tech

Why the Prince of Denmark Dropped By

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For the past two weeks, the wonderful team at the Urban Future Lab has been busy, helping to transform the big room into an elegant showcase for clean technologies, just in time for Climate Week. And on Monday, the Crown Prince of Denmark dropped by to cut the ribbon.

He didn’t just drop by—he hung out too, checking in on the Lab’s Danish startups, chatting with hot shots in the city’s cleantech and urban fields, and touring the office (and our awesome view of Brooklyn and Manhattan) with Frank Jensen, the Lord Mayor of Copenhagen.

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Bjarke Ingles shows Frederik, Crown Prince of Denmark, Count of Monpezat, RE, SKmd, a proposal for a more resilient Manhattan waterfront 

The Prince and the Mayor also got a taste of the BIG U, a proposed redevelopment for the southern tip and sides of Manhattan intended to protect the island from rising tides. “You know the High Line?” architect Bjarke Ingles asked the Prince. Uh huh, his highness replied. “This is the ‘Dry Line.’” Everyone snickered. 

The Prince’s visit to the showcase, on the eve of the UN’s climate meeting here in New York, wasn’t totally out of the blue: Denmark and its capital city have become global leaders in sustainable, resilient solutions for energy and for cities. The showcase, called House of Green, and organized by the Danish Cleantech Hub, is meant to underscore the country’s contributions and bring it to market in New York and around the country.

“As mayors, we must create livability for our citizens,” Jensen said during the ribbon cutting for House of Green. He cited the C40 network of cities, hailed the 400,000-strong People’s Climate March on Sunday, and noted that Copenhagen is on track to become a carbon neutral city.

The same day, our own mayor Bill De Blasio announced a comprehensive plan to reduce New York's greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050 from 2005 levels. That would make our hometown the largest city in the world to make that kind of commitment.

Getting to more sustainable, resilient cities isn’t always easy. But the Prince’s visit to the Urban Future Lab was a reminder that that effort is much easier when the private and public sectors can find ways to collaborate and act together. 

As Shakespeare’s Danish prince put it: “The readiness is all.”

See the Ridesharing Community on a Real-Time Map

Where my friends at? An excellent question. When looking for a partner on Bandwagon, wouldn’t it be great to see other people searching for a ride too? Now you can.

With our new user icons, Bandwagon is now the first app to show you where the riding public is, making it easier to share your ride.

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Look out for other Bandwagoners in your ‘hood, indicated with the blue icon.

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See you on Bandwagon!

—Nadia

Hailing a taxi is being disrupted by technology and sharing. To help you (and us!) navigate the various options for a ride—and differentiate ridesharing from ride selling —Nyron and Florencia made a handy map of the various Transportation Network Companies and what they offer. 
  Read more about    where we fit into that picture and our thoughts about taxis and the sharing economy  .

Hailing a taxi is being disrupted by technology and sharing. To help you (and us!) navigate the various options for a ride—and differentiate ridesharing from rideselling—Nyron and Florencia made a handy map of the various Transportation Network Companies and what they offer.

Read more about where we fit into that picture and our thoughts about taxis and the sharing economy.

Open Traffic: Bringing Open-Source, Real-Time Traffic Data for NYC

To enhance how Bandwagon generates routes and matches passengers’ ride itineraries in New York City, we’re assembling a new database: a repository for real time traffic data we’re calling Open Traffic.

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Beginning with data gathered from New York State and City Agency fleets, private fleets and consumer vehicles, the database will be open to anyone to use and contribute to.

The hope is that Open Traffic will also serve a greater value: helping to reduce congestion, reduce fatalities, improve transportation investments, and promote multi-modal travel.

Because we think Open Traffic can benefit New York and Mayor de Blasio’s Vision Zero plan to eliminate all traffic deaths, we’ve submitted the project to the city’s premiere apps competition, BigApps, and we’re thrilled to be in the running. We’re also excited to be takling the Mayor’s #BigApps idea head on.

Read more on our BigApps project page—and please vote for Open Traffic at the BigApps hub before Saturday afternoon: 

http://www.nycbigapps.com/projects

It only takes twenty seconds, and if we have enough votes by the time we pitch the project atSaturday’s Block Party, we have a better chance of advancing to the next stage.

And come say hi to us and check out all the BigApps on Saturday.

—Team Bandwagon

Big Apps 2.0: NYC's Urban Data Challenge

NYC BigApps is back – with more data than you can shake an iPhone at. From Urban Omnibus:

The City of New York is hosting its second competition for web and mobile applications, NYC BigApps 2.0, to “increase government transparency and provide greater public access to city data.” Developers are invited to mine 350 data sets from NYC DataMine as the basis for apps that deliver information about various aspects of the city, ranging from education to transport, in a clear and creative manner. The organizers hope that the competition will help to provide “talented entrepreneurs with the tools to create new products. “We encourage the development of applications that can then be commercialized, spurring job growth and economic development in New York City,” says Deputy Mayor Steele in the competition press release. The submission period lasts through January 12 and winners will be announced in March. Get inspired to participate by browsing through the app gallery of last year’s winners — or by the $20,000 in cash prizes to be awarded this time around.

Weeels Talks About Networking, Excess Capacity, and Repair at Urban Omnibus

The online magazine Urban Omnibus places a wonderful emphasis on design, but it’s also a street-side enthusiast of a related subject: smartly distributing resources in a way that can improve our cities, from private cars to office space to regional rail.

So Dave and I were delighted to talk to the editor, Cassim Shepard, about some of the thinking behind Weeels and how we got started. Here’s a longish excerpt (and read the whole thing here):

UO: The excess capacity in existing infrastructure is something we think about a lot. Say a little more about how this line of thought influenced you as you came up with Weeels? David: I started thinking seriously about using existing infrastructure as a design strategy after reading Christopher Alexander’s The Timeless Way of Building. He dedicates a chapter to repair that makes the case for re-use (“Every act of building…is an act of repair”), not from an ecological perspective, but from a truly environmental perspective.

Christopher Alexander is particularly interested in the positive potential of concerted human attention — if we are all repairers/builders, then our environment can be exponentially denser, richer, etc. I see that ethic in projects that deal with excess capacity as well – information and information technology are used as tools to activate or accentuate human agency and attention. Weeels poses this question explicitly by providing an opportunity for a large community of users to improve their environment by acting together.

I love trains, but the train infrastructure in the United States is impoverished. If you’re going to think about mobility in the context of the United States, you have to address the automobile directly. So I started to ask, What if the car is not a private transit vehicle, but a public transit vehicle?

Something about the idea seemed inevitable to me, perhaps the correspondence between our digital information systems and physical road/car systems. I built some computer models to approximate the behaviors of these socialized cars. Then the iPhone came out and all of a sudden many of my ideas seemed less like science fiction. So I started mocking up a smart-phone interface — and a few years later, here we are…

Alex: The advent of social networking, largely with the rise of Facebook, held out the promise of an interesting technological solution to excess capacity: more responsive shared knowledge, and the many efficiency benefits that could come with it. Imagine a smart version of Craigslist. Now, for instance, we could perhaps know if someone in our friend group was getting rid of a book that we wanted to read — or had extra room in their car or in their cab….

Weeels appeals to me because it makes use of our networks to tackle a very straightforward problem that we intuitively know can and should be solved through sharing. Potentially, its solution is a very elegant one: Weeels unites our need for mobility, our desire to save money and our responsibility to be more efficient in our use of natural resources, all underwritten by our willingness to share.

UO: Given the trouble the Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC) has had setting up cab sharing stations that are actually used in Manhattan, how do you see Weeels as a successful tool?

Alex: Rather than asking people to wait at a few locations for a cab, imagine that taxi stands can be anywhere…

It’s a really nice interview (and they gave our posters a shout-out too!). Thanks Cassim and the rest of the Urban Omnibus gang!

Remember to try Weeels this weekend (and let us know how it goes at feedback at weeels dot org).

Apple Widens the Door for App Developers

As recently reported in the NY Times, Apple has released it’s guidelines for the ways in which developers are able to create new applications.

According to the release, Apple plans to lift a ban, circa April 2010, which would allow developers to use third party tools to design applications. This move would provide developers with a smoother conduit in which to allow foreign mobile applications (such as ones that run on Adobe’s Flash technology) to be converted to run on Apple’s hardware.  What is more, Apple has announced that they will allow applications to run advertisements which are from external companies:

Apple’s new rules also specify that developers can put advertisements in their applications that come from outside companies. Its earlier rules had raised some questions about whether developers would be limited to using Apple’s iAd service, locking out companies like AdMob, which is owned by Google.

Omar Hamoui, the former chief executive of AdMob who is now the vice president for product management at Google, said in a blog post that the changes were “great news for everyone in the mobile community.”

“Apple’s new terms will keep in-app advertising on the iPhone open to many different mobile ad competitors and enable advertising solutions that operate across a wide range of platforms,” he added.

Why all the sudden changes? Why after years of never publishing their guidelines for applications does Apple start now?

Jenna Worthman, writer of the NY Times article suggests that analysts say “the moves on Thursday were a sign that Apple was growing increasingly aware of competition in the smartphone market, and was trying to be friendlier to the developers whose applications have helped drive the success of its products.”

With Apple’s new laid back attitude towards its free market developers, one wonders how some developers are handling the news. The article asserts that the news may have come as a welcomed relief:

“This is gold. This is great,” said Dom Sagolla, chief executive of Dollar App, a mobile development company based in the Bay Area. “It feels like we’re finally getting a clue about what Apple wants.”

“This is a document I’ve been wanting to see for two years,” said Raven Zachary, president of Small Society, a software development firm. “It’s going to foster the creation of better apps because we know going in what to do and what to avoid.”

This next generation of application regulation should provide a more flexible, diverse and fostering environment for WEEELS to flourish in. As we make the transition, be sure to roll with WEEELS.

Networked Traffic Signals – a Step Towards Better Surface Transportation

As well as building efficient cars, Audi and BMW are taking steps to improve efficiency of driving.  Audi’s travolution project and BMW’s Traffic Technology and Traffic Management group are attempting to reduce unnecessary fuel consumption and congestion by working on “smart traffic lights”.

Audi’s “phase assistant” traffic lights are equipped with a Multi-Media Interface (MMI) screens, which use wireless networks to allow vehicles to communicate directly with the traffic-lights. Audi has recently tested their newest Travolution innovation in Ingolstadt, Germany.  The traffic light communicates a signal to the car, and displayed on the car’s information screen near the dashboard, is the ideal speed at which the driver should proceed. If the light is about to change from yellow to green, the driver will be informed to simply slow down, and to what speed; if the driver must stop at a red light, he will know how long he will be stopped.  By reducing the time at a standstill and cutting fuel consumption of acceleration, apparently, “exhaust emissions could be lowered by about two million tons of carbon dioxide [in Germany] annually, equivalent to a reduction of approximately 15 percent in carbon dioxide from motor vehicles in urban traffic”.

BMW is working on a system that adjusts traffic light signals depending on traffic volume.

“Simply by changing the timing of traffic lights on a test stretch of roadway in Munich, the engineers were able to nearly double the fuel efficiency of a BMW 530d test vehicle—from 22 mpg to 42 mpg. That being an idealized situation, the company expects an overall 10 to 15 percent decrease in urban fuel consumption due to smart traffic signaling.

BMW has been testing this system in Munich, Germany, and they have been recently collaborating with US DOT officials about bring these networked traffic signals to the US.

Hopefully, New York City adopts some of these programs.  But for now, the NYC DOT is in the midst of implementing a federally-funded “Smart Light” project to install traffic signals in 33 high-traffic arteries throughout Staten Island, Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx that are better timed according to traffic fluctuations, to reduce congestion and decrease fuel consumption.

Car Sharing in Hoboken: Why Couldn't it Work in New York?

Why can’t New Yorkers share cars? A car-sharing program across the river in Hoboken, New Jersey piques the curiosity of the City Critic, in the New York Times:

Corner Cars, the brainchild of Ian Sacs, Hoboken’s enthusiastic director of parking and transportation, is only a few weeks old, with just a couple of hundred users so far. It’s too soon to measure any impact. But in other communities, studies have shown that for every car that can be rented by the hour, 6 to 20 drivers have liked the experience so much, they’ve given up the car they owned. Across the country there is even a growing market in peer-to-peer car sharing — informal networks of car owners and car needers with no corporation to mediate.

“I think the part that’s really fascinating,” says Susan Shaheen, co-director of the Transportation Sustainability Research Center at the University of California, Berkeley, “is the behavioral response of users.”

“What is it about car sharing that causes people to sell their cars or forfeit a car?” she said.

The expense of car ownership is part of it, but she also sees a connection to larger social forces — “a growing culture of sharing,” of “social networks and the creation of communities through instant information.”

[“Traffic” author Tom] Vanderbilt likened it to the difference between paying to acquire and “park” a huge collection of CDs and simply streaming the music you want, when you want it, from the Internet.

There are a number of obstacles to making a car-sharing program work in New York City however, including alternate side of the street parking and the cost of a parking space (which would have to be borne by users or the sharing organizer, or both). Hertz pays Hoboken $100 per spot per month.

How much more would a rental company be willing to pay? Or would someone else with an interest in seeing fewer cars on the street — like real estate developers, who might like to build smaller garages in their buildings — agree to kick in the difference?

Then there’s the biggest challenge of all: the determination of some New Yorkers, no matter the logical argument against it, to own a car. Is there any dollars-and-cents argument that could persuade New York’s discretionary drivers to give up their cars?

“I asked that question back when I was in city government in the ’70s and ’80s,” said Sam Schwartz, the transportation engineer who was once New York’s deputy commissioner of transportation. “In the ’80s we did several focus groups and we tried to find out what made them drive. And a very common theme is that they felt they were smarter than the people down in the tube. They’re the Brahmins. They deserve it.” He added, “I never heard of it anywhere else.”

Could more and better options change that?

Tweeting for Cabs Across the Pond

A group of London taxi drivers have come together to create a Twitter-based dispatching service, @tweetalondoncab. As they put it on their website:

Tweetalondoncab is a non-profit making organisation, wholly operated by a close-knit community of Licensed London Taxi drivers. Our sole aim is to provide a quality, reliable and friendly service.

The effort has been quite a success, so much so that Tweetalondon cab is expanding into taking orders by phone and email as well. It’s a testament to how well new communication technologies are suited to improving personal transit that ideas can start with Twitter and work their way back technologically to older tools. According to a post about @tweetalondoncab on a Guardian technology blog, while London has also seen other ambitious ideas in this area (“a couple of developers are experimenting with Foursquare - setting themselves up as a virtual taxi rank and checking in when they are on duty"—pretty neat!), they’re still waiting on a mobile application for ordering rides (let alone sharing them).

Weeels is Trendy! (Tech-wise, at least)

According to the tech blog ReadWriteWeb’s list of key tech trends for for 2010 (so far), Weeels is right in the middle of all the coolest new stuff. Their list includes:

  • Augmented Reality (see acrossair’s subway finder app for a cool and even useful example)
  • Internet of Things (embedded devices—sensors, cars and TVs with Internet access, more “things” on the way)
  • Mobile (as in phones)
  • Real-Time Web (live interactions, information updated immediately)
  • Structured Data (information made more organized so computers can work with it)

You don’t need to pick apart each one of these to get a sense of the general picture being painted: Technology becoming more intertwined with everyday life and, relatedly, more useful. Weeels is a pretty good example of all this. The service brings together mobile devices, real-time web-based communication, structured data (particularly about location, also trendy), and even the “Internet of Things” by bringing vehicles into process. (More on that idea of making parts of the city “programable” on the StarLab blog.)