Yesterday at A/D/O, a MINI-sponsored creative space in Brooklyn, New York, seven start-ups pitched their companies to an audience of investors and public sector agencies as part of URBAN-X's Demo Day. URBAN-X is an accelerator for urban tech companies that was launched in 2016 by BMW-owned car brand MINI, one of its many forays into rethinking shelter, fashion, and design. The seven start-ups are members of URBAN-X's fifth cohort, bringing the total number of companies that URBAN-X has fostered to 39. URBAN-X selects up to 10 start-ups twice a year for its program, which includes a $150,000 investment and five months of support in engineering, design, and business development. Urban mobility and access to electric vehicles featured prominently in this cohort, not a surprising theme for an incubator with roots in the automotive sector. But other strong trends, like construction site productivity and emissions efficiency, pointed to a focus on the built environment and its relationship with ecological concerns. If this cohort is any indication of the trends in urban mobility, then the two startups dedicated to transit hinted at a very electric future. Borrow offers short-term, flexible leasing of electric vehicles, making them more available to those who can't purchase the pricey cars, while Circuit, formerly The Free Ride, offers free electric shuttle transportation in five-passenger vehicles for short distances. The latter is already rolled out in 17 cities around the United States, with more than 20 cars on the streets of San Diego. With funding from advertisers, private developers, and transit agencies, the free shuttle is specially designed for first- and last-mile conditions to supplement other forms of transit, and also offers hail and on-demand services. Brooklyn residents and visitors can experience Circuit for themselves, with the company extending its Williamsburg run this summer. Buildstream and Toggle both address construction site safety and other challenges. Buildstream (formerly GearBuddy) utilizes IoT-based software and machine learning to digitize data collection on heavy construction equipment like bulldozers and trucks to monitor and assess construction sites in real time, allowing someone at an office desk and not just the construction manager on site to monitor what is happening. The technology is currently in use in the U.K. on one of Europe's largest infrastructure projects, according to David Polanski, co-founder and COO of the company. Toggle, on the other hand, combines software and industrial robotics to help automate the construction site and reduce costs in the building process. Energy efficiency and greenhouse gas emissions are also a central concern of this year's cohort. Treau develops technology to improve energy efficiency in cooling and heating systems, essentially bringing HVAC and refrigerants into the modern age with lighter, more inexpensive polymers and other material innovations. The overarching promise of Treau is to reduce energy consumption in the U.S. by 10 percent. Another vital but less glamorous aspect of city life is waste management infrastructure. Israel-based GreenQ's technology attaches to existing truck-based garbage collection systems to collect data and offer analytics to help meet demand and cut costs where needed. For example, in its applications across Israel cities, towns, and villages, GreenQ has identified areas that need one less collection day a week, or data on what homes or users need larger trash receptacles. The data from the garbage also delivers demographic data for those companies it partners with. Consumption and waste were also addressed by Thrilling, the first e-commerce platform for second-hand and vintage stores, with a goal of reducing carbon, waste, and water footprints in garment production. From transit to garbage, the technology-driven platforms of these start-ups hints an increasingly wired, mobile urban future to come.
Posts tagged with "Electric Cars":
A partnership between the state-owned Research Institutes of Sweden (RISE), the London-based architecture and technology firm PLP Labs (the research spinoff of PLP Architecture), and LogistikCentrum have released a new study and report proposing a new direction for public transit. Called NuMo, for New Urban Mobility, the proposed technology allows for highly efficient, electric-powered home-to-destination transit either over existing infrastructure or on new construction. The report claims that most cities rely on a less efficient 19th-century model of public transit, where trains and buses come at times at long intervals or unpredictably and can be either virtually empty or totally packed and uncomfortable. With NuMo, autonomous electric cars would be booked through an app and come directly to your current location. From there they would take off, eventually joining other NuMo cars with passengers or cargo in a “high-speed platoon.” The electric cars could then pull off at any point to pick up more passengers for carpooling, or to bring passengers directly to their destination. One of the central inefficiencies with traditional human-operated automobiles is that they have to be spaced fairly far apart from one another when moving and be given enough horizontal space to account for the inaccuracies and shifts from people operating them. Automated cars in a NuMo platoon would be able to “move within milliseconds of one another,” staying close together, reportedly reducing lane width by over three feet, fitting two cars into a single lane. In a NuMo-designed city, there would be a central control system with automated intersection control and load balancing, as well as vehicle-to-vehicle communication, and the ability prevent stopping and congestion, potentially ending traffic jams and accidents. Within the cities, cars would travel between approximately 20 to 40 miles per hour and outside they could reach speeds of 50 miles per hour. These NuMo cars and platoons could travel on existing infrastructure in specialized lanes, including in currently underused bus lanes or roads. The cars could also accompany the development of new roads over land or underwater, becoming a transit solution and network that, much like earlier subways and bus routes, could reshape how disparate parts of the city relate to one another. Such consolidation and optimization could help return streets to pedestrians and cyclists and, the researchers claim, could result in much greater capacity than current transit options. Open to all autonomous vehicles, NuMo is a protocol designed to be introduced to cities gradually. The researchers developed models for Stockholm and Gothenburg, Sweden, while also considering larger cities like London and New York. They claim that four-person cars set to travel only one second from one another would be twice the capacity of 120 passenger buses running a minute apart, quadrupling transport capacity and reducing travel time by a third while having no extra cost over building comparable traditional transit infrastructure. NuMo’s combination of autonomous electric vehicles, infrastructure overhauls, and efficient sustainable design is, according to Lars Hesselgren, director of research at PLP Architecture, “the next best thing to teleportation.”
It's a Gas: The Allure of the Gas Station Edited by Sascha Friesike, with a preface by Jay Leno Gestalten $60.00The Current: New Wheels for the Post-Petrol Age By Paul d’Orléans, Robert Klanten, and Maximilian Funk Gestalten $50.00 Automobiles fascinate architects. Le Corbusier designed the Voiture Minimum; Buckminster Fuller, the Dymaxion; Renzo Piano, the Flying Carpet; and Norman Foster, the Routemaste. And while Charles and Ray Eames were posing with a Velocette motorcycle, Michael Czysz—founder of Architropolis, his firm—was designing the record-breaking MotoCzysz E1pc electric motorcycle. Given recent developments in electric vehicle (EV) innovations, designers may soon create new infrastructure for these silent, zero-emission vehicles. Two books from international publishing house Gestalten reflect on this crossroads with one foot on the accelerator and one hand on the wheel. Jay Leno—late-night comedian and automobile aficionado—introduces It’s a Gas: The Allure of the Gas Station, edited by Sascha Friesike. Leno recalls his childhood fascination with “grease monkeys,” tending vehicles, hot rods, and watching new models come and go. Leno also remarks on gas station architecture, including Richard Neutra’s now-demolished stations. From the introduction onward, Friesike’s volume takes us on a joyride around the world of gas stations. Gas stations never became a celebrated typology, despite celebrated architects like Albert Frey and Norman Foster designing them. It’s a Gas begins to address this curiosity. Friesike presents an aesthetic history of the gas station from its 1888 origins in a Wieshold, Germany, pharmacy to the contemporary designs of Philippe Samyn and Partners. Along the way, Friesike also casts his gaze on Arne Jacobsen’s 1936 rectilinear facility with a contrasting sinuous canopy—a beautiful prototype sadly never replicated—and Atelier SAD’s mushroom column canopy. Canopies are typological features that shield from sleet, sun, and rain, and can encompass concrete shells, decked trusses, or even a B-17 bomber. Some stations forgo the billboard and inhabit teapots, tee-pees, and cowboy hats. Novelty attracts customers (there even exist floating gas stations to service motorboats), but unfortunately, in the U.S., mega-pump filling stations like Buc-ees seem to pass for novel. Canopies can differ greatly. Postcards from Eugenio Grosso’s trek from Kurdistan to Sulaymaniyah, and Tim Hölscher’s photos of isolated gas pumps and stations highlight typological differences. Every modern master has had stops and starts in petroland. In Quebec, in 2011 (the book misdates it as 2002), Les Architectes FABG completed the conversion of Mies van der Rohe’s Neue Nationalgalerie-esque gas station into a community center. In 2014, the Pierce-Arrow Museum in Buffalo, New York, unveiled a non-operational version of Frank Lloyd Wright’s never-realized station. Equal parts nostalgia and premonition, “Ghost Town Gas Stations” closes It’s a Gas by questioning the gas station’s future. If their fall “from grace came as the golden age of flying was ushered in,” will they hit rock bottom now that EVs have hit the scene? The Current: New Wheels for the Post-Petrol Age by Paul d’Orléans, Robert Klanten, and Maximilian Funk leans into this question, examining the state of EVs. Motorcycle aficionado d’Orléans charges through a history of EVs before running the gamut of the latest electric transporters. Given the author’s focus on motorcycle history and customization (and from working with him personally at motorcycle film festivals), I was pleasantly surprised to see all manner of land vehicles included in his survey. EVs are ideal for urban commuting. Electronic cars and motorcycles have a range of 150 miles at highway speeds. Electric bicycles and scooters are more accessible, but fizzle out around 60-mile ranges at 35 mph. China has been leading this “e-volution” by changing licensing classifications on e-scooters and banning internal combustion engine (ICE) scooters in large cities, leading to myriad manufacturers and sales of e-scooters. Other countries have been slower to adopt EVs, despite riders’ praise of their “fun factor” and sustainability. To combat customer hesitation, Taiwan-based electric scooter manufacturer Gogoro designed an e-scooter with batteries that can be easily exchanged. A subscription-based station network in Taipei supports its riders, who have already collectively logged 186 million miles. This infrastructure is key to reassuring potential riders that their destinations can be reached. Similar networks are now being planned for Paris and Berlin. Even mainstream manufacturers are flipping the switch. BMW developed an e-motorcycle weighing in at 600 pounds—a whale by industry standards, as many other models hover at around 250 pounds. Other large manufacturers developing EVs on the two- and four-wheel front include KTM, Yamaha, Porsche, Lamborghini, and Honda. Tackling a more sustainable approach, Ferrari has developed an E-Type concept retrofit for its 1950s through ’70s models. Taking sustainability further, the Dutch e-scooter Be.e boasts a flax and bio-resin body that foregoes the use of metal and carbon. Waarmaker—the designers of the scooter—said of their design process: “Form follows material and production.” Many EVs don’t travel far from the traditional styling of their ICE cousins. D’Orléans explains: “Designers walk a fine line of trying to push the boundaries of styling and technology while catering to a surprisingly conservative streak among the supposed rebels on two wheels.” The same goes for cars—witness name-brand dealer offerings. Thankfully, d’Orléans’s arc surpasses workaday solutions to showcase more provocative and lesser-known innovators. Joey Ruiter, who has designed furniture for Herman Miller, eschewed telltale signs in his Consumer car and Moto Undone motorcycle: Both are pared-down, minimal, rectilinear forms, in black and mirror finishes, respectively. These vehicles, while alluring, do not reference any stereotypical automotive styling. Bandit9 Motors’ bespoke L-Concept motorcycle is a tube with a turbine attached on two wheels. Meanwhile, Ujet’s Electric Scooter looks traditional but has an asymmetrical folding frame and battery-seat module that can be detached like a portable, wheeled tote for easy recharging. BMW’s Motorrad VISION NEXT 100 concept vehicle at once mimics the lines of the company’s first motorcycle and resembles a Tron Light Cycle. United Nude’s black crystalline Lo Res Car is as mysterious as Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey monolith. EVs and their potential infrastructures are inherently sci-fi. The books by Friesike and d’Orléans are both beautifully designed and illustrated, and one won’t find better volumes on EVs and gas stations without traveling to the realm of the overly technical. The Current lists specifications with its case studies, but highlights design, not mechanics. It’s a Gas exposes a new typology without drilling into the industry. Together these books anticipate the future of automobile architecture, including approaches to designing adaptive reuses of filling stations and exploring new types of e-stations.
In a 2016 broadcast of NPR’s Fresh Air, author and cultural anthropologist Gretchen Bakke characterized America’s energy grid as “increasingly unstable, underfunded, and incapable of taking us to a new energy future.” Nevertheless, the steady march toward progress continues, and the threat of obsolescence is driving many cities, urban planners, developers, and businesses to invest in the future. “We happen to be at a moment in time where people are starting to fear that technological obsolescence in the workplace and in cities is a pretty tough place to be and has some real consequences economically for the buildings and the cities that don’t have high-speed networking or don’t have modern energy,” observed Brian Lakamp, founder and CEO of Totem Power. “That’s why you’re seeing city planners, mayors, and businesses get more aggressive about deploying built environment technology than they ever have been, as far as I can tell.” (Note: Some states, such as California, have already passed legislation requiring new buildings to be outfitted with electric vehicle charging ports.) Identifying significant shifts in transportation, communication, and energy, Lakamp saw an opportunity to solve a problem that innovation imposes on our aging buildings. For example, as millions of electric vehicles begin to flood the market in the years ahead, a major investment in infrastructure will be required to support them. Similarly, as buildings are rewired with higher-gauge electrical cabling to accommodate new energy and communications networks, it’s clear that smarter, more flexible solutions are required to meet these ever-increasing demands. “With the coming of 5G and some of the IoT technologies, electric vehicles and autonomous vehicles, there’s a lot that is emerging that needs to change in terms of the way communications networks work and new technology is presented that gets really exciting,” Lakamp said. “We’re here as a way to deploy that infrastructure in the built environment in a way that can be made beautiful and impactful.” To that end, Lakamp launched Totem, a groundbreaking energy solution that reimagines and redesigns smart utility. The Totem platform combines solar energy and energy storage, WiFi and 4G communications, electric vehicle charging, and smart lighting into a single, powerful product that weaves these capabilities directly into the built environment.
How It WorksTotem is, at its core, a vertical server rack that’s designed to support evolution in technology over time. Its base product deploys over 40 kWh of energy storage that serves as a grid asset and dynamic energy foundation that ensures energy quality and provides critical resilience in the event of broader grid issues. Integrated solar generation, electric vehicle charging, and LED lighting add further capability to each Totem and sophistication to each property’s energy assets. Totem also provides a reliable hub for Wi-Fi, 4G, and 5G cellular services to bring high-speed connectivity to properties and communities. Through its modern connectivity platform, it also presents a key communications gateway for IoT devices on and around properties. According to a statement from Jeffrey Kenoff, director at architecture firm Kohn Pedersen Fox, “Totem is one of the first to unite design, infrastructure, and community in a single as well as exquisite platform. It’s hard to imagine a major project or public space that it would not transform.”
Thirty cities—including New York, L.A., and Chicago—are investing billions in electric vehicles to show doubters (like, uh, our president) that there is indeed a market for fuel-efficient cars and trucks. The $10 billion investment, still in its negotiation stage, is a clear message to the auto industry that there's growing demand for low-emission vehicles, even as President Trump moves to relax pollution standards opposed by the auto industry. The cities reached out to car manufacturers to provide feasibility report on 114,000 electric vehicles, a fleet which, Bloomberg News reports, could include garbage trucks, street sweepers, and police cars. “No matter what President Trump does or what happens in Washington, cities will continue leading the way on tackling climate change,” Matt Petersen, the chief sustainability officer for Los Angeles, told the paper. During a meeting with Big Three executives on Wednesday, the President announced plans to review Obama-era fuel efficiency standards. The heads of General Motors, Fiat Chrysler, and Ford all say that the fuel-saving innovations are too expensive to implement and that drivers aren't interested in the technology. A spokesman for an industry trade group, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, told Bloomberg News that carmakers offer 95 different electric and hybrid vehicles but all those sales are eclipsed by one popular gasoline-powered pickup truck. Despite the industry's claims, the city-led inquiry could boost the electric vehicle market substantially, potentially accounting for almost three-quarters of the electric vehicle sales in the United States. So far, there's interest on the supply side: Almost 40 manufacturers have responded to the request, which is being led by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti. Four cities—Portland, Seattle, San Francisco, and L.A.—ordered about 24,000 electric vehicles earlier this year, and since then an additional 26 cities have signed onto the initiative. “Now more than ever there is a need for cities’ leadership on climate,” said Daniel Zarrilli, New York City’s senior director of climate policy and programs. “We really want to send a message that there is a growing market for electric vehicles—regardless of what is happening in D.C.”
When Alvin Huang and his colleagues at Synthesis Design + Architecture (SDA) saw the brief for Volvo’s “Switch to Pure Volvo” competition, they decided to give the auto manufacturer more than it had asked for. The competition, which was organized by The Plan magazine, asked architects to design an iconic, yet portable, pavilion for the new Volvo V60 plug-in hybrid electric car. SDA came up with the Pure Tension pavilion, a steel-frame structure that not only assembles in an hour, but is small enough to fit in the trunk of the car. And the pavilion doesn’t just showcase the car: it also charges it, thanks to 252 lightweight flexible photovoltaic panels incorporated into the structure’s mesh fabric surface. “[We were] really thinking about the potential for this to be more of an application than an object,” Huang said. SDA’s Pure Tension pavilion beat out 150 other entries to win the competition last spring, and has since begun a 9-month promotional tour with the car brand, to culminate in an appearance at The Plan’s annual Perspective event next summer. A product of SDA’s ongoing research into dynamic mesh relaxation, the Pure Tension pavilion comprises a CNC bent aluminum frame with a two-piece vinyl encapsulated polyester mesh membrane. The photovoltaic panels are arrayed within an applied black-on-white graphic that accentuates the pavilion’s curves. SDA utilized intensive solar incidence analysis to place the panels for maximum exposure to sunlight, while an integrated Maximum Power Point Tracking controller automatically disables underperforming cells to optimize power collection. The power from the panels goes to an attached battery pack, which in turn delivers a steady charge to the car. The entire system weighs only 150 pounds and fits into two 65-inch-by-15-inch-by-15-inch rifle cases. Huang sees the Pure Tension pavilion as a meditation on how the move away from fossil fuels might transform car culture. “It’s more a vision of the future, much the way a concept car is,” he said. “It’s not meant to be a production item, more like an attitude being taken, where we want to explore.” Huang highlighted two features of the pavilion in particular. First, there’s the fact that the pavilion simultaneously charges and shades the care. “One of the problems with charging electric cars is that charging generates heat,” he explained. “You have to put them in the sun.” The Pure Tension pavilion protects the Volvo V60 hybrid from overheating while harnessing solar energy for later use. In addition, because the pavilion sends energy from the photovoltaic panels to a battery pack, it doesn’t need to be attached to the car in order to do its work. “In theory,” Huang said, “you can set up the pavilion, drive away, come back, and charge [your car]...as opposed to setting it up and getting three minutes of charge because you’re stopped for three minutes.” The pavilion was designed by SDA with structural engineering help from Buro Happold Los Angeles. It was fabricated by Fabric Images in Chicago, with custom photovoltaic panels by Texas company Ascent Solar.
In Palo Alto, California, the city council recently approved a proposal (9-0) to alter the city's building code, requiring new homes to install wiring for electric car charging stations. Pre-wiring for the 240-Volt Level 2 charging stations costs about $200, while many homes in the city sell for over $1 million. The proposal would also make it easier for homeowners to get permits to retrofit their homes for the charging stations. (Photo: Steve Jurvetson / Flickr)While some fear the city is overstepping its boundaries, and that electric cars may not be the way of the future, supporters see this as a viable step closer toward more sustainable neighborhoods and cities by lowering greenhouse gases, in targeting the infrastructure of where we live first. Last year, Vancouver passed a similar ordinance requiring electric car charging stations in several types of residences. Here's a detailed checklist from the City of Palo Alto with the requirements for installing a home car charging station. And here's a roundup of which cities around the world have the most electric cars.
French automaker Renault has launched a new line of electric cars, their Z.E. line, and as part of its marketing promotions asks why we're still using gas to power autos if we don't for other everyday objects. Imagine a world where all your electric gadgets released a steady stream of exhaust. The result is surreal and at times hilarious. Take a look for yourself after the jump. (Via PSFK.)
As automakers vie to release the next generation of plug-in electric cars, many eco-conscious drivers have wondered about the lack of charging infrastructure in dense urban environments. Unlike in, say, London, where charging points are being planned within one mile of every citizen by 2015, New Yorkers have heard little about curbside electric pumps. Well, if you’re looking for a place to plug in your GM Volt, one company’s vision of the future has arrived. This week, Brooklyn-based sustainable energy company Beautiful Earth (BE) unveiled their new solar-powered electric vehicle charging station, the first in New York and one of just a few in the world. Designed and built by BE from recycled steel shipping containers, the off-grid station sits on a lot near the company headquarters in Red Hook, collecting the sun’s rays with a roof of Sharp 235-watt photovoltaic panels. With a battery bank that stores electricity around the clock, the 6-kilowatt station can charge a car even at night, and could potentially feed unused electricity back into the grid. For now, the new station’s larger impact is more symbolic than practical: It’s only being used to charge BE’s company electric sports car, a BMW Group Mini E (though it would work just as well with any electric vehicle). A full charge gives the Mini E a little over a 100-mile range and takes about three hours, but shorter charging times are well within reach. “As the technology advances, easy charging stations will become increasingly realistic,” said Amanda Cleary, BE’s manager of sustainability.