Future of Transportation – Futurists Twitter Chat Thursday 4:00-5:00 EST #apf #futrchat #transit

The Association of Professional Futurists (APF) is hosting its fourth twitter chat  on Thursday, January 20, 2011 from 4:00 – 5:00 p.m. EST. hashtag: #futrchat. You can find information about the first three here . (education, money, work) 

Is 21st c transportation just more of the same?


During the 20

th century, transportation innovations exploded. You might even call it the century of transportation. We not only invented new types of vehicles; we created new infrastructure and new lifestyles celebrating them. Technology transformed from walking and animals to bikes, boats, trains, cars, trucks, buses, planes, and spaceships. I even adore some oddities like dirigibles and segways.

High speed transportation is sexy, no doubt about it. We have a love affair with these coolest new gadgets. And it’s cost us immeasurably. Cars in particular caused new development to stretch further and further from city centers. And they use fossil fuels. Both are now seen as huge mistakes.

Embedded as transportation is with energy and politics, arguments in the US may wage battle well into midcentury. Meantime developing countries aim for that middle class image, wanting cars before decent housing and causing traffic jams that last for days. But that’s now.

We want to talk 2020, 2030, 2050 – what will be our needs, what constraints, and what options will we have for transportation?  What does mobility mean in twenty or thirty years?


Backlash and penalties

Slow cities, car free cities, transit oriented development, walkability, smart growth, density, and so many other urban trends tie to strategies to reduce the influence of the car on our lives.

One massive debate is: better cars or live car-free? In fact, better cars such as electric do little to reduce greenhouse gases unless we have power plants that produce renewable energy.

It’s easy to see transportation as a topic of things; vehicles are objects. However, they are deeply integral to our daily lives, affecting how we behave, our friends, where we live and work, how healthy we are, even our personal identities. Are you a walker, a rider, a driver, a co-user, or a telecommuter?


Transportation 21

st century style

How will we travel in 2030 or 2040? What is the impact of the internet, telecommuting, and social media? How will augmented reality, virtual reality, and artificial intelligence change transportation options? How will transportation be different in mega-cities, smaller cities, towns, rural, across the globe, or into outerspace?

What new technologies could transform the way that we travel and commute? What is the impact of life safety, security, and crime on transportation? What new infrastructures are worth the expense and trouble to build? Will sharing bikes and cars go mainstream? Will there be a crash or a wimper after peak oil? What aboutautonomous vehicles, robotics, and road trains? And (wincing), what’s holding back flying cars and jetpacks?


Will transportation transform our lives as it did in the 20

th century? Will we become smarter about choices and their consequences?  Will we choose to ‘un-tech’ our mobility?  Will we choose to stay still?

I bookmarked almost 200 links on the future of transportationhere and 140 on transithere

Please Join Us – an open tweet chat

You are welcome to join the APF #futrchat and voice your views on the future of transportation. We’ve hosted chats on the future of education, the future of money, and the future of work. These chats are fast and intense. I always learn enormously, like scanning futurists brains.

Jennifer Jarratt and I will co-host; Jennifer with intriguing questions and I with ideas, more questions, and retweets. You can do the same, add links (if they pertain and are not promotional ads), and help us think more clearly, more vividly about the future of transportation.  

What do you think about the future of transportation?

Join us on Twitter by searching for #futrchat. Please use #futrchat in your tweets, and the Question #, as Q1, Q2, Q3 etc. 

As alternative to twitter.com, here are two sites where you join the chat.

Images:Nissan Torii,Shweeb monorail 



Images of Future Cities: Courtesy of Makers by Cory Doctorow


While reading Makers, you get caught up in the lives of Lester, Perry, Suzanne and the rest. There are villains and heroes, celebrations and catastrophes. Doctorow gives an addictive read; my thumb rapid-clicked the Kindle page button to move the words faster and faster.

While I was captivated by the story, that’s not my focus here. I’ll save the story for you to read – no spoiler alert required.

The wealth of new images in Makers lets us peer into one scenario for 21st c cities. In this future, we live on a whimsical, resource-limited planet that I might love but also fear, particularly as an architect.

What Can Makers Teach Us About Possible Futures?
Here’s nine intriguing images, all plausible enough, and a few that scare the bejeezies out of me.

  1. New Work. “Capitalism is eating itself.” In the “New Work” program, big corps fund small teams of inventors, build production and distribution systems, and reap profits for a few months till the copycats undercut prices. An entire product line evolves from bright idea to obsolete in 6-9 months.
  2. DIY Inventors. While the idea is not new, garage inventors play a far more significant role when innovation and production move at light speed. These 21st c mechanics twist left-behind appliances, toys, computers, ie, today’s consumer goods, into adaptive reuse products and environments.
  3. Dead Malls or Ghost Malls. Abandoned big box retail and indoor malls called dead malls and ghost malls become hotbeds for creative start-ups and shanty towns. In Makers, even shelter evolves from found objects.
  4. Shanty Towns. Homeless folks flock to former suburbs and build elaborate slums, rather than living crammed into urban doorways or under bridges. The construction style seems born from the squatters villages in Mumbai or Delhi, except apparently with better infrastructure and code compliance. Structures reach 3-4 floors and sport skywalks and whimsical shapes. Shops occupy first floors with residences and restaurants above. Children play in streets and community order is maintained through ad hoc leadership. Idyllic? Yup.
  5. Transportation. Crowded planes sound more like today’s bus travel experience, but otherwise seem unchanged. Corp jets sit idle and are cast off for parts. Fewer people have cars, taxis still exist, and walking 30 minutes to get lunch is normal. The main characters’ vehicle consists of two Smart Cars mashed together for more interior space.
  6. Cities and Architecture. Reused malls, poorly maintained public streets, crowded airports all sound feasible, although a bit frightening. It’s today’s cities only dirtier. New forms of architecture include the shanty towns described in quaint, organic terms. Coffin hotels sound a lot like Tokyo’s capsules. http://bit.ly/QYQKb
  7. Robots. As an early example in the book, Boogie Woogie Elmos are reprogrammed to drive a stripped down Smart Car. A synchronized Elmo-robot team operates pedals, wheel and gear shaft, and responds to voice commands. Other robots rearrange and construct theme parks in response to visitors’ feedback. If you like something, just rate it with your joystick, and it moves forward in the exhibit; hate it and its banished.
  8. 3D Printers and Scanners. This equipment produces anything from a doll to a car part to a door. Once programmed, 3D machines and robots do all the heavy lifting; really they are the Makers in this book. Seemingly, theme park exhibits transform completely for our satisfaction – and so I imagine, why not the real world? Sure to send quivers into any AEC pro.
  9. Goop. The raw material inserted in the 3D printer, referred to as a type of Silly Putty, becomes a high-tech commodity. 3D printers can be programmed to only accept certain types of goop, much like printer cartridges today. Free printers are loss-leaders while profit comes from selling goop. Goop can be made of recycled materials melted down and mixed with epoxy. The key ingredient for all products, whether assembled by robots or extruded from 3D printers, is junk.

What Do I Love and Fear About Makers’ World?
Innovation celebrated, freedom from big business, robots constantly building cool things, rides that reinvent instantaneously, handmade cities with lively communities – what a fantastic world!

OTOH grand gestures seem completely missing in action. No mention of beauty other than humans and some of the Disney experience. The rest sounds like Frankenstein cities, assembled from cast-offs and gerry-rigged to new uses.

Architects and engineers would be part of the design/build crew – making, remaking, and programming robots. The rapid-fire change means we would learn from failures faster, do it better tomorrow. That’s fantastic, actually.

Does Makers Include Architects, Engineers or Contractors?

As it is now, we fear our mistakes since a botched design can live for decades. Or as Frank Lloyd Wright said: we plant ivy.

Frankly, some lessons are not at all clear until a place is built and used. On every project, the designer says “drat!” about something, “aha!” about something else. We live and learn with regrets; find joy in happy accidents. But we rarely get to fix problems. A missed opportunity is just that; gone.

With assembled structures and swarms of construction robots, we could improve a space constantly. Need a bigger assembly space? send the bots. More doors or windows? Better shading devices? Fire up the 3D printer. Thinking on your feet and working with existing resources become a new form of modeling at full scale. Thrilling! Design/build as performance art.

I would truly welcome this world, even though the pressure to perform would be enormous. Imagine, nearly instant turn-around!! Lag-time would disappear.

Yet, I bet architects, engineers, and construction folks would be far less useful or common. The concept of citizen inventors extends to citizen architects and builders too.

Those Professions Formerly Known As…
In this low-scale, robot-constructed world, expertise may be nearly worthless in design and construction. Computer models would set design parameters for spans and fire codes, even for functional uses and types of experiences. Want quiet and peaceful, pick Option 21058; workspace for call centers, pick Option 84205.

Instead, in the Makers world, we survive by the worthiness of our ideas. Buildings are built and perhaps rebuilt or modified in a day. We design, hit the send button, and then boom, it’s built by robot swarms and 3D extractions.

Services are shortened to schematics and oversight. Explaining what is needed, and what is possible will be accompanied by robot-built models. Presentations might be daily events, so gear up communication skills.

While knowledge of the field is essential, with automated design and construction processes, the number of people working at each role could be substantially reduced. Innovators, synthesizers, folks who can think across platforms, communicate ideas, and know how things fit together would be at a premium. Production jobs in today’s world and folks that make it happen may be less essential.

Picture cities as anthills, emerging from a million small actions instead of grand schemes orchestrated by experts.

How Much of a Stretch?
I’ve taken Doctorow’s ideas and asked: what would this mean for entire cities? If we had this technology, these sensibilities and resources, how would we make buildings? Furthermore, what would it mean for those of us that love to make cities? I hope the author is tolerant of my stretch.

Imagining the future is the best way to shape it and the only way to prepare ourselves.

Makers presents a scenario that is far from an architect’s dream. It’s a tough environment for engineers, planners, and contractors as well. Even city leaders and developers would have to step aside for this tsunami of citizen action.

Just as content and media platforms have become free for publishing, if materials and real estate lose their economic clout, and design/build processes are automated, active users will create cities.

Would you choose to live in Makers world?

You can buy it here: http://bit.ly/5rw5gH
You can read more at http://craphound.com/makers/

How Robots Will Shape 21st Century Cities: Constructing and Using Cities


Last week, I covered a list of 20 items from The Futurist magazine’s Outlook 2010 (Nov-Dec 09 issuehttp://bit.ly/xFR5C) that will shape 21st c cities.http://bit.ly/154×84 Now I am adding other trends, ideas, and forecasts beyond their list. The first article outlined three comprehensive topics, The Great Urban Divide, Megacities, and Poly-Centric Regionhttp://bit.ly/2CZkcS, and the second one focused on water and cities.http://bit.ly/4Cmu32  This article will cover robotics and cities, which, like water, deserves an entire article.

Extensions of Humans

Marshall McLuhan, renowned for “The media is the message,” also invented the notion of technology as extensions of humans. Every technology extends our bodies or minds. Therefore, the hammer extends our hands, the car extends our legs, and the computer extends our minds.

The robot promises to extend our capacity in continuously surprising ways. Furthermore, robots threaten us because unlike other machines, they act autonomously. Their potential raises significant questions: Will robots someday replace, harm, or even overthrow us?

Sixty years ago, in anticipation of the potential threat, Isaac Asimov created the three laws of robots: 1) They must not harm us. 2) They must obey us, except where they do us harm. 3) They must protect their own existence unless it conflicts with laws 1 or 2.http://bit.ly/3VKhF0 With great foresight, Asimov framed our moral dilemma when robots were still just an idea. Yet his laws have been broken already in the field of military weapons, spurring debate by robot-ethicists. http://bit.ly/HkQLO 

These questions become increasingly complex with the advancement of artificial intelligence (AI), also called singularity.http://bit.ly/oxKV1  Ray Kurzweil anticipates that we will see robots with human intelligence in the next few decades. The singularity moment is defined by the Turing test. Can a machine engage in natural conversation?http://bit.ly/xVoh6

As robots invade every aspect of living and working, its definition evolves. The University of Texas Robotics Research Group defines a robot as: “An automatic device that performs functions normally ascribed to humans or a machine in the form of a human.”http://bit.ly/3VKhF0  Which begs the question, when is a machine a robot? For example, is a car a robot?

I would make the distinction that a machine becomes a robot when it is able to perform its primary function – such as transportation – without human interaction. For example, the Lexus car that self-parks is operating in that function as a robot car.http://bit.ly/1Xihx6

I consider robots and cities in three areas: construction, mobility, and daily functions.

1.      Constructing Cities and Buildings

While cars have been built with robots since the 1980s, retooling manufacturing plants and labor practices has taken three decades. Building cities with robots will even more complex. The first step is constructing buildings as prefabricated mass-produced buildings. Making parts or entire modular sections in a shop or factory lend itself to stationary industrial robots, which has been in practice for decades.http://bit.ly/2kFqGW More interesting are robots that function on site, such as for improving safety.  Or for aiding carpenters.http://bit.ly/3AQA2l Small caterpillar-like robots climb tall poles and perform checks, thereby protecting workers from dangerous tasks.http://bit.ly/1FeUGj At some point, I believe that workers will demand robots on-site, just as I imagine that soldiers look to drones as first responders to bomb threats. In the future, robots will build many portions of buildings at construction sites, such as this demonstration model that builds walls. http://bit.ly/11Xyf6 

2.      Mobility or Where’s My Flying Car?

We have used elevators for over 100 years, and escalators and moving walkways are nothing new. Trains and planes have autopilot functions. Imagine if our cars could be automated at that level, especially without tracks. London Heathrow Airport is building a personal rapid transportation system to open in 2010 with whiz-bang futuristic cabs.http://bit.ly/1BTP6Q The privacy unavailable in public transit or safety problems of private cars is solved with electric zero-carbon system. Completely autonomous vehicles are being tested.http://bit.ly/4APQZN Beyond the self-parking Lexus, the next step for these vehicles is sensing devices that monitor speeds and space cars properly, or stop accidents. Automated highway systems or intelligent highways would work with the cars to control traffic.http://bit.ly/35mQ0T

The Segway promised to revolutionize mobility, a highly over-estimated claim that merely demonstrates the difficulties of transforming transportation. New tech is just the first step; widespread adoption means changing regulations, urban design, and ultimately behaviors. This year, the company teamed with GM to add a Segway car, which promises to raise similar issues. Where do these vehicles belong – with cars, bikes, or pedestrians?http://bit.ly/avzDu It is a beautiful little vehicle that operates more like a golf cart than a car and seemingly would be at home in slower paced districts without congestion to minimize conflicts.

Flying cars already exist, the Moller being the closest to a true example http://bit.ly/22rAXQ. Much like the Segway, they lack a good fit in cities. We have to ask: How do we create order in the air to enable wayfinding and minimize crashes? How do we keep them out of commercial fly zones? Furthermore if you have mechanical failure, you have a crash landing instead of simply a stalled car. The safety and congestion problems of thousands if not millions of personal flying vehicles require far higher technology, training, and attention than we put on automobiles.

Finally, some of the most intriguing mobility devices are in eko-skeleton concepts. Strap them on and traversing a mile becomes a far simpler matter, both faster and easier.http://bit.ly/wuyUb Pedestrian distances to conveniences could be revolutionized by these various robots and transform how we use cities.

Here are a number of robots that we may see in coming decades.http://bit.ly/8jEcx 

3.      Daily Functions Using Buildings and Cities

You have probably heard of refrigerators that track your food and place grocery orders, or appliances that respond remotely such as digital recordings or coffee machines. Robotic vacuum cleaners (roombas) have been in use for over a decade, and lawn mowing for the past few years.  (Today HuffPo imagines these seemingly tame devices may try to kill us.http://bit.ly/4pPWLY – a joke or too close for comfort?) Maintenance technology is expanding to street cleaning with the Scarab, a sort of Wall-E for streets.http://bit.ly/1j2W8Y 

Swarming robots the size of a finger nail can carry small solar films and supply power on-demand.http://bit.ly/2DrFn They may sense room comfort, provide light, heat, air flow, or convey images from one space to another. Why go visit the boss when you can send a swarm? Furniture also looks to be smart and flexible, such as modular parts that re-assemble for chairs or tables.http://bit.ly/oWsmf Smart technology which uses reading sensors, codes objects with rfids and can automate our energy grid or transportation system is related automation on a massive scale. Robots and the Internet of Things http://bit.ly/XfDIw will do for cities and buildings what Gameboy did for board games.

Furthermore, how we use buildings and how we assemble and make things can be made easier with robots. Industry is constantly finding new ways to use robots, such as this Gap warehouse.http://bit.ly/19WpHr Cleaning, organizing, maintaining a house will become ever more automated. Robot, read me the headlines now.   

Looking Ahead

Robots will immerse our cities with automation and change how we live and work, no doubt, even who we are. For example, I might say I am not a robot, but my arm is, or my eye is. Transhumanism is reshaping how we define machine and human. http://bit.ly/41qWQs We will work with robots, and yes, I think even grow attached to them. Some will emulate humans or animals, and others will be strange forms or geometric shapes suited to some particular task. Robot as a term has been useful as a machine of the future; at some point, we will need far more specific descriptions. Building them, maintaining, updating, using, and teaching robotics are specialized career paths. Eventually, Robots 101 will be a basic course.

You can find more robot references on my delicious site (cindyfw). http://bit.ly/21qCK0

Next I focus on more technology that will shape 21st century cities: geo-engineering and nanotechnology.

photo credit: Hallucigenia Project, IATSS Research 28.1 (2004) by Shunji Yamanaka, Automotive Transportation Gallery, U of California Library, Berkeley