Autonomous boats in some cities could transport people, shuttle goods, and self-assemble into structures

MIT researchers designed and prototyped small, autonomous boats that they think could go a long way to improving urban mobility and reducing traffic in cities with waterways like Amsterdam, Bangkok, and Venice. The 3D-printed hulls are rectangular to enable them to more easily connect with each other. Each side features an independent thruster to increase its agility. From MIT News:

“Imagine shifting some of infrastructure services that usually take place during the day on the road — deliveries, garbage management, waste management — to the middle of the night, on the water, using a fleet of autonomous boats,” says (MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory) director Daniela Rus, co-author on a paper describing the technology that’s being presented at this week’s IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation.

Moreover, the boats — rectangular 4-by-2-meter hulls equipped with sensors, microcontrollers, GPS modules, and other hardware — could be programmed to self-assemble into floating bridges, concert stages, platforms for food markets, and other structures in a matter of hours. “Again, some of the activities that are usually taking place on land, and that cause disturbance in how the city moves, can be done on a temporary basis on the water,” says Rus, who is the Andrew and Erna Viterbi Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.

The boats could also be equipped with environmental sensors to monitor a city’s waters and gain insight into urban and human health.

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To save the Earth, stack humans in green cities and leave the wilderness for other animals

Science fiction writer and ecologist Kim Stanley Robinson (previously) writes that we need to "empty half the Earth of its humans" to save the planet -- but not by the Green Left's usual (and potentially genocidal) tactic of reducing our population by 50%. Read the rest

It could happen here: How China's social credit system demonstrates the future of social control in smart cities

Adam Greenfield (previously) is one of the best thinkers when it comes to the social consequences of ubiquitous computing and smart cities; he's the latest contributor Ian Bogost's special series on "smart cities" for The Atlantic (previously: Bruce Sterling, Molly Sauter). Read the rest

New Orleans pulls 46 tons of Mardi Gras beads from storm drains

In temperate and tropical locales, storm drains are a vital bit of urban infrastructure. As a channel for rain water to drain from city streets, they play an important role in keeping the places most of us live habitable and our roads passable during wet weather. When storm drains get clogged with debris, the water they're meant to carry can't flow and things go sideways, fast. As such, most cities throw a lot of money at cleaning them – and the catch basins that feed into them – out, several times per year.

New Orleans? They've got storm drains. Given the city's history of catastrophic flooding, to say that keeping their waste water flowing would be an understatement. It's a tough job, made more difficult by the annual influx of drunken, horny tourists.

On January 28th, the Times-Picayune reported that in addition to the mud, leaves and garbage that New Orleans public works employees have to suck out of storm drains this year, they discovered something else: 46 tons of Marti Gras beads. For the sober uninitiated, the tradition of passing out strands and necklaces of Mardi Gras beads to boozy revelers started back in the 1800s when people parading as part of the annual celebration handed out the inexpensive mementos to onlookers. As anyone who's been to the five-day festival recently will tell you, just as many strands of the beads wind up on the ground as they do around necks. While the city spends hundreds of thousands of dollars to clean up after the days-long party, the beads still end up getting into places that you don't want them to – kind of like macro-sized glitter. Read the rest

A map of how long it takes to get to a city from anywhere on Earth

University of Oxford’s Malaria Atlas Project just published new research showing that 80.7 percent of the world's population live an hour or less from a city. (In the visualization above, "d" stands for "day" and "h" is for "hour.") The map takes into account transportation infrastructure across the globe. From Nature:

...New data sources provided by Open Street Map and Google now capture transportation networks with unprecedented detail and precision. Here we develop and validate a map that quantifies travel time to cities for 2015 at a spatial resolution of approximately one by one kilometre by integrating ten global-scale surfaces that characterize factors affecting human movement rates and 13,840 high-density urban centres within an established geospatial-modelling framework.

Our results highlight disparities in accessibility relative to wealth as 50.9% of individuals living in low-income settings (concentrated in sub-Saharan Africa) reside within an hour of a city compared to 90.7% of individuals in high-income settings. By further triangulating this map against socioeconomic datasets, we demonstrate how access to urban centres stratifies the economic, educational, and health status of humanity.

"Accessibility to Cities" Read the rest

Infinitown: endless 3D-animated city in your browser

Infinitown is a three-dimensional city that lives in your browser, complete with folks going about their business and clouds drifting lazily overhead. It goes on forever, as the name suggests, in endless procedurally-generated loveliness. [via]

There's something perfect about it: just enough suggestive detail to get the mind rolling, not so much that its shallows become too obvious, and a clean and colorful animation style. There's no game to it, but the creator, Little Workshop, published a traditional grid-based dungeon crawler with the same random map trickery and visual polish: Keepout. Read the rest

Exhibit of the futuristic New York City that never was

Buckminster Fuller created this striking 1960 overlay photograph "Dome Over Manhattan" in 1960. It's one of many prints, drawings, models, and artworks in the "Never Built New York" exhibition now on view at the Queens Museum. Co-curated by Sam Lubell and Greg Goldin, and designed by Christian Wassmann, the exhibition "explores a city where you could catch a football game in Manhattan, travel via a floating airport, and live in an apartment also acting as a bridge support." Below, Frank Lloyd Wright's "Key Plan for Ellis Island" (1959), Eliot Noyes’s Westinghouse Pavilion proposal for the 1964 World’s Fair installed at the exhibit as a scaled-down "bouncy house" model, and Paul Rudolph’s "Galaxon Pavilion," designed for the 1964 World’s Fair in Flushing Meadows and recreated in virtual reality by Shimahara Illustration. The exhibition is based on the curator's book, Never Built New York. From an interview with Lubell and Golding in City Lab:

Lubell: The way you experience the show in Queens connects you to the site, makes it real, and then you’re in the salon space before finally walking up to the panorama, looking above the projects with a sense of how it all would have affected the city. The combination of galleries makes for a really powerful experience.

Seeing these projects through our show doesn’t just create a ‘wow’ factor: it can inspire people to learn more about how cities do or don’t work. It clues people into the planning process. I think the emotions that come from looking back at these projects will make people think about what we can do now and in the future to improve New York.

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Claustrophobic overhead shots of Hong Kong residential buildings

Aerial photographer Andy Yeung just released Walled City, a look at how Hong Kong's infamous dense and vertical city within a city resonates in buildings that still stand today. Read the rest

Do you ever just go for a walk?

The BBC's Finlo Rohrer laments the "slow death of the purposeless walk," an activity replaced by modern transit and planned, regimented leisure/exercise activities. But there's hope!

Across the West, people are still choosing to walk. Nearly every journey in the UK involves a little walking, and nearly a quarter of all journeys are made entirely on foot, according to one survey. But the same study found that a mere 17% of trips were "just to walk". And that included dog-walking. It is that "just to walk" category that is so beloved of creative thinkers.

"There is something about the pace of walking and the pace of thinking that goes together. Walking requires a certain amount of attention but it leaves great parts of the time open to thinking. I do believe once you get the blood flowing through the brain it does start working more creatively," says Geoff Nicholson, author of The Lost Art of Walking.

"Your senses are sharpened. As a writer, I also use it as a form of problem solving. I'm far more likely to find a solution by going for a walk than sitting at my desk and 'thinking'."

I suspect there is an element of benign self-deception in the idea of a purposeless walk. I walked a lot when I lived in the city, apparently without purpose, but there was concealed purpose in the rhythms and pressures of urban living. You walk to manage your environment, even when there is no destination. Walkable cities subtly help you do this. Read the rest

A Europe of city-states

This neat map presents Europe not as a collection of countries but as a diagram of its largest cities; the accompanying post argues that large cities effectively transcend their host nations and will become the 21st century's geopolitical order.

not all urban areas are growing at the same speed — or are growing at all. All of Italy's and Greece's urban centres are losing inhabitants, as are the Ruhr and Katowice, Ostrava and Bucharest. Biggest winners? Istanbul and Ankara, plus two other Turkish cities, and Brussels and Amsterdam — all gaining more than 2 percent p.a. Growing more modestly, at 1 percent, are the English and Scandinavian cities

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Flint is finished

Pittsburgh has its robots and even Detroit has its dreams, but some rustbelt cities have nothing much left. Flint, Michigan. Read the rest

Solving San Francisco's housing crisis with narrow, human-scale streets

The Narrow Streets SF site tries to imagine what San Francisco would be like with streets redesigned for humans instead of cars, allowing the space clawed back from the roads to be used for more housing. Read the rest

Hyperlocal soaps inspired by neighborhoods

My friend Malena Seldin and her pals launched Local Lathers, a wonderfully-creative new line of natural, handmade soaps that are inspired by neighborhoods and landmarks, like the "Brooklyn Bridge Daily Grind" that smells of sandalwood and coffee! Read the rest

Snapshots from an American city square, 1973

A 1973 snapshot from Fountain Square in Cincinnati, Ohio, where I grew up but unfortunately was too young to make the scene documented in the photos below and at Retronaut. (via Dave Rosser)

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Short films about imaginary tiny trash disposal operations

"Tiny Worlds" is a delightful trilogy of short films about imaginary miniature city services dealing with the small trash littering the streets and sidewalks of London. The series was created by Rushes, a Soho video production house. Above is "Tiny Worlds: Bulldozer." Below, "Tiny Worlds: Submarine" and "Tiny Worlds" Logging Truck." (via Laughing Squid) Read the rest

Public transit times mapped

Andrew Hardin, a grad student from the University of Colorado's geography department, created an interactive map that shows how long it takes to get there from here in several major U.S. cities. A paper reveals the methodology used. [via Flowing Data] Read the rest

China City of America coming to the Catskills?

Chinese developers are vying to build a massive China-themed retail center and casino in New York's Catskills. The 600-acre project is called "China City of America" and, surprise, it's highly controversial. I think it might do better in the hometown of hyperreality, Las Vegas! You can see the pitch at the China City of America site and read about it below:

"Developers pitch bringing a piece of China to Sullivan County" (YNN)

"Mysterious China-themed 'city' proposed in New York’s Catskills" (Fox News, thanks Bob Pescovitz!) Read the rest

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