The Age of Urban Tech

How new mapping technology, rideshares in India, and food disposal in Ireland are enhancing cities

International Technology Urbanism
(Image via What3words)
(Image via What3words)

How can your smartphone shape the social fabric of cities? The New Cities Foundation selected ten “Global Urban Innovators,” individuals whose tech companies boost quality of life in their home cities and regions. On Tuesday, three speakers from those winning companies shared their ideas with New Cities Summit attendees:

(Image via What3words)

(Image via What3words)

Steven Ramage, Strategy director, What3words.

What3words provides an address for everyone. The mapping service distills the complexity of GIS coordinates by dividing the entire surface of the globe into three-by-three meter squares and assigning each square an easy-to-remember word sequence.

According to the UN Development fund, four billion people don’t have a formal address. Poor addressing has a massive impact: If UPS could save one mile per driver the company would save $50 million per day, Ramage explained. What3words’ 57 trillion squares are for those with postal addresses, too: This reporter plugged in The Architect’s Newspaper‘s New York City address. On What3words, the paper’s at “Tricks.funds.fluid”: A universal address.



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“Words mean you can spot errors, which is much harder to do with GPS coordinates,” Ramage noted. The service has been used for emergency response disaster relief in remote locations. What3words facilitates planning the placement of hydrants, pylons, or other structures that don’t have have an address but can now be tagged to one.

As a free app for citizens, What3words is used in favelas in Rio de Janeiro: every household has an address in Portuguese. Mostly rural Mongolia has adopted the service as its postal system. Currently, the service operates in 10 languages, and will be available in 20 by the end of 2016.

(Image via Jugnoo)

(Image via Jugnoo)

Chinmay Aggarwal, Co-founder and cheif technology officer, Jugnoo.

Aggarwal founded auto rickshaw rideshare service Jugnoo in November 2014 with Samar Singla in Chandigarh, India. Auto rickshaws, or tuk tuks, are a common mode of transit in Indian cities, but are underused because hailing them can be challenging, prices are mutable, and their presence on the streets is not always predictable. Drivers are usually migrants from rural areas who typically earn less than $8.00 per day driving.

Aggarwal and Singla developed a ride-hailing app à la Uber. Crucially, Jugnoo’s founders gave auto rickshaw drivers smartphones to be able to access the app and receive riders. The platform can be accessed through Facebook if riders or drivers don’t have enough space on their phone to download it.

Today, there are over 10,000 drivers on the platform, and their income, on average, has doubled. Added income, Aggarwal explained, has a trickle-out effect: Drivers send money home to their families in rural areas, strengthening the social fabric of their home communities while improving transit infrastructure in their adopted cities.

The success of Jugnoo has prompted its founders to pilot a Postmates-esque delivery program in Chandigarh where tuk tuk drivers deliver goods to consumers.

(Image via FoodCloud)

(Image via FoodCloud)

Niamh Kirwann, Marketing and communications manager, FoodCloud.

Founded in 2012, FoodCloud is a two-part response to the astronomical cost of food waste and food need in 27 counties in Ireland and parts of the U.K. FoodCloud is an app connects stores and supermarket’s food waste to nonprofits that serve meals as part of their programming. To the collective shock of those in the conference room, Kirwann noted that 30 percent of all food grown worldwide is wasted, and 550 trillion liters of water is used to grow food that’s not eaten.

A message in app goes from one of 500 participating markets to 1,100 nonprofit providers, letting nonprofits know what and how much food local markets have to give away. It’s a win-win: Stores save money on food disposal cost, and nonprofits save money on food provision. So far, FoodCloud has diverted 1352 tons of food, enabling nonprofits to serve 2.9 million meals.

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