Future Cities Digest

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

Month: January, 2014

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.”

Future Cities Digest #5 (20.12.2013)

#future #technologies #predictions #IBM

This time of the year is plentiful with technology predictions for the forthcoming year. And so did IBM recently publish its annual list of ‘top technologies that will transform the world’ in the next 5 years. According to IBM, the ‘new era of computing’ (as they say, ‘the era of cognitive systems’) will mostly be based on learning systems and big data analytics. This could mean that, for example, savvy retailers could tap cognitive technologies and use the immediacy of the physical stores to create experiences that cannot be replicated by online-only retail. Or that cognitive systems would learn to understand what people need, what they like, what they do, and how they move from place to place—so the managers of the city can respond better to their needs. And security systems could acquire a 360-degree view of an individual’s data, devices and applications, that they’ll readily spot patterns that could be precursors to a cyber-attack or a stolen identity. IBM’s original videos on these topics are available here, but you can also read about 2014 tech predictions from Gartner, GreenBiz (with insights from Arup) and NESTA.

#cities #exchange #governance #AtlanticCouncil

A great discussion took place last week during the Atlantic Council Strategic Foresight Forum between Tim Campbell (Urban Age Institute & author of Beyond Smart Cities), Saskia Sassen (Columbia University) and Greg Lindsay (author Aerotropolis), about new models for international governance around cities.  Two phrases that catch attention where the notions of the ‘underground economy of knowledge exchange between cities’ and ‘clouds of trust’. According to Campell, we are often forgetting that there are over a thousand cities around the world with a population of over 0,5 mln people and “these places have heft, they have budget, smart people… and they are the ones that face all global challenges (…) they also know, that as a risk strategy they can’t spend a lot of time inventing new solutions at home, so an element of that risk strategy is go out and seek what is already out at some other place”. The World Bank estimates that there is about a 1000 to 10000 technical visits between those cities each year what creates “clouds of trust” – ie mutual confidence and knowledge flows – for addressing challenges which each of those cities encounter. Worth watching the first 15-20 minutes if you find the time.

#car #rental #schemes #Uber

Ever wondered how supply/demand models work in practice with car-sharing schemes during severe weather conditions? Snowy weather storm that struck NYC last Saturday lead Uber – a technology company that has developed a software that allows anyone to request a ride via mobile app, text message, or the web – to use ‘surge price options’, which optimize charges depending on the demand and supply of the fleet. As a result, at the peak time Uber was charging its clients an over 7x higher rate than usual (¬ 5.81$ per minute or 23.25$ per mile), well beyond usual standards. As one of the co-founder commented “We are able to get a far greater number of drivers on the system when Surge Pricing is in effect – it’s basic economics. Higher prices encourages more supply to come online. It gets some drivers out to work and keeps other drivers from going to alternatives like renting their car out for the night, or trying their luck at hustling rides on the street”. This situation is an insightful point to what some refer to (even for services as Uber) as the ‘sharing-economy’.  If you’d like to read more about the principia around Uber, you should definitely have a look into this weeks article in Dezeen.

#autonomous #robots #acquisitions #Google

Two weeks ago we shared information about Google’s recent acquisitions in the robotics industry. This message becomes even stronger as last Friday Google has confirmed its eight acquisition of the acclaimed Boston Dynamics robotics group – particularly known for its work for DARPA [US military research agency] on animal-resembling robots with very well developed dexterity and agility.  Some of Boston Dynamics projects might seem quite dystopian – eg the Cheetah Robot running up to 28.3 miles per hour (slightly faster than Usain Bolt), a horse-size legged robot walking in desert and snow conditions, or a humanoid robot that could potentially operate in natural disasters and catastrophic areas. Executives at Google are circumspect about what exactly they plan to do with their robot collection, but claim that commercial robots of some nature could be available in the next several years.

Recent reports out there:

This week’s artefact from the future:


Wearable Futures (Fabrica)
“They say neuroimaging technology is currently being researched and developed to read and record the thoughts of the public, with the aim to detect ill intentions before they are carried out. So Lisa Kori Chung and Caitlin Morris designed the anti-NIS (neuroimaging surveillance) pieces to detect when surveillance technology linked to CCTV cameras is trying to read the wearer’s brainwaves. Each faceted piece covered with decorative patterns is designed to detect when the wearer is being scanned and provides a distraction to change their thought pattern. “Rather than simply blocking access to the brain, which would require unsubtle and complex equipment, each piece proposes a method of momentary cognitive diversion,” said the designers.”

Future Cities Digest #4 (13.12.2013)

#smartcities #hype #debate #Economist

Throughout the week an enthusiastic debate on cities was taking place on the Economists online platform – the big question was  Are smart cities empty hype? Defending the notion was Anthony Townsend (Research Director, ITFT) while against was Irving Wladawsky-Berger (VP Emeritus, IBM; Strategic Advisor Citigroup). Townsend began with an argument that “the quest to centralise the distributed and messy intelligence of existing cities within a single network or piece of software is at best, quixotic”. Wladawsky-Berger held a position that “platforms are software frameworks designed to make it easier to develop, run and integrate applications of all kinds and will play a major role in the evolution of cities”. A guest contribution to the discussion came from Adam Greenfield (Managing Director, Urbanscale), who strongly defended that “systems currently being sold to municipalities, and the public, under the rubric of “smart cities” are by large repurposings of existing, off-the-shelf technology, force fit into contexts in which they may or may not make any sense, dressed with the most superficial mantle of metropolitan glamour”. Joe Dignan (Chief Analyst, Ovum) argued that “different industries approach the subject from their comfort zones. IT companies define a smart city through a technology lens; developers concentrate on physical infrastructure; utilities insist it is about sustainable energy; and the green lobby champions the environment – and smart cities are all of the above”. As of Thursday evening, the results of online voting where 47% agreeing with the motion & 53% against.

#datascience #institute #cities #Imperial 

Last Friday at event at TechCity, Imperial College announced its new hub for expertise in data-driven research – The Data Science Institute. The new institute is planned to underpin major developments across the College’s research in areas including healthcare, financial services and city infrastructure. One of the highlighted examples of potential work was the use of data fusion and analysis via the Digital City Exchange programme in exploring ways for digitally linking utilities and services within cities to enable new technical and business opportunities. Scientists are also said to use observational data to model and improve urban design to make cities more sustainable by reducing air pollution. The Institute at Imperial will open at its South Kensington campus in 2014. This is another news in the last weeks showcasing attention to growth in UK’s Data Science capabilities – at the end of November, University of Edinburgh announced its new Doctoral Training Centre in Data Science.

#mobile #communications #networks #5G

A recent article in the MIT Technology Review introduced some valid points on the possible transformation that might shape the future of communications network (5G). The piece relies on a conversation with Federico Boccardi, a wireless communications expert at Alcatel-Lucent Bell Labs. Boccardi sees the fifth generation of mobile communications as end of the “cell” as the fundamental building block of communication networks. In his opinion, the network will change according to a device’s data demands at that instant. Devices will have the ability to decide when and how to send the data most efficiently – “Our vision is that the cell-centric architecture should evolve into a device-centric one: a given device (human or machine) should be able to communicate by exchanging multiple information flows through several possible sets of heterogeneous nodes” says Boccardi. Another disruption these guys identify is the ability for devices to communicate with each other without using the network at all.  Boccardi and co say this will be essential for the ways in which future networks will be used. For example, a sensor network may have ten thousand devices transmitting temperature data and that means it will be easier if they can send it from one device to the next rather than through a single base station. Quite a valuable piece for those interested in telecoms.

#speech-recognition #AI #telemarketing #TIME

The TIME has posted two days ago an article revealing some rather ambiguous innovations happening in the ‘robo-call’ industry. The TIME journalist recorded a conversation he had on the phone with a telemarketing consultant, Samantha West, trying to offer him health insurance. The voice of the woman felt warm and charming, but once the journalist became slightly more suspicious and asked the question “Are you a robot?” he received answers suggesting this was not true (“… I am a real person, can you hear me OK?” and “I am a real person, maybe we have a bad connection, I am sorry about that”). You can listen to these recordings here. This incident rises a few important issues. It shows (unless it’s not a human being with a pre-recording set) how sophisticated the combination of voice-recognition technology & AI is becoming, and how easily such tools could be used against people from disadvantaged backgrounds, making them potential victims of scamming activities (eg the elderly, hard of hearing, with some intellectual disability). At the same time, an advanced level of speech recognition technology allows also other groups (eg blind people) to cope with day to day accessibility issues – a few valuable points about what can technology do for the blind is available in this Techonomy article from June 2013.

New releases on Amazon [City & Town Planning]:

 This week’s artefacts from the future:


A Machine That Prints Out Your Daily Nutrition (IFTF)
“That if self-care practices did not entail engagement, willpower, and attention? Through a quick body screen and a syncing up of your devices, e-z-health can create the appropriate nutritional needs and environmental conditions to optimize your health. While you wait 90 seconds for the customized nutritional tablet to print, your schedule is adjusted to ensure your day’s plan is right for your health. A daily dose of e-z-health, takes the guesswork out of self-care.”

Future Cities Digest #3 (6.12.2013)

#futures #science #predictions #kaku

Last week New York Times published a piece from Michio Kaku (NYU theoretical physicist, futurist & communicator of science) titled A Scientist Predicting the Future. In his article Kaku laid out what he expects to be the major transformations for the coming decade, based on series of interviews with over 300 scientists. Kaku suggests that: “computers will soon disappear”, “augmented will be everyday reality”, “the brain will be augmented with the Internet”, “parents will be designing their offsprings” and “intellectual capitalism will replace commodity capitalism”. Such way of communicating predictions brought the attention of Geoff Mulgan and Noah Raford who both on twitter expressed mild reservations towards such manner of presenting futures (Mulgan: “Half plausible, half inadvertent parodic reminder why futurism so often gets thing wrong”). Worth having a look if you want to build your own opinion.

#futures #governance #WEF #scenarios

 An article from Joseph Nye (former chairman of the National Intelligence Council and Harvard Professor of Governance) in last week’s Project Syndicate referred to a conversation that took place during the World Economic Forum Global Agenda 2013 Summit in Abu Dhabi. The big question was How might governance look like in 2050? The conversation lead into the development of three scenarios. In the first one participants considered a world ruled by “megacities”, where governance is administered largely by major urban agglomerations. The second was a world in which strong central governments use big data to fortify their control. In the third, central governments were fundamentally weak, with markets – and the enterprises that dominate them – providing almost all services.  The general conclusion was that in the coming years, governance systems capable of addressing fundamental issues like security, welfare, liberty and identity, will require coalitions that are small enough to function efficiently and being able to make decisions concerning the underrepresented. However, in Nye’s opinion, although megacities have the potential to create new opportunities for workers and businesses, they cannot solve universal problems such as climate change or managing the production and protection of national and global public goods.

 #drones #octocopters #logistics #Amazon

Amazon broke the news on Monday morning sharing information that it will be testing the use of octocopters for short range parcel deliveries. According to Bezof (Amazon’s CEO) 86% of the companies deliveries weight less than 2,5kg, which makes them potentially suitable for half-hour deliveries. However, even now Amazon officials acknowledge that the technology is not yet there and expect it to be ready in 2015 when the new US FAA regulations will take place. The name for the envisioned service is PrimeAir (video). The Monday hype was quickly addressed by IEEE Spectrum which published an reply pointing out to a number of obstacles for this type of technology. In their opinion, the main difficulty with such services is the GPS navigation (a simple address is not enough for a drone to land on a door step), reliable real-time avoidance systems (what might require a lot of computing power and sophisticated sensors) as well as safety, legality and liability issues. It is worth noting that UPS also expressed interest into air-delivery technologies, which might indicate further attention and R&D inflows into associated technologies.

 #robotics #logistics #acquisitions #Google

 According to an article in the New York Times, in the last half year Google has acquired seven technology companies in a declared effort to create a new generation of robots. According to the team leaders, only recently has a range of technologies come to mature to a stage where this kind of automated systems can be realistically deployed. Among the acquired companies are organizations which develop humanoid robots, computer vision systems, robots for loading and unloading trucks and robotic camera systems. These observations correspond with last month International Robot Exhibition in Tokyo, where according to IEEE Spectrum, the four most visible robotic trends where: dual arm robots, robots with cameras on hands, wearable robots and high-speed pick-and-place robots. According to Google sources, the seven companies are already capable of creating technologies needed to build a mobile, dexterous robot, but Google will be pursuing additional acquisitions in this area soon.

Recent reports out there:

This weeks’ artefact from the future:


Smart Shopping Card (IFTF)
“What if important health information were delivered through multi-sensory processes, so that you not only relied on visual cues to make health decisions, but you were informed through touch, smell, and sound? HealthCart, steeped in findings emerging from the burgeoning field of multi-sensory research, promotes healthy decisions at the grocery store by leveraging not just your sight, but all of your senses. Your HealthCart knows your previous shopping habits, biometric data, and/or shopping values, making navigating the grocery store easier and even healthier for you.”

Future Cities Digest #2 (29.11.2013)

#cloud #software #digital #connectivity

One of the more evocative articles from this weeks Wired magazine is a short essay from Balaji Srinivasan (Stanford Bitcoin Group) on How Software is Reorganizing the World. Srinivasan uses a rich set of examples ranging from co-housing schemes, shareable car fleets, digital assembly lines & neighbourhood crowdsourcing, to argue that the future of technology will actually “not be about location-based apps, but making location unimportant”. By this, he means switching the attention of technology developers from focusing on geographical distance to geodesic distance – the number of degrees of separation between the two nodes in a social network. The kind of phenomenon that makes 2 people come together thanks to a dating site, a formation of 10 people to live together for a year in hacker house, or a formation of 100 people to work for a few months at a start-up incubator. And if those goods themselves can’t be digitized – Srinivasan argues – the interface to them will be. Recommended read.

#wearable #technology #batteries #3Dprinting

Wearable electronics, including Google Glass and a new wave of smart-watches, are quickly multiplying. However, lithium rechargeable batteries seem to be the limiting elements in the technology. For that reason, a group at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology decided to work on applying lithium-ion batteries right into the fabric – hoping that the technology could be scalable shortly. At the same time, Harvard material scientists reveal that  progress is being made in producing lithium-ion batteries and high-performing electronics with 3D printers. This innovation – if successfully deployed – could possibly lead to creating self-powered biomedical sensors, affixed to the skin, that could continuously transmit vital signs to a smartphone. The Harvard group holds already eight patents for its inks and is working on licensing and commercializing the technology in the next few years.

#engineering #research #future #innovation

Last week David Willets (Universities and Science Minister) announced details of a 350mln£  fund to stimulate a new generation of PhD’s in engineering and physical sciences.  72 new Doctoral Training Centres will be opened in 24 universities selected in a competitive process. From the perspective of Future Cities at least 12 centres seem to be highly relevant – naming but a few:  Centre in Urban Science and Progress (Warwick), Data Science (Edinburgh), Future Infrastructure and Built Environment (Cambridge) and Digital Civics (Newcastle). One can expect that in the following months these new centres will be establishing their research agendas, which could indicate a good moment for establishing collaborative relationships.

 #visions #smart #cities #IBM

The October edition of the Technological Forecasting and Social Change journal introduced an article from two Warwick Business School academics evaluating strategic views on smart city technologies (including a case study of IBM’s Smart Cities programme). The research provides an interesting, empirically-backed view on different city technologies from the perspective of stakeholders and actors who feel “they are tasked with the role to create them”. It depicts technological, systemic and strategic views of those companies towards smart cities and points out their principal dilemmas (eg How can city technology help organisations deal with particular strategic issues?). An additional, insightful element of the article is a table summarizing different perspectives on smart cities from the likes of Siemens, GE, Accenture, Cisco, Microsoft, HP and Google – all in one place. Article worth having a look for its business aspect.

Recent reports out there:

 This weeks’ artefact from the future:


Energy Wants To Be Free (IFTF)
“The UN has teamed up with the global Pirate Party, a political party with a platform of open intellectual property (IP), to provide new disaster relief kits that use open-source components to build ad hoc infrastructures for everything from power to water to Internet access. At the core of the relief kit is the now famous Tesla Box—a 10-foot shipping container that can power a neighbourhood by harnessing the sub-atomic Casimir Effect. What else will you find in the open-source kit? Wireless light bulbs, mobile device chargers, rechargeable desalination straws, and an Internet-in-a-suitcase.”

Future Cities Digest #1 (22.11.2013)

#autonomous # vehicles  #driverless-car  #Google

This week opened with a large article in the New Yorker showcasing the story behind Google’s driverless car. The article is an extensive, well researched and well suited for reference purposes piece of writing. My attention was particularly drawn to the major role Darpa Grand Challenge(s) played in creating incentives for innovation, the way the innovation-team at Google was created (purposefully avoiding ‘industry-people’ in favour of AI folks) and the concerns car-manufacturers expressed towards: (i) reliability of the systems, (ii) loosing the ‘driving experience’[which might go against theidentity of their core-business] and (iii) general impression on ‘market-readiness’.  Definitely worth the read if interested.

#UAVs #drones #networks #Matternet

One of the recently published and widely commented TED Talks comes from Andreas Raptopolous, founder of Matternet, a (future) network of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) aimed at transporting medicine and goods to places with poor road infrastructure. Raptopolous presents in his talk an idea for the applications of autonomous octocopters to carry up to 2kg packages within 10km distance networks of docking bases. The talk has at times a quite ‘grandiose’ narration, but clearly illustrates the founders vision and draws nicely on good visuals. Some of the proposed applications are also suggested for highly dense, urban areas. The project is indirectly supported by the teams from Singularity University and Google[x].

#urban #futures #London2062 #UCL

On Monday, the team behind the UCL Grand Challenge of Sustainable Cities launched an edited collection of writings about the forces and factors that will shape London in the fore coming 5 decades – ‘Imaging the Future City: London 2062’. The publication is an outcome of the UCL London 2062 project which ran between 2010 and 2012. The piece is divided into four sub-sections: Things, Connections, Power and Dreams and consist of nearly 30 essays contributed by UCL academics and affiliated partners. The publication can be downloaded here (+ is already available in the Futures repository).

#research #funding #universities #programmes

Based on data from this years research councils grant allocations, UCL,followed by Cambridge and Imperial, are the institution which attracted the most research income. According to UCL officials, the institution received “boost” thanks to the emphasis on building consortia around global challenges, such as: infectious diseases, energy demand and dementia. At the same time, one research council nearly doubled the value of the awards it made in 2012-2013 (Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), which might suggest that many new research programmes will be launching in the incoming months (eg Oxford will lead 6 new Centres for Doctoral Training).

Recent reports out there:

  • Roadmap for Financial Inclusion (Global Financial Development Report 2014) – Nov 2013, World Bank [highlights: global  ‘state-of-affairs on financial inclusion, call for stronger addressing of market failures, assessment of mobile payments & identification tech.]
  • Environmental Indicator Report 2013 – Nov 2013, European Environmental Agency [highlights: analysis of global demand and supply mechanism in food, water, energy and housing; review of opportunities for responding to main challenges]

New book releases on Amazon [Urban Development]: