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.
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Technology is developing at an exponential rate, and while architecture still moves significantly slower than the latest transistor, things are picking up. The Architect's Newspaper (AN) speaks to tech experts Craig Curtis of Katerra (Katerra’s approach could make factory construction a model for the future) to learn more about the revolutionary changes that are in the pipeline for the construction industry, and Dennis Shelden of the Digital Building Lab (Talking about our tech future with the Digital Building Lab) about how we've gotten to this point, and what's next. We also profile several incubators and accelerators behind some of the most influential design and AEC technology start-ups that promise to revolutionize the construction and architecture industries. AN profiled the following: The MINI-owned URBAN-X in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, a younger incubator which leverages its assembled experts to guide startups through a semester-long program; Digital agency R/GA, long a major player in the advertising field, has carved out spaces in all of its offices for accelerator space and given startups an easy way to hit the ground running; ZeroSixty, a three-month design-and-technology-focused incubator program, was launched by Gehry Technologies to help bring disruption to the AEC industry; The one-stop shop Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator, which gives its members access to makerspaces, fabrication labs, and plenty of research space across a 60,000-square-foot campus; Georgia Tech’s Digital Building Laboratory, which has already released a suite of programs that architect's (especially those who use BIM) have already come to rely on; The advanced offices of the Autodesk BUILD Space, one of the company's best tools for keeping up with the rapidly changing worlds of architecture and design; and New Lab’s 84-000-square foot flagship collaborative tech hub in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. The interviews and profiles were originally printed in our April 2018 technology issue.
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.
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.