on autonomous vehicle, octocopters etc. Worth having this in mind when reflecting on Google’s latest robotics acquisitions – a (potential) new generation of delivery systems, as some say.

New releases on Amazon [Urban Planning]:

  • Street Design: The Secret to Great Cities and Towns – Victor Dover & John Massengale, 27 Jan. 2014 Written by two accomplished architects and urban designers, the street design manual shows both how to design new streets and how to enhance existing ones, by sharing examples of excellent streets, examining the elements that make them successful as well as how they were designed and created in the first place.
  •  Radical Cities: Across Latin America in Search of a New Architecture – Justin McGuirk, 28 Jan. 2014 Justin McGuirk travels across Latin America, from Chile to Brazil, and from Mexico to Argentina, discovering people who have begun rebuilding and redesigning their environments in radically new ways – eg an architect in Chile has designed a new form of social housing; the town of Medellin has been transformed with innovative public architecture; Torre David and architect Jorge Mario Jauregui have upgraded Rio’s favelas in exciting new ways etc.
  • Shrinking Cities: A Global Perspective – Harry Richardson & Chang Woo Nam, 25 Feb. 2014 This book examines an emerging new topic in urban settlement patterns: the role of shrinking cities. Much coverage is given to declining fertility rates, ageing populations and economic restructuring as the factors behind shrinking cities, but there is also reference to resource depletion, the demise of single-company towns and the micro-location of environmental hazards.

 This weeks’ artefact from the Future:


Mindwriter (IFTF)
“Sure it’s fast, convenient, and sometimes brilliant to use thought recording to capture your ideas in real time and even connect with friends in your social networks. But with more and more platforms claiming copyright ownership for any thoughts you share via mindshare technologies, you need a way to protect your right to the products of your own mind. That’s what this little cap does—it records your thoughts and assigns immediate copyrights to you before anyone else can claim them.”