Meet the incubators and accelerators producing the new guard of design and architecture start-ups. This is part of a series profiling incubators and accelerators from our April 2018 Technology issue. The age of the car as we know it appears to be winding down—that is, if the diverse initiatives started by car companies is any indication. For example, in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, the BMW-owned MINI recently launched A/D/O, a nARCHITECTS-design makerspace and the headquarters of URBAN-X, an accelerator for start-ups seeking to improve urban life. Although URBAN-X is only two years old, the company has hit the ground running thanks to MINI’s partnership with Urban Us, a network of investors focused on funding start-ups that use technology to improve urban living. Through that partnership, URBAN-X is able to use its funding from MINI to take on companies that lack finished products or established customers and then connect them to the Urban Us community. Through a rigorously programmed five-month semester, up to ten start-ups at a time work with in-house engineering, software, marketing, and urbanism experts and given access to the outside funding and political connections that URBAN-X is able to leverage. Competition to join the cohort is fierce, especially since the chosen companies are given $100,000 in initial funding. Architects, planners, urban designers, construction workers, and those with a background in thinking about cities have historically applied. At the time of writing, the third group had just finished its tenure and presented an overview of its work, at A/D/O, at a Demo Day on February 9. The companies have since followed up with whirlwind tours to court investors and realize their ideas. The diversity of projects that have come out of URBAN-X represents the wide-ranging problems that face any modern city. The solutions aren’t entirely infrastructure-based, either. For example, Farmshelf has gained critical acclaim by moving urban farming into sleek, indoor “growing cabinets”; Industrial/Organic is turning decomposing food waste into electricity; and Good Goods has created a platform for smaller retailers to occupy space in large vacancies by pooling money. Ultimately, as cities evolve and become more interconnected, addressing the problems found within them will require ever more complicated and multidisciplinary solutions. The fourth URBAN-X cohort will be announced on May 10, 2018. Notable alumni include: Numina A start-up that uses sensor-integrated streetlights to map traffic patterns. Lunewave A technology company that claims its spherical sensor for self-driving cars is cheaper and more effective than the LiDAR (light detection and ranging) currently in widespread use (likely a win for MINI and BMW). Sencity A platform that encourages human engagement in smart cities. RoadBotics A tool that uses smartphone monitoring to improve road maintenance.0 Qucit This software aggregates urban planning data and uses AI to optimize everything from emergency response times to park planning.
Posts tagged with "Tech+ Expo":
The rise of autonomous vehicles (AVs) is inevitable and—depending on who you ask—they’ll either eliminate car crashes and save the environment, or muscle out pedestrians from the street, steal our personal data, and create biblical levels of gridlock in our cities. But despite the divide over how the technology should be implemented, the common thread that runs between apostles and bashers alike is the belief that cities, planners, and architects are woefully unprepared for the changes self-driving cars will bring. In November 2017, the AIA held an event centered on the topic, "Anticipating the Driverless City,” and the furor seems justified following the death of a pedestrian at the grille of an autonomous Uber car. “Planners think in 30-year increments, and autonomous vehicles are already hitting the streets today,” Nico Larco, co-director of the Sustainable Cities Initiative at the University of Oregon, said. “Urban planners should be terrified.” Larco’s not wrong. Only a few states even have regulations for driverless cars, let alone ideas for designing a future without parking. With Ford launching self-delivering pizzas in Miami, Google’s Waymo rolling out an autonomous ridesharing service in Arizona, and driverless taxis making inroads in cities all over the world, architects and planners will either need to look ahead or be stuck in triage mode. Sam Schwartz, former New York City Traffic Commissioner from 1982 to 1986 and founder of his eponymous traffic and transportation planning and engineering firm, has categorized the potential futures as “the good, the bad, and the ugly.” The “good” A utopic self-driving car scenario would have driverless cars constantly circulating and on the prowl for riders, while providing “first mile, last mile” access to and from souped-up mass-transit corridors. If AVs truly take off and replace a sizable portion of manned cars on the street, then parking lots, garages, and driveways—not to mention thousands of square feet of on-street parking per block—would sit vacant. Walking, cycling, and autonomous (electric) buses would feature heavily in a multi-modal transit mix, and streets would narrow as bioswales and strips of public parks replaced parking spots. There has been movement on designing for that future; FXCollaborative, HOK, Arup, KPF, and other prominent firms have all put forward scalable designs for reclaiming the urban fabric. Speculation has already forced public officials in Pittsburgh to put together plans for integrating self-driving cars into the city’s fabric by 2030, and developers in New York are building flexible parking garages that can easily be converted for other uses. However, the key to actually enacting any of these schemes lies in large-scale government intervention. Without a concerted top-down reclamation and conversion of unused streets, AV-centric zoning policies, or renewed investment in mass-transportation options, cities will never be able to integrate AVs into their infrastructure. The largest hurdle to achieving the “good” future isn’t technological, it’s political; even self-driving evangelists have conceded that a laissez-faire approach might result in increased traffic on the road. The “bad” Uber, Lyft, Google, and a raft of competitors are already jostling to bring self-driving taxis to market so that these companies won’t have to pay human drivers. Under the guise of preventing traffic fatalities—there were nearly 40,000 lives lost in the U.S. alone in 2017—the big players are lobbying all levels of government to allow their AVs on the street. If vehicle miles traveled per person in AVs were allowed to increase without intervention, society could slide into an ugly scenario. This dystopic outcome would see mass transit hollowed out by a lack of funding and pedestrians shunted out of the streets in the name of safety. Studies have already shown that existing ridesharing services increase congestion and cause bus services to deteriorate, and if commuters get fed up with slow commutes and turn to ridesharing services, mass transit options could be sent into death spirals due to decreased revenue. Driverless cars are often touted as being spatially efficient, especially as they can join each other to form road trains—tightly packed groups of vehicles moving along optimized routes. But considering how much space on the road 40 bicycles or 40 commuters in a bus would take up, the flaw in that thinking becomes self-evident. Even if artificial intelligence can route traffic more effectively than a human, putting more cars on the road offsets the gains in speed by decreasing the amount of space available. Although computers might be great at coordinating with each other, the external human element will remain a wild card no matter what. Well-planned cities that prioritize walkability and ground-level experience would place pedestrians over passengers, but a worst-case scenario could see cyclists and walkers forced to wear locator beacons so that AVs could “see” them better, while hemmed in behind fencing. The “ugly” The worst driverless car scenarios take Le Corbusier’s famous claim that “the city built for speed is the city built for success” to heart. The high-speed arterial thoroughfares Corbusier envisioned in The Radiant City were realized in the destructive city planning policies of the 1950s and '60s, but municipalities have spent heavily to correct their mistakes 50 years later. Much in the same way that widening roads actually worsens traffic, if planners and architects ignore or give deference to driverless cars and continue to prioritize car culture in their decisions, congestion, gridlock, and withered public transit systems are sure to follow. The adoption of self-driving technology will likely birth new building typologies with unique needs, from centralized hubs where the cars park themselves to AV repair shops. As futurist Jeff Tumlin, principal and director of strategy at Nelson/Nygaard, points out, self-driving cars aren’t a new concept. Their lineage can be directly traced to ideas introduced by GE at the 1939 World’s Fair, but this is the first time that the technology has caught up with the vision. Planners and politicians have had 80 years to grapple with solutions; they can’t afford to take any longer.
The winners of the American Institute of Architects’ (AIA) 11th annual Upjohn Research Initiative have been announced, and $100,000 in grants will be split among the four recipients. Those chosen will receive funding for 18 months to pursue research projects that push the boundaries of design, and their results will be published nationally. This year’s grant recipients leaned heavily on designs inspired by nature: Half of the group will study the various benefits of biophilia, while another project will examine how biodiversity impacts a structure’s ecological resilience. The 2018 winners are as follows:
- The Impact of Biophilic Learning Spaces on Student Success
- Biophilic Architecture: Sustainable Materialization of Microalgae Facades
- Biodiverse Built Environments: High-Performance Passive Systems for Ecologic Resilience
- Tilt Print Lift - Concrete 3D Printing for Precast Assemblies
The 3-D-printed Cabin of Curiosities is a research endeavor and "proof of concept" investigation into the architectural possibilities of upcycling and custom 3-D-printed claddings as a response to 21st-century housing needs. This exploratory project is an output of Bay Area-based additive manufacturing startup Emerging Objects, founded by Ronald Rael and Virginia San Fratello, who are professors at the University of California Berkeley and San Jose State University, respectively. They also co-founded the architecture studio Rael San Fratello, whose work primarily focuses on architecture as a cultural endeavor. The Cabin of Curiosities is exemplary of Emerging Objects’ work, which dives deep into the material science of additive manufacturing while utilizing open-source tools and standard off-the-shelf printers. Due to a housing emergency in the Bay Area, the Oakland City Council eased restrictions on the construction of secondary housing units, or backyard cottages. The new rules promote more rental housing by easing parking requirements, allowing homeowners to transform existing backyard buildings like sheds and garages into living spaces, and relaxing height and setback requirements. Thusly located in a residential backyard, the one-room gabled structure brings together a collection of performative tile products, from interior translucent glowing wall assemblies to exterior rain screens composed of integrated succulent planters and textural "shingles" that push the boundaries of how quickly one can mass produce 3-D-printed architectural components. Over 4,500 3-D-printed ceramic tiles clad the exterior of the building. The firm is committed to focusing on upcycling agricultural and industrial waste products, and at times its custom materials sound more like tasting notes from a nearby Napa or Sonoma wine. Grape skins, salt, cement, and sawdust, among others, have been integrated into Emerging Objects’ products to create variety among the tiles. The project integrates two types of tiles on the exterior: a "planter" tile on the gable ends, and a shingled "seed stitch" tile wrapping the side walls and roof. The planter tiles offer 3-D-printed ceramic shapes that include pockets for vegetation to grow. The seed stitch tiles, borrowing from knitting terminology, are produced through a deliberately rapid printing process that utilizes G-code processing to control each line of clay for a more "handmade" aesthetic. No two tiles are the same, offering unique shadow lines across the facade. The cabin interior features translucent white Chroma Curl wall tiles, made of a bio-based plastic derived from corn. These tiles offer a customized relief texture inspired by the tradition of pressed metal ceilings, which historically relied on mass production through mold-making. It might be too soon to tell, but the 3-D-Printed Cabin might be our generation’s version of Muuratsalo, Alvar Aalto’s classic house circa 1953 experimenting with textured material and architectural form through its construction. "We're building this from our kitchen table, printing parts and testing solutions in real time," said San Fratello. The cabin is a departure from other investigations in 3-D-printed dwellings, many of which are unlivable and not aesthetically considered. “These are not just investigations into testing materials for longevity or for structure, but also a study of aesthetics. We see the future as being elegant, optimistic, and beautiful,” said Rael.
Every year, thousands of people – an average of three per day – die from accidents on construction sites in the United States alone. One of the driving forces behind this trend is the paucity of safety inspectors. Now, some engineers are turning to tech to make the safety inspection process easier and more accessible, turning construction sites less deadly in the process. This is what led Ardalan Khosrowpour to found OnSiteIQ in 2017. Khosrowpour has a background in engineering and says that as someone who had grown up around construction sites, he’d seen the negligence that exists in the industry. “Construction is the second least digitized industry after agriculture, and as a civil engineer, I believe that our industry deserves better than this,” said Khosrowpour. His program, usable from anywhere and on any device, allows anyone to remotely inspect a construction site using a technology-based documentation system, promising to cut down on the fatalities, injuries, and insurance costs. Here’s how it works: the company has a network of data collectors, each armed with a 360-degree camera, to walk through an entire construction site twice monthly, recording all the while. This video is then uploaded onto the platform and gets automatically mapped onto the site’s floor plans using a built-in computer vision algorithm. The result is called a 3D “panograph” – a large, wraparound digital image created from these photos and video clips strung together. Because all of the collected data is geolocalized and timestamped, users can pinpoint exactly when and where site conditions might be changing. An artificial intelligence system trained to highlight potential safety hazards expedites this process. This is all a far cry from the traditional, pen-and-paper methods used to document, inspect and assess the potential hazards on a construction site. In short, it “enables any stakeholder from any location to virtually walk the site and do their own inspection,” says Khosrowpour. This program also consolidates this data into easy-to-read graphs, allowing users to quickly track when, where, and how often a particular safety issue, like a missing guard rail, occurs. The program’s location-based technology also tracks where on-site the most safety issues are occurring. All of this together allows users to quickly assess and eliminate any potential safety risks, and any comments about a site can instantly be annotated, tracked, and shared among those that need to know. Khosrowpour presented OnSiteIQ at the BuiltWorlds Project Conference this past week at Grand Central Tech in Manhattan. The conference was dedicated to discussing the emerging technologies meant to augment city planning and architecture. OnSiteIQ was one of the finalists of the NYC Startup Challenge – a shark tank-style pitching session, where CEOs of five selected technology-based startups presented their projects to a panel of judges from the construction and urban planning fields. The winner would attend this year’s Builtworld Summit: a prime opportunity to drum up new clientele and reach potential investors. Though the competition was close, OnSiteIQ ultimately came in second. While the judges liked the concept, their main concern was how this concept could evolve into a continuous and real-time monitoring system on the job sites. RoadBotics, an URBAN-X cohort member using phones to survey road conditions and AI to assess them, took home first place. Since its inception, OnSiteIQ has collected over 3.7 million square feet of data using its twice-monthly data collection model. The program is available through a monthly subscription from the program’s website with three different tiers depending on the services required for a project. Depending on what a user needs, they can choose to focus on documentation and safety inspection alone, or they can add in risk-assessment technology.
Come April 2, California will see fully autonomous vehicles (AVs) hit the streets after the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) ruled that the cars don’t need a human in the driver’s seat. First proposed in October, the change means that the 50 companies registered to test self-driving cars in the state could start to ramp up the scale of their projects. The changes come as other states, like Arizona, have seen tech companies ramp up their investments in self-driving cars thanks to a lack regulations. Once the rule takes effect, these vehicles will only need an operator to monitor the car remotely, similar to flying a drone, just in case. Uber, Google’s self-driving car initiative Waymo, General Motors and other big-name players in the industry hailed the move as a major step forward in rolling out AVs on a mass scale. "This is a significant step towards an autonomous future in the state, and signals that California is interested in leading by example in the deployment of autonomous vehicles," Uber spokesperson, Sarah Abboud told The Sacramento Bee. "With this effort complete, we look forward to working with California as it develops regulations applicable to autonomous trucks." Even though it seems as if California is easing off the gas, companies will still be required to report their "disengagements," or human takeovers. While the self-driving cars being tested for mass market production use an array of cameras, radar sensors and satellite data to navigate, the technology isn’t perfect, and most AVs are tested in flat, open landscapes without pedestrians. After April we might see self-driving cars expand their reach onto busy streets or highways, but a full-on integration with manned traffic still seems unlikely. The industry leader in disengagements, Waymo, still reports needing a human takeover about every 5,600 miles, even as the company has announced that it would be launching a driverless ride sharing service in Phoenix, Arizona later this year. Despite the promised safety and environmental benefits that fully autonomous cars would bring (not to mention self-delivering pizzas), consumer advocacy groups have complained that rushing to bring AVs to real streets could endanger lives. Nonprofit organization Consumer Watchdog railed against the decision, releasing a statement accusing the DMV of prioritizing speed over safety. Although advancements in self-driving technology have been promising, the group wrote, “Even if the robot cars were to reach the highest level of perfection (which they are nowhere near, despite what clever marketing might have you believe!), robot cars will co-exist in a world with other humans, who will continue to act in unpredictable, non-robotic ways. Put simply: the robot car world will not be perfect, despite what the technocrats may have you believe.” With more autonomous vehicles set to take up space on public streets, it remains to be seen how well they’ll integrate with our messy, irrational transit system.
Flux, the popular platform used by architects, engineers and construction workers to share models, markups and more, has announced that it will be shutting down on March 31 and transitioning to a new, as-of-yet unknown business model. Flux was the first company to publicly spring out of Google’s Google X incubator in 2014, with a focus on making buildings more efficient, using AI to cut waste in the design process, and allowing users to easily share information. The company emerged with an $8 million valuation, which grew to $40 million this year. In a statement released on BuiltWorlds, the company revealed that it would be targeting a “different subset of users in the marketplace,” and that Flux would be pivoting away from “end-to-end data sharing.” What this means for professionals using Flux in their projects is unknown, with their cloud-hosted tool suite going dark as they roll out a new platform for real estate professionals. The new platform is scheduled for release in mid-2018. AN will update this post as we find out more information about Flux's plans moving forward.
Art and architecture have always been inexorably intertwined, as new innovations in materials and construction allow buildings to rise higher and branch out into experimental new forms. But after concrete, high-rise timber, and advances in digital design, how will the field continue to progress? What new technologies and typologies will arise in the future, and how can architects and designers not only adapt, but thrive? Below is a roundup of some of 2017 and 2018’s best books on digital fabrication, robotics, redefining architectural scale, and guides on how to design for a science fiction future. Towards a Robotic Architecture Mahesh Daas and Andrew John Wit ORO Editions $40.06 As Le Corbusier’s Towards a New Architecture advocated for an architectural movement unburdened by the weight of historical convention, Towards a Robotic Architecture implores readers to consider what the field will become once automation and robotics fully come of age. Through a series of case studies, Daas and Wit examine cutting-edge fabrication techniques, buildings that interact with their occupants, additive manufacturing, drone-based construction, and the realization of previously impossible forms. 3D Thinking in Design and Architecture: From Antiquity to the Future Roger Burrows Thames & Hudson Pre-order for $41.25, to be released on May 15, 2018 How did the architectural designers of the past work within the confines of numerical systems built on whole numbers? How has the progression of mathematical knowledge influenced the way we see the world? In 3D Thinking in Design and Architecture, Burrows charts the intertwined evolution of geometry and visual logic from the dawn of civilization to the present and beyond. Active Matter Skylar Tibbits MIT Press $32.31 Fabrication has made leaps and bounds over the last few centuries, but material science has made just as many intriguing advances. In Active Matter, Skylar Tibbits curates a discussion between artists, scientists and designers who are working on the cutting-edge of transforming materials, from self-forming furniture to eye-tracking clothing, to pavilions wound up with explosive force. Responsive Landscapes: Strategies for Responsive Technologies in Landscape Architecture Bradley Cantrell and Justine Holzman Routledge $52.22 Landscape architecture is often left out of the conversation when talking about technology, but sensors, advanced modeling techniques and robotic manufacturing will eventually cause a seismic shift in landscape architecture. Responsive Landscapes explores how designers are working to future-proof their landscapes against climate change, monitor usage patterns, and track pollution on their sites, and what the future might hold for the profession. Technically this book was released at the tail end of 2015, but it sheds light on an oft-overlooked part of the field. Hello, Robot.: Design Between Human and Machine Mateo Kries Vitra Design Museum $40.14 Pushing the boundaries of architecture with robotics is one thing, but how do humans interact with and relate to robots? Hello, Robot argues that robots are much more than powerful tools, having preoccupied the human imagination for thousands of years in one form or another. As their presence becomes more commonplace, humans begin to soften and anthropomorphize robots, and they become much more than machines that imitate human effort. Faster, Smarter, Greener: The Future of the Car and Urban Mobility Venkat Sumantran, Charles Fine and David Gonsalvez MIT Press $26.95 Automobiles dominated the twentieth century, with infrastructure around the world built to accommodate unending stretches of roads and interchanges, often to the detriment of surrounding communities. As Faster, Smarter, Greener puts forth though, that outdated method city planning is about to be radically changed as smart, interconnected vehicles will give rise to a new, cleaner age of mobile efficiency. Printing Architecture: Innovative Recipes for 3D Printing Ronald Rael and Virginia San Fratello Princeton Architectural Press Pre-order for $29.95, to be released on May 1, 2018 3-D printing and the world of architecture and design are natural fits for each other, as the technology allows for rapid prototyping and model-making at a low cost. Printing Architecture runs readers through a series of case studies, from small household items all the way up to complex 3-D-printed structures, to give ground-up examples of how the technology will change the design field. Robot House: Instrumentation, Representation, Fabrication Peter Testa Thames & Hudson $26.99 Robotics are becoming more and more ingrained in our homes, offices, schools and third places, but are we tapping their full potential? Robot House examines robotics through the three “P’s,” projects, principles and platforms, exploring how robots are used, operated and thought about. Every book on this list was selected independently by AN's team of editors. If you buy something via the embedded links, AN will earn a commission.
From November 2 through the 4, 2017, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) convened the 36th ACADIA conference in the Fumihiko Maki–designed MIT Media Lab. For three days, nearly 350 people from over 30 countries drank untold gallons of coffee and shared their ideas through an array of research and paper presentations. Leading up to the conference itself was three days of intensive workshops hosted at Autodesk BUILD Space in Boston's Seaport District. ACADIA is a unique organization advancing the computational horizons in architecture. Founded in 1981 by pioneers in the field of design computation, including Bill Mitchell, Chuck Eastman, and Chris Yessios, ACADIA has hosted over 30 conferences across North America and has grown into a wide network of academics and professionals. Welcoming the ACADIANs was Hashim Sarkis, MIT’s dean of the School of Architecture + Planning. He highlighted three "turns" driving new practices in architecture. First, said Sarkis, was the "turn of scalar problems: how technology has smoothed shifts of scale from the nanoscale to the planetary." Second, the turn of values: the open sourcing of production to design processes that empower end-users and will radically change the role of the designer. Design should be a mode of inquiry that now works hand-in-hand with fabrication, said Sarkis. Lastly, he spoke of a turn toward contingency. The traditional view of a designer is that in order to be in control, we need to exclude non-relevant elements. As computational power continues to grow, more contingency enters the process as elements that were once excluded can be brought into the fold, opening design to more variety and possibility than before. MIT Host Committee Co-Chair’s Takahiko Nakamura and Skylar Tibbets welcomed the audience and kicked off the first of 13 paper-based sessions. The sessions ranged from BIM use to Automation, Visualization to Machine Learning. A major sponsorship from Autodesk allowed the ACADIA Board of Directors to award $10,000 in student travel scholarships to paper and project presenters. Breaking up the barrage of research presentations were carefully chosen keynotes from afar and close to home. MIT’s own Neri Oxman kicked off the first day, and the ACADIA Design achievement award was bestowed on designer Thomas Heatherwick that same night. Heatherwick was singled out for his studio's provocative work worldwide, and he shared insights into his studio’s processes. "The ACADIA Design Excellence Award is recognized internationally as one of the highest honors in the field," said Jason Kelly Johnson, outgoing president of ACADIA. "It represents recognition by colleagues worldwide of extraordinary contributions and impact on the field of architectural computing and design culture." The award was most recently given to Liz Diller and the late Zaha Hadid. The next day began with two awards for educators: The Innovator Award and Educator Award, which was followed by an education panel. The Educator Award went to Heather Roberge, the new Chair of Architecture at UCLA. Roberge walked the audience through a handful of studio curricula and projects, and spoke on the crucial difference between a model and a prototype, the different kinds of skills that students learn, the difference between handcraft vs machinecraft, and demonstrated how to use molds to visualize parametric concepts and form finding. The second day closed out with a presentation from Paris-based Iconem, an organization using advanced photogrammetric techniques for heritage preservation in conflict zones. Wrapping up the conference’s final day, Nervous Systems’ Jesse Louis-Rosenberg and Jessica Rosenkrantz described their eclectic design practice, and how the studio uses generative design to create interactive forms. Kathy Velikov, the incoming 2018 president of ACADIA, discussed how ACADIA brings together a community engaged with design challenges and future-facing solutions. Much of the work shown could be brought back to the office or classroom, and either might be applicable today, or open new paths to research or near-future concepts, and tools that will change work across practices. "Next year we are excited that the ACADIA conference will be held in Mexico City," said Velikov in a statement after the conference. "We are partnering with Mexico City's Ibero-American University to host and organize the event. ACADIA is a North American organization, and while we have had several conferences in Canada, this is the first time we will be in Mexico." "Besides the obvious attraction of the vibrance, history, and design culture of Mexico City, this is a fantastic opportunity to frame conversations around computational design within a different technological and cultural context, and to be able to open conference to new communities of participants," he added. The 2018 ACADIA conference, Re/calibration: on imprecision and infidelity, will attempt to recalibrate the discourse around computational design research, and a new venue in a new country is the perfect place to shake things up. The Call for Papers is live and due May 1, 2018 The full list of award winners is as follows: Design Excellence Award Thomas Heatherwick Founder/Design Director, Ηeatherwick Studio Digital Practice Award of Excellence Lisa Iwamoto & Craig Scott Founders, IWAMOTTOSCOTT ARCHITECTURE Society Award of Excellence Bob Martens Associate Professor, TU Wien Innovative Research Award of Excellence Wesley McGee Assistant Professor of Architecture, University of Michigan Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning/Co-founder, Matter Design Teaching Award of Excellence Heather Roberge Chair, UCLA School of Architecture and Urban Design/Founder, Murmur design Academic Program Award of Excellence Bartlett School of Architecture, B-Pro Program
As of 2015, over 70 percent of all freight transported in the U.S. was moved by truck. That represents a whopping $726 billion in gross revenues from trucking alone, and each year, trucks haul everything from consumer goods to livestock over billions of miles in the United States. All of those numbers are growing—so much so, that according to the American Trucking Associations, the industry is running into a major driver shortage. Long hours, days away from home, and the stress of driving 80,000 pounds at 70 miles per hour is not for everyone, but one company is hoping to make the task easier through automation. Embark, a small startup based in Silicon Valley, is led by a number of engineering school dropouts. Its goal is to develop affordable semi-autonomous semis using neural-net–based deep learning technology. By developing hardware that can be fitted onto existing truck models, and software that learns as it goes, Embark has quickly and cheaply developed some of the most promising autonomous vehicles in the world. “Analyzing terabyte upon terabyte of real-world data, Embark’s DNNs have learned how to see through glare, fog, and darkness on their own,” said Alex Rodrigues, CEO and co-founder of Embark, in a statement that coincided with the introduction of the technology this spring. “We’ve programmed them with a set of rules to help safely navigate most situations, safely learn from the unexpected, and how to apply that experience to new situations going forward.” Rather than try to replace drivers, or redesign the trucks or roads, Embark is focusing on working with what already exists. Collaborating with Texas-based truck manufacturer Peterbilt, Embark is retrofitting the popular 579 semi models with sensors cameras and computers that can read existing roads and take over driving tasks from long-haul drivers. When the trucks must navigate more complex urban settings, the human driver takes back command. This focus on solving the open-road problem, instead of the entire range of driving situations, has streamlined the development process. Currently Embark is one of only three companies permitted to test autonomous 18-wheeler semis on the highways of Nevada (the other two companies being Freightliner and Uber). With the Peterbilt collaboration and a recent announcement of $15 million in additional financing, Embark has become one of the leaders in the race to automate transportation. While Google, Tesla, and a slew of other car companies target the finicky consumer market, Embark has its sights squarely on a market struggling to keep up with demand. With hundreds of billions of dollars at stake, and billions of pounds of freight being moved, it seems only likely that it will be the self-driving truck, not sports car, that we will be seeing on the road sooner rather than later.
City planning operates on decades-long cycles, while infrastructure is typically built out using forecasts that extend current trends. If self-driving vehicles are poised to deliver the revolution in urban transportation that Silicon Valley has been promising, how should urban infrastructure accommodate them? With less parking spots needed, how can designers effectively reclaim this urban space? Anticipating the Driverless City, a recent conference hosted by the AIA New York (AIANY), brought together Uber executives, planners, architects, and policymakers in pursuit of a holistic approach to adapting to life with autonomous vehicles. Speakers acknowledged the same general themes over and over again, despite their differing backgrounds. With self-driving cars possibly arriving in New York City by early 2018 and real-world tests already happening in other cities, one of the most discussed topics was the need to plan for an autonomous future as soon as possible. Nico Larco, co-director of the Sustainable Cities Initiative, stressed that "planners think in 30-year increments, and autonomous vehicles are already hitting the streets today. Urban planners should be terrified." Autonomous vehicles will touch on every facet of urban life, from water management through the reduction of impermeable roads, to electrical grid infrastructure, and drastically reshape the economy. Larco, and many others throughout the event spoke of the need for government to begin working with planners and policymakers to redesign cities from the ground-up. Leaning on a "people, places, policy" framework is a good starting point, as architects and planners can strategize about how autonomous vehicles could possibly affect each of the three. Sam Schwartz, former NYC Traffic Commissioner and founder of transit planning firm Sam Schwartz Engineering, described how a future society with self-driving cars could tilt towards "good," "bad," or "ugly" outcomes. The ideal scenario would be one where the use of autonomous vehicles has encouraged mass transportation use, acting to move commuters to and from high-capacity transit corridors. Because self-driving cars can pack tighter and don’t need to park, streets would be narrowed and the extra space converted to public parkland. Conversely, in a world where autonomous vehicles are owned only by individuals, pedestrians might be walled off from the street, and our roads might be more packed than ever. According to Jeff Tumlin, principal and director of strategy at Nelson/Nygaard, the way we think about self-driving cars directly stems from concepts first presented at the 1939 World’s Fair. Nearly 80 years later, architects and planners wanting to design for a future with self-driving cars, busses, and trains, will need to go beyond simply extending our current car culture.
"If you took GPS out of people's phones now, they would die." That was the bold claim Google's Aaron Luber made at the inaugural Tech+ expo today. Hyperbole? Maybe, but Luber made the point of how dependent we are on technology to navigate the built environment. Moreover, how else does technology impact our surroundings? Presented by The Architect's Newspaper, the inaugural Tech+ expo saw 500 architects, designers, and tech experts head to Metropolitan West to get the low-down on how technology is shaping the built environment. The day was shaped by industry professionals discussing and showcasing technology that is developing a role within the design process of numerous firms and enhancing client-architecture relationships. Luber estimated that by 2018 almost all Android-based cell phones will be running software called "Tango." This software, he explained, when used with another software package called "Trimble," allows GPS to work in-sync with programs such as AutoCAD to allow clients to view their projects live on-site. Luber called this a "visual positioning service," which, for all intents and purposes, was an augmented reality machine. As for virtual reality, however, a host of VR firms, including Iris VR, Insite, and NVIDIA was present at Tech+ with their stalls showcasing their latest products. VR has, for a while now, been used to enhance the client-architect relationship through walk-throughs and other demonstrations. Despite confessing to being trained in "analog fashion," Keynote speaker Hao Ko of Gensler said: "Maybe the days of drawing plans and sections are gone now, we don't need 2D drawings anymore." Technology, he went on, has enabled us to present more coherent representations to clients. Before architects had to make physical models to enhance the experience, and these models were made at larger and larger scales—something Eero Saarinen was very familiar with, as Ko displayed a picture of the Finnish-American architect's legs sticking out of a model of the TWA terminal. NVIDIA California office complex designed by Gensler. "Technology does not wait, and neither should architects."