Posts tagged with "Technology":

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A modular apartment factory is set to touch down in Chicago

Chicago-based general contractors Skender are getting into the modular manufacturing game, with an announcement that they will be building a factory on Chicago’s southwest side that can crank out hotel rooms and entire apartments. Skender is going all in on the new factory and modular fabrication startup, which they claim will put 100 people to work (an impressive number, as Skender only has 300 employees), and is using the opportunity to shift towards a design-build model. The company has bought out local firm Ingenious Architecture and will use the 10-person studio to guide the design and manufacturing of the modular units. Tim Swanson, formerly the head of CannonDesign’s Chicago office, will be joining as Skender’s chief design officer, Kevin Bredeson has been named the chief technology officer, and the company is hunting for a CEO to lead its factory. The move represents a huge expansion in scope for Skender, which has also changed its name from Skender Construction as part of the new direction the company is pursuing. “We are asking new questions,” said Skender President and Partner Justin Brown in a statement. “Why can’t we apply sophisticated design principles to modular manufacturing? How can we eliminate weather delays by bringing large parts of the process indoors? How can we significantly boost productivity without sacrificing quality?” Skender is expecting to roll full apartments, hotel rooms, and pieces of both multi-family residences and healthcare buildings off its new assembly line. Everything can be fabricated at the factory by tradespeople, from cabinets to light fixtures to units that have been pre-wired and set up for plumbing, then shipped to the potential construction site and unloaded via crane. Besides being able to construct modular buildings from the ground up (similar to New York’s Carmel Place), Skender plans to use the factory to work on both the interior and exteriors of its projects simultaneously, and standardize production. To say that modular architecture has had its ups and downs in recent years would be an understatement. While the world’s largest modular hotel, the Stephen B. Jacobs Group-designed CitizenM, is nearly complete in New York, the industry is still smarting from the bruising battle it took to complete 461 Dean Street in Brooklyn. The Pacific Park tower eventually became the world's tallest modular building, but was mired in lawsuits between Skanska and developer Forest City Ratner until the latter cut their losses and sold their modular manufacturing factory to architect Roger Krulak and his company, FullStack Modular. It remains to be seen if Skender can make the model work for them, but their smaller scope should help. If all goes as planned, Skender expects to pick a site for the factory in the coming months and to begin production in the fourth quarter of this year.
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Cutting-edge 3-D-printing pushes construction boundaries in an Oakland cabin

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.
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Boeing to sell flying taxis

Aerospace company Boeing aims to begin selling electric people-carrying drones within the next ten years. “I think it will happen faster than any of us understand,” Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg told Bloomberg. “Real prototype vehicles are being built right now. So the technology is very doable.”
Boeing's announcement is the latest in an explosion of news—and corresponding excitement—around driverless cars and other forms of transportation previously found only in science fiction. On April 2, fully autonomous vehicles can hit the streets in California, while truck company Peterbilt is pioneering technology for self-driving big rigs. Las Vegas, meanwhile, is testing a self-driving public transit shuttle, while further west, Uber and NASA are teaming up to bring flying cars to Los Angeles. And let's not forget about the Hyperloop: Elon Musk has received exploratory permits for a New York to D.C. route for the ultra-fast conveyance he's developed, and this week, Virgin Hyperloop One debuted its first pod prototype in Dubai.
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A new startup aims to make every construction site safer, faster

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.
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Driverless cars set to roll in California after rule change

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.
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URBAN-X’s latest startups bring AI to urban roads, floating cameras to the skies

At URBAN-X’s latest demo day, held at the nARCHITECTS-designed ADO creative hub in Greenpoint, Brooklyn yesterday, the incubator's third batch of cohorts presented technological solutions to urban problems, ranging from a “smart crane” to collaborative retail for small stores. URBAN-X, a startup accelerator and partnership between MINI and Urban Us, takes on up to 10 companies every six months, invests up to $100,000 in each, and connects them with business and design expertise. The most recent group, with nine companies, debuted products and services that were designed to change the way we live in cities, with a focus on the human-centric experience. Qucit (Quantified Cities) is attempting to improve not only urban mobility, but happiness, through artificial intelligence. While other companies have focused on monitoring narrow bands of things such as transit ridership, street usage, bike docking and other urban information, Qucit wants to integrate all of this information vertically into a cohesive model. By aggregating usage data, Qucit has already helped redesign a dangerous roundabout in Paris, and will be bringing its machine learning services to Downtown Brooklyn for a pilot project in early March. Swiftera is approaching similar problems from the air. By using a balloon and floating a camera above what drones can reach, but below satellites, the company is promising high-resolution imagery at specific locations with a short turnaround. By selling actionable geospatial data to planners, developers, architects and municipalities, Swiftera would be able to help monitor traffic and accessibility, as well as things such as roof conditions. Blueprint Power is addressing the disconnect between the energy grid and buildings by creating a market for the surplus energy that buildings are capable of producing. When the grid is stressed, buildings with co-gen plants or solar panels should be able to transfer their extra electricity back to the larger network, benefiting both the building owner as well as the general public and utility companies. This transformation of buildings into “intelligent energy nodes” would ultimately see the buildings’ energy systems automated and managed by an AI system. The complete list of cohorts and their pitch videos can be found here, as well as a video of their evening conference. While most of the group has already begun working with real-world companies, they will also be seeking venture capital funding in the near future. Keep an eye out for URBAN-X’s fourth cohort, which will be announced in May of this year.
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Turn on, tune in, get connected: 6 smart home devices

We are becoming increasingly digitally connected to the things around us and, in turn, the spaces that we occupy. Virtually any device with an on-off switch can become part of a network of connected things, from security systems to dishwashers. On this page, you’ll find the latest IoT-compatible devices and new releases from 2018's Kitchen and Bath Industry Show and the Consumer Electronics Show. Tomato+ Boffi
Producing freshly grown herbs and vegetables all year, Tomato+ is an indoor vegetable garden with gusto! Inside, the LED lighting system reproduces cyclical day-to-night natural lighting and houses seedling pods on biodegradable trays. With the app, users can control the climate remotely and order parts to actualize their very own garden scheme.
Nest x Yale Lock Yale
Nest, the purveyor of digital security systems and connected home devices, collaborated with Yale Locks on a key-free touchscreen deadbolt smart lock. The Nest x Yale Lock allows remote unlocking and passcode unlocking (it holds up to 250 passwords), which can be set to specific times of the day for those with limited access. The app also connects to other Nest safety devices, like the video doorbell and security system, so users can deactivate the alarm as you open the door and see people remotely when they arrive.
MODEL 3 Water Heater Heatworks
It’s electric! The MODEL 3 is an internet-connected, tankless water heater that churns out unlimited hot water at any desired temperature (saving that water you normally waste waiting for it to warm up). Through the app, users can monitor how much hot water and energy are used, select favorite temperature profiles, and even limit the length of a child’s shower time. View by Yves Béhar Hive
Yves Béhar designed this indoor smart camera with portability in mind. The cube-shaped camera snaps off the stand so it can monitor any area in the house. Through the app, 24-hour surveillance is securely livestreamed in 1080p HD. It can be programmed to detect people only, so there aren’t ongoing notifications about the family cat. The camera is available in black and brushed copper or white and champagne gold (shown), and it can attach to freestanding or wall-mounted stands.
Verdera Voice Lighted Mirror Kohler
Magic mirror on the wall, can you connect me to the conference call? This LED-dimmable voice-activated mirror is equipped with Amazon Alexa, with voice-activated controls that seamlessly connect to your other devices and apps. It is offered in three width varieties: 24, 34, and 40 inches.
Wisp Digital Blinds iGlass Technology
By way of a digital current that is applied to a transparent, flexible, and durable film, these digital blinds fully tint windows from light to dark within 20 seconds, effectively reducing heat, UV rays, and glare. Wisp is installed on the inside surface of any existing window, adding a digital layer that is wireless and IoT-enabled.
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NYCx tackles climate change and urban design challenges with tech

The NYCx initiative, a collaborative effort between the tech industry and the New York City’s mayor’s office, has announced the names of the 22 tech leaders who will be advising the program’s efforts to use smart city ideas to tackle urban issues. First announced in October of last year by Mayor Bill de Blasio, NYCx was designed to tackle pollution, income inequality, climate change, transit issues and more by connecting local startups with global tech companies. New York’s Chief Technology Officer (CTO) Miguel Gamiño and Deputy CTO Jeremy Goldberg are leading the program, with help from the newly formed 22-person Technology Leadership Advisory Council. The program has hit the ground running, and awards for all four of NYCx’s current initiatives will be distributed in the first half of 2018. The most ambitious problems being tackled have been categorized as moonshot projects, which partner with global entities, while another set of challenges, the co-lab challenges, are designed to collect community-specific solutions for localized problems. The most ambitious of these questions might be the Climate Action Challenge, as the city is seeking proposals to transition fully to electric vehicles in every borough in only five to ten years. Split between two “tracks,” the challenge wants to simultaneously develop new ways of charging electric vehicles, as well as make charging stations ubiquitous across the city. Winners will be announced on April 30th, 2018, and each selected team will receive up to $20,000 and work with the city to implement their ideas. On the co-lab side, the mayor’s office wants to create safer nighttime corridors and activate public areas in Brownsville, and wire up Governor’s Island with 5G wireless internet by this May. Both challenges involve changing how the local community interacts with public space, and could provide a template for future urban planning and development throughout NYC. The Technology Leadership Advisory Council, which will be evaluating these projects, has attracted members of the country’s largest tech companies. Microsoft, Ford, LinkedIn, Google and more have all contributed talent and will continue to work with the city government on projects “from drones to blockchain,” according to the mayor’s office. This partnership makes sense on its face, as several of these companies are already developing their own smart city models. The full list of 22 advisory members can be read here.
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Robots prevail in our society, but what roles can they really play?

Amelie Klein is a curator at the Vitra Design Museum in Weil am Rhein, Germany, and she organized the show Hello, Robot. Design between Human and Machine, a centerpiece of the Vienna Biennale. The Architect's Newspaper (AN) sat down with Klein to discuss robots and the speculation that comes along with them. The Architect’s Newspaper: What role does speculation play in your new exhibition Hello, Robot., which is on view now as part of the Vienna Biennale? Amelie Klein: Well, it is funny because dealing with robots is inherently dealing with a lot of speculation. But our definition of “robot” is very broad, so it is not always so clear. What is a robot? Architect Carlo Ratti says there are three criteria: A robot must have sensors that gather; intelligence that interprets; and actuators, or tools, that produce a reaction. This is slightly different than what we usually consider to be a robot, which is more about doing something physical or having artificial intelligence. But if we look at the smartphone as a robot, we are not in the speculative; we are talking about the real. However, at the same time, the stuff we see that resembles science fiction robots is built to work for like five days, usually at a fair next to a highly sophisticated technician who will help make it run. So in that regard, it is not really as advanced as we might think. If you look at what is around, it is mostly all super fragile and doesn’t work at all. So robotics today is inherently speculative. But what about design? What role does design play in realizing new futures? Bruce Sterling always says, “Science fiction is never about the future, it is always about the present.” Speculation is looking at the present and taking it one step further. Paola Antonelli once gave a presentation in the mid-’90s about the future of work. She had commissioned a piece to Hella Jongerius, who came up with a bed with a screen built into the piece of furniture. Today, that is ridiculous to think of having [a bed with] a built-in screen, but at the same time we all work in bed. So people are articulating these ideas in a way that corresponds to our own reality today. Since the modernism movement, we have had this fetish of function—as if functionality is what makes design. I don’t think this is a very useful concept for what design can offer. Design practices like Dunne + Raby and Superflux use speculative design to talk about how we deal with our physical environment now. They are asking some very important questions, which has liberated design from this fetish of functionality. Do you see the same level of speculative thinking in architecture? There is certainly speculative thinking, such as Greg Lynn’s work or the Vertical Village. Archigram and Ant Farm were also highly speculative. In general, in the 1970s there were radical architects, but maybe this is not so prevalent anymore. What we have found in our research for this show is really well-researched architecture that isn’t necessarily speculative, it‘s just real—such as parametricism. We had this moment when all these architects came up with a new aesthetic that was born from the digital. But now people are really bored with that and they are looking at what else we can do with that technology. If you look at what Ratti is doing, he says that the medieval city will always look like the medieval city, but we will just use it differently. What is really new is actually invisible. The same is true for design. We might have new gadgets, but it might be more about how we interact with these objects, not how things look. It is interesting. It is almost impossible to build architecture that relates to technology, because it ends up obsolete with a few years and must be retrofit. Achim Menges is dealing with some of these issues at the University of Stuttgart’s Institute for Computational Design and Construction. He is asking, “What does it mean to have larger cities, and how will we deal with having to construct more buildings?” It is less about speculation; it is very much about nuts and bolts in a very architectural way. He is thinking about how we can use architecture like nature uses material. For example, every building is built to carry maximum weight, which is a waste of material. He looks at how we can save material. How much room for innovation is there? So we can speculate about new ways of making? I rarely get excited about a chair, unless it totally rethinks how to make a chair, such as the CurVoxels 3-D Printed Cantilever Chair, which is based on an algorithm that feeds into a robot that prints it in the air. It does for furniture design what Menges is doing for architecture. CurVoxels Design Research Group took the Panton Chair by Vernor Panton and tested a new method [of fabrication] with a very traditional chair. It is like the old analogy of the iron bridge, where it looks like a wooden bridge, even though it’s made of this new material. We are figuring out still what the possibility of these materials is and what that might mean for making and what that might mean for aesthetics. So how can design speculate about the city? One thing that is very fresh and prescient is a project by Dunne & Raby called United Micro Kingdoms, where they reimagined how four communities would live. For example, the digitarians would have a society that was quite authoritarian. It is also kind of neoliberal, as they are obsessed with cost efficiency, etc. It raises issues that we might not be thinking about, like how do we pay for autonomous vehicles? We may not own these self-driving cars—we might have to share and rent them. We have these great visions of the city without congestion and everything is running smoothly, but it likely won’t happen that way. We will probably see something more like what Dunne & Raby came up with, which is very easyJet-like, with bare-bones amenities. If you pay more, it might be luxurious with more privacy and speed. This is how we live today, so why would it change? There is hope. Superflux was invited by one of the Arab Emirates to give a presentation about potential cities of the future. They suggested that cars must be given up, and these oil sheiks, who are filthy rich, said, “Forget it! I am not going to do that, my son is not going to do that!” Superflux anticipated this and, working with scientists and physicists, created a series of air samples that illustrated what the air would smell like if we don’t change our present habits. It worked to convince them. The sheiks didn’t want their sons [sic] to live in air like that. This can be very powerful, if designers look to social progress rather than simply working within the neoliberal or market frameworks. All this technology is being sold as changing the world, but how are Airbnb or Uber changing the world? They are undermining conventions in society that we have worked for centuries to install. They are not saving the world, they are taking us steps backwards, and it is causing disenchantment and disappointment. Critical thinking is all we have to avoid these hyper-efficient futures. The experiments might be inefficient, but we need that and we need speculation to move forward.
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A tiny start-up partners with Peterbilt to roll out self-driving big rigs

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.  
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New timber research finds exciting potential in steel and concrete composites

With mass timber projects on the rise around the United State, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) and Oregon State University (OSU) have partnered to produce two new reports on how timber buildings can overcome their technical limitations by integrating steel and concrete. The new composite systems being proposed would allow timber construction to rise higher than before, with longer floor spans. The OSU Testing Report, released earlier this month, looked into the possibility of combining cross-laminated timber (CLT) floor systems with a concrete topper, to improve the strength of the flooring as well as lengthen its span. To accurately represent real-world conditions, the SOM team first drew up plans for a “typical” 11-story residential building and indicated where the wood columns would normally be. With the floor span determined, the CLT flooring was stress tested for load, bending, cracking and shearing, before and after the application of a concrete slab. A 2.25-inch thick concrete layer was applied over a 6.75-inch thick CLT floor for the experiment. After testing smaller, individual sections, an eight-foot-by-36-foot full-sized mockup was created and subjected to load testing, only failing after engineers applied eight times the normal service load, or around 82,000 pounds of pressure. One complicating factor is that CLT can be charred for a higher fire rating at the expense of its strength, and any real-world application of CLT would need to be thicker than in testing conditions. Still, the results are a promising first step to increasing floor spans in timber buildings as well as improving their acoustic properties. The second report was produced in conjunction with the American Institute of Steel Construction (AISC) and examined how steel framing can best be integrated with timber floor systems. Because steel framing can span much greater distances than timber with smaller columns, and because CLT is lighter than concrete, a building that uses both should get the best of both worlds. In SOM’s modeling, this combination model was equally as strong as a steel and concrete building while offering window bays of the same size as a typical residential building. Ideally, high-rise timber construction of the future would combine both of these techniques, as the concrete slab topper adds extra seismic protection. With timber construction offering the potential for more sustainable, durable and quickly assembled towers, hybrid research could be a stepping stone towards bringing mass timber construction into the mainstream. All of SOM’s timber research reports can be found here.
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How will autonomous vehicles change the way architects think about cities?

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.