The private drone industry is like Apple in 1984

What could you do with your own  private drone: According to Tim Fernholz on Quartz Daily:

The Phantom UAV in flight.

We needed iPhones to get a drone of our own

The Phantom is not a drone in the fullest sense of the word: It can’t follow a pre-programmed GPS path. But it can use satellite navigation to hover in place autonomously, and it can navigate itself back to where it took off from if something happens to the controller, or if you just want to show off.

But it is arguably the most complete consumer drone on the market, combining affordability, ease of use, robust flight abilities, and range. And it’s designed to usethe popular GoPro camera. Other drones are cheaper, like the Parrot, but it doesn’t have the Phantom’s range, or 3D Robotics’ ArduCopter, which is more fully-featured but requires more assembly.

The UAV industry is a fairly new one, and right now its main focus is on consumer products. That’s partially because it is growing from a consumer base: What has made them possible is the smartphone revolution, which drove down the price on the tiny electronic components needed to turn low-power remote control aircraft into flying robots that navigate, communicate, and sense. While defense contractors were making expensive and powerful drones for the US military, hobbyists were basically bolting iPhones onto remote-controlled helicopters.

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For Driverless Cars to Succeed Wireless Infrastructure is Crucial

For the world envisioned in Minority Report with its driverless cars and big brother surveillance systems to become a reality (for better or worse?) much improved infrastructure is needed – two recent articles give indication of the drive to achieve this- at least in American Cities and definitely for the commercial benefit of the automakers and cyber companies shareholders – so I again have my doubts about the real benefit of continued reliance on private vehicles

Driverless cars from movie Minority Report

The first article is from Urban TImes giving insight into the need and possibility of alternative technologies to wireless in order for the machines to communicate with each other

At CES 2013 driverless cars were big news. And while the likes of Toyota and Google are working on the technology inside the cars to make these a reality – William Webb, IEEE fellow and CTO of Neul knows that the wireless infrastructure needs to be up to scratch too.

IEEE experts have recently identified driverless cars as the most viable form of intelligent transport, set to dominate the roadway by 2040 and spark dramatic changes in vehicular travel.

Related: Google’s Driverless Cars Now Legal in Nevada

As far as I can tell, there is one key barrier to the widespread adoption of intelligent transport (aside from driver and passenger acceptance of automated vehicles) and that is the infrastructure of our roads and vehicles. More specifically, the wireless infrastructure.

Monitoring traffic flow is relatively easy, as is deducing where congestion is occurring and working out where to reroute cars. However, there is still a big piece missing from the intelligent transport puzzle – a way to get information from sensors to controls centres, and from there back to cars, traffic lights, and roadside signage. Wireless connectivity is the only option when facing this challenge. Whilst this might seem obvious in the case of moving vehicles, the cost of installing the wires for sensors in stationary items such as bridges of car-parking spaces is completely prohibitive – making wireless a big issue.

Self-driving car Toyota Prius prototype. Via Google

The second article is  note from Smart Planet a few days ago highlights the amount of effort being put into these machine communication systems – again – one has no doubts about whose interests this is in – only a  nagging suspicion that this all looks very familiar in terms of science fiction – anyone see a likeness to the Matrix here – machines in control – humans in servitude?

Google’s secretive wireless network could impact urban connectivity, Wi-Fi

By  | January 25, 2013, 2:19 AM PST

Google’s secretive wireless networking project could have severe repercussions on the consumer market it seems.

Filing an application to build an “experimental” wireless network on the tech giant’s Mountain View headquarters, Google is petitioning the FCC to allow 50 base stations to be built on the campus, in order to support 200 user devices for an “experimental radio service.”

The application and proposal state that the area covered will be close to the firm’s Android building, but small, indoor base stations will only reach up to 200 meters, and outdoor systems will go no further than a kilometer. In total, the network will have a two-mile radius.

The experimental network remains under wraps for now, but who knows what Google is planning for the future. As the Wall Street Journal notes, the FCC request may be in relation to the tech giant’s partnership with Dish Networks.

The filing, uncovered by Wireless engineer Steve Crowley, would provide coverage for 2524 to 2625 megahertz frequencies — which wouldn’t be compatible with most of the consumer mobile devices currently available, such as Apple’s iPhone or smartphones running Google’s Android operating system. It would, however, work well in densely populated areas.

Moving Cities: From Transport to Transaction

Thought Piece from Tim Stonor of Space Syntax  that furthers the debate on activity streets and how mixed mode transport enhances city space and the transactions that underlie a cities dynamics from UBM’s Future Cities

Tim Stonor

Cities are ultimately vessels for the concentrated production and sustenance of life. Yet this intrinsic aspect of urbanism — the human factor — is neglected in many future cities discussions.


Rather, these discussions are often dominated by talks of transport and using technology to manage existing traffic systems.

We shouldn’t be surprised by the transportation fixation. After all, transport concerns have led urban policymaking for over a century. But we should be aware of its risks. Today’s cities bear the scars of the “time is money” obsession for ever greater, faster means of transport — an approach that has been pursued at a massive social, economic, and environmental cost: leading to inner-urban highways that divide communities, and patterns of inefficient,obesogenic traffic congestion. These are the globally consistent, predictable products of urban policy, and that policy needs rethinking.

Transport must be seen as a means to an end, not the end itself. The objective must be the creation of successful human interaction in pursuit of meaningful living. This requires people coming together in rooms, corridors, streets, and public spaces, creating patterns of human interaction in pursuit of social and economic gain.

For this to happen, a radical shift in urban thinking is required, from “transport” to “transaction.” How do we do this?

As a first step, the purpose of transport needs to be re-conceptualized: from being “the facilitator of movement” to becoming the “enhancer of interaction.”

The implications of such an approach for urban practice are radically straightforward: a focus on streets, not highways; on street networks and public spaces, not single grand projects; a rebalancing of priorities toward slow modes of movement — walking and cycling — and away from high-speed transit; toward effective interaction and not movement for the sake of it; toward the benefits of stopping in public space, not simply speeding through cities; toward sitting, leaning, and relaxing as key aspects of transport policy; toward people, not vehicles.

‘Pedestrian activity in London’s Trafalgar Square’

To see this transformation in action, contrast the slowed-down, pedestrian-friendly spaces of the City of London, Midtown Manhattan, or Copenhagen with the traffic-dominated, speed-obsessed streets they once were. Or, consider the steps of Trafalgar Square, where people linger over a business conversation instead of charging past as they did before that space was redesigned with interaction in mind. Then consider the global wave of rapidly urbanizing cities pursuing the car-first policy that London, New York, Copenhagen, and many others have since abandoned. The future cost for doing so is massive and preventable.

What is the role of technology in helping to achieve the policy transformation from transport to transaction? In its power and pervasiveness, digital infrastructure creates a new urban utility, and, as with electricity, water, or gas, it is incumbent upon city leaders to manage it for the benefit of citizens.

In line with a transport policy shift toward human interaction, digital infrastructure should be conceived principally in terms of its lifestyle benefits. Some would argue this is already the case, but the “lifestyle” I refer to is not one in which people stay at home in front of plasma screens, communicating via teleconference. Instead, it involves people coming together in streets and public spaces as well, being aware of each other, sharing information and ideas, making social and economic contact. Far from retrogressive, this new urban paradigm will be forward-thinking and technologically enabled. It will, for example, require new social networking apps aimed at facilitating face-to-face interactions.

This is how prosperous cities have always worked; it is the missing ingredient when cities fail; and it is how future cities will be able to thrive. If the scope of urban policy makers can be widened from a fixation on transport to an appreciation of value-rich urban outcomes, built on the benefits of effective human interaction, then future cities are more likely to be places that meet the expectations of future citizens.

— Tim Stonor, Architect & Urban Planner, Managing Director, Space Syntax

India on Wheels

For many non Indian visitors being driven around in India is like Russian Roulette, but as we all find out it is our preconceptions that are  chalenged and it seems very little damage is done to our bodies – the rate of car sales and the difficulty of providing public infrastructure in some parts of india must make one wonder about the  divide between the public good and business interests – in this article we see the Modernist tendency of focusing on the object a car and its appeal to the individual broadened to include its social significance but little or no consideration of its impact on the urban fabric it inhabits – at this stage design still sees its role in a narrow funnel of proving value to individuals and companies profits from where it derives its own functions and income – we have yet to understand the implications of this consumerist approach applied to the rest of the planets population. A good design article by Harsha Kutare at DESIgn MASALA

The Indian automobile industry is set to become the sixth largest passenger vehicle producer in the world, growing 16-18 percent to sell around three million units in the course of 2011-12. The passenger vehicles sales trend has shown an exponential growth in past few years and it is expected to grow further in coming years.

The Indian market presents several challenges to car manufacturers and dealers. After researching a bit online about the current car scene in India and talking to car owners, I came up with the factors that make the Indian car market stand out from others in the world.’

Harsha goes on to describe the factors he sees as influencing the Indian automobile market naming  Traffic and Road conditions; Way Finding; Huge numbers of first time buyers; Financial factors; Social Influencers; Cultural Significance/Unique features as areas which make the Indian market different from others

Social Influencers: There is lot of social influence from friends, family or relatives when it comes to buying a car. Buyers reach out to their social circle for recommendations regarding car models and dealerships. Some of the online platforms that are influencing people’s buying decision

Cars make a statement about the owner’s personality hence buyers are very cautious about the cars that they pick. Brands also play a vital part in projecting a brand image for e.g. Honda equals Pride, Mahindra is seen as a rugged brand and Maruti Suzuki equals good value for money whereas Mercedes signifies luxury. Brands carefully pick actors, sportspersons or celebrities as their brand ambassadors as Indian consumers, mainly youth is influenced by testimonials of celebrities.

First cars for most of the buyers are mid range hatchbacks. In most cases the buyer is the first person in the family to own a car. He takes his driving lessons from a driving school and prefers something easy to maneuver within the city with low maintenance costs and a great mileage.

Q&A: Finn Butler on wayfinding design

Investing in evidence based design is far from common –  retail business’ mantra that “the customer is always right” is not yet firmly entrenched in the design professions way of thinking – yet – but I am sure its coming – here is an interview with a firm that believes firmly in following the evidence to promote ease of way-finding in notoriously difficult to negotiate environments – from smart planet By 

MELBOURNE – At SmartPlanet, we’ve written about wayfinding from all different angles; as environmental graphic design, operating system, cognitive map and even as an iPhone app. But as a professional practice, it’s still relatively unknown and arguably undervalued.

Pioneering wayfinding as a new discipline is Finn Butler, a specialist with over 20 years of international experience in designing for complex built environments.

Since joining the Melbourne design studio Buro North in 2008, Butler has executed strategies for some of Australia’s most public projects including the Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne, Melbourne Convention Exhibition Centre and Westfield in Sydney.

Butler’s early career focused on transport wayfinding systems for Terminal 5 at Heathrow Airport, Delhi Metro in India, and the U.K.’s major rail stations.

We recently caught up with Finn Butler to discuss wayfinding semantics — what it is, why it’s important and where it’s headed as an industry.

Wayfinding expert Finn Butler

SmartPlanet: Where did the term ‘wayfinding’ come from?

Finn Butler: I think Kevin Lynch first used the phrase wayfinding in his book Image of the City to describe the process of designing and organising space to facilitate navigation, so in its modern sense the term has been around for about 50 years. As a design discipline, wayfinding is still in its infancy and is still evolving.

SP: Is there an agreed definition?

FB: Many practitioners describe wayfinding design in terms of the navigation of physical space with a strong focus on signage. I personally believe that wayfinding design is the design of navigational behaviour and not signage, which often combines the navigation of physical space as well as processes. This requires the consideration of a broad range of measures, including the development of operational processes, environmental changes and staff training as well as information delivery in the form of signage.

This approach differs from a purely graphic or signage response, as it requires an understanding of fields and ideas that usually exist outside the design field, such as semiotics, affordance and syntax modelling.

Quite often the best wayfinding strategists come from operational backgrounds or from the sciences rather than from a design background

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Arup wins Chile metro work

(London) Arup has been appointed by Metro de Santiago to lead the concept design of 11 stations in the Chilean capital.
The scope of the project covers some of the most challenging stations on two new lines being built by the operator – Lines 3 and 6 – and the work will involve creating interchanges with existing lines on the metro network.
Metro de Santiago already boasts the most extensive metro system in South America and the project to add Lines 3 and 6 will extend the reach of the network by some 28 stations and 37 km in total. The work will also add capacity to some of the busiest existing metro lines when the new lines open in 2016 / 2017.

Arup Project Director, Leszek Dobrovolsky, said, “We are delighted that Metro de Santiago has appointed Arup to bring our world-class experience to bear on the new lines. Our global expertise in metro systems played a part in winning the work, but it was our ability to respond to local programmes and context, cost and programme constraints that clinched it. This stands as a testament to Arup’s ability to provide cost-effective metro solutions throughout Latin America and across the globe. We are also proud to be working with leaders such as Metro de Santiago who are routinely consulted by other metro operators from around the world wishing to benefit from their operational excellence. They are recognised experts in the field, having won the Metro Award this year for ‘Best Subway System in the Americas’”.

Dobrovolsky notes that Arup’s team have some interesting technical and design challenges ahead as the new lines will run deeper than the existing network. However, he points out that the designers and engineers on the job have all the multidisciplinary skills necessary to meet the challenge in the most cost-effective way.

The scope of Arup’s work covers station planning, tunnel and station ventilation, fire engineering, passenger movement analysis, and optimisation of passenger experience.

Nevada issues Google first license for self-driving car

The future’s, here – its just not evenly distributed yet – to paraphrase William Gibson- the end of traffic jams and the start of Minority Reports automated freeways – and all the visions of a distopian future a la Blade Runner around the corner are banished by your ever ready and willing Google – now they not only know where you are all the time – they’re taking you there! See my other post of today for more of the same story: A warning for mankind: Beware the new Big Brother

Gov. Brian Sandoval takes a spin in a driverless car Wednesday, July 20, 2011, in Carson City. Sandoval described the experience as “amazing”; he took the test run with a Google engineer and DMV Director Bruce Breslow. They started their trip at the DMV offices in Carson City and went north to Washoe Valley, where they turned around.

Google’s Toyota Prius Autonomous Vehicle

CARSON CITY — Nevadans will soon see driverless cars being tested on streets and highways.

Google received the first license Monday from the state Department of Motor Vehicles to test the autonomous vehicles. It is believed to be the first such license issued in the country.

The 2011 Legislature passed the first law in the nation to permit testing of driverless cars. But state regulations require a person behind the wheel and one in the passenger’s seat during tests.

“It’s still a work in progress,” said Tom Jacobs, a DMV spokesman. “The system regulates the brakes, accelerator and steering.”

Google has equipped a test fleet of at least eight vehicles — six Toyota Priuses, an Audi TT and a Lexus RX450h.

License plates issued for driverless cars will have a red background and feature an infinity symbol on the left side.

“I feel using the infinity symbol was the best way to represent the ‘car of the future,’” DMV Director Bruce Breslow said.

DMV officials have been in the vehicles during demonstrations on the Las Vegas Strip and in Carson City. There have been other demonstrations of the technology on the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco and around Lake Tahoe.

The system permits a human driver to take control by stepping on the brake or turning the wheel.

Google says it hopes to market the technology to auto manufacturers. It combines artificial intelligence software, a global positioning system and an array of sensors to navigate its way through traffic.

The DMV says other companies have indicated their desire to test and develop autonomous technology. “Google has a lot of competition,” Jacobs said.

When transportation shapes cities

A history of transportation from Innov the City by Andrew Perrier translated courtesy of Google

Until August 26, the City of Architecture and Heritage in Paris presents an exhibition devoted to the history of transportation in cities. Through a set design in twelve steps, “Flowing – when our movements shaping cities”, offers to browse the history and issues of mobility in cities and in our societies.

It is possible to understand the evolution of transport by a simple analysis of the evolution of footwear: “changing shoes will stagnate when the car will take off,” says the speaker of the exhibition “Move” . Original entry in this frieze of human figures, of homo sapiens to homo mobilis, to immerse yourself in the history of transportation. To understand that ultimately, the history of transportation is a constant renewal. In Roman times already, rivers conditioned the organization of cities, the boats are the only means of transport and communication. Today, shuttles and river freight are back, thanks to the emergence of sustainable development.

Farewell and the return of the tram

In the 19th century, transportation becomes the “sinews of war” to allow the development of cities, especially with the arrival of the train. In parallel, the arrival of the railway will lead to major changes in architectural and urban “stations Palace” will be highlighted by successive expositions. The first transport will emerge, including animal-drawn omnibuses. As is the case today in some sparsely populated areas, one could speak of “transport on demand”, with non-regular lines. Railways are progressively installed to make way for tram, winner of the late 19th century.Again, it is quickly supplanted by the bus, uses less heavy infrastructure. Nowadays, if the bus is still sought, particularly through the BRT (Bus High Level of Service) in urban areas, plans for new trams and tram-trains can not be counted in all cities of the world. Finally appears the subway, which develops first in London before arriving in Paris late.

The zoning of the Charter of Athens
In 1933, the Athens Charter dictates the principles of “functional city”, which created the concept of zoning, separating the residential areas of transportation: it is the beginning of “metro-work-sleep.” The backlash is in 1994 with the Aalborg Charter, which advocates instead a mix of urban functions. The cities are recovering to develop public transport so-called “soft” to rediscover the joy of “crossing the landscape” instead of spending his life in tubes. For that is the subject of this exhibition organized by the architect Jean-Marie Duthilleul: reintroduce the slow transport and distribute again the notion of pleasure associated with travel.


Streetline Wants To Be Your Parking Savior

No more driving around for parking, wasting time, and spewing emissions. This app will make finding a spot a breeze (but it can’t help you parallel park) More Happy Apps from Co.Exist

The statistics on parking are beyond depressing: People spend an average of 18 to 20 minutes worldwide looking for parking and 30% of congestion is due to people looking for parking. And the parking meter? It hasn’t had any dramatic upgrades since it was introduced in 1935 (with the exception of digital readings and pay by credit card). All that congestion leads to aggravated drivers, businesses missing out on potential customers who drive away in frustration, and lots of air pollution.

Streetline, a startup that we last covered in 2010, wants to make it so that the next generation laughs when we tell them about the hours we spent on a weekly basis searching for parking. Now the company has a $25 million credit line from Citi to make its dreams come true.

When we first covered Streetline, the startup was in the middle of a pilot test of its Parker app in Los Angeles. The app leverages Streetline’s low-power wireless sensors (they’re embedded in parking spaces) to detect when vehicles are in parking spots. From there, Parker can tell you how many spots are available in a given neighborhood–and a lot more.


In addition to finding open parking spaces on the street (and offering information on pricing, hours, time limits, and whether the spots takes credit cards), Parker now offers real-time occupancy information for garages that have signed up with the service. And users can even reserve and pay for parking spots in advance through participating garages. “It’s like the Open Table of parking,” says Streetline CMO Kelly Schwager.

In the future, users will be able to pay parking meters with their phones–no more searching for coins. Also coming up: voice commands and filters for handicap spots and EV charging. Users can already see how much parking spaces cost in the app, setting the stage for cities to implement dynamic pricing. Eventually, Parker’s services will be integrated directly into in-car navigational systems.


Streetline’s mesh network in Los Angeles.


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Crowdsourcing Smart Cities

More on Crowd-sourced Smart Cities and why  this is about the “internet of people” and not the “internet of things” and reiterates the position of Saskia Sassen in her op-ed Open Source Urbanism by Guido Stevens on cosent via Urban Life

The Internet of Things can be used to create a surveillance society, but also to empower bottom-up community building.

Crowdsourcing Smart Cities

Smart Cities is a catchy concept used by big IT vendors like IBM, to market their technology vision. A smart city is what happens when the city you live in (a dumb city?) is upgraded with a specific new infrastructure:The Internet Of Things.

Imagine a pixie dust of networked sensors sprinkled on everything you see. Imagine how everything is outfitted with sensors and an Internet connection: every door, every light, every solar panel, every car, every intersection. Every coffee machine and dishwasher. Every piece of clothing in shops, and on your body.

Now imagine what you can do if you had access to all that information. Yes, that’s Big Brother and yes, your protest is noted but it’s gonna happen anyway. Imagine you are Big Brother, or, less ominous: the mayor of this smart city.

You can see traffic jams and, if you buy enough computers, you can predict traffic jams. You can see and modulate in real time the electricity flows, water use, waste disposal. You can optimize the planning and routing of public services to harmonize with the ebb and flow of activities in this living city. It’s like Sim City for real.