Future Cities Digest

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

Month: February, 2014

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. “