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Early Access: (emTech) section for INSIDER Xpresso—#04

Early Access coverage of the Emergent Technologies (emTech) section for the upcoming INSIDER Xpresso #04. Non-subscribers can gain access to this information by signing up for our monthly Xpresso newsletter for free. Inside this issue, we cover Smart Cities, AI and Robots in Architecture, Construction Robotics, brand new AR/VR tools and new Computational Design offerings from Dassault.

You are reading the “early access” edition of INSIDER Xpresso newsletter’s (emTech) section.

On Sunday 2 June 2019, we will release the complete INSIDER Xpresso newsletter #04 to all subscribers of the free newsletter. Our Early Acess editions of the popular (emTech) section are for INSIDER members-only and include deeper commentary and more visuals than the newsletter itself.

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Xpresso #04 — A Word About the Next Issue

The upcoming June issue will take us a bit off-topic as we deliver a comprehensive feature report on Apple’s upcoming Mac Pro workstation for 2019 as well as a survey research report on what workstation-class professionals are really asking for with such a machine.

Apple is expected to possibly introduce the new Mac Pro 2019 workstation at WWDC on 3 June 2019—the very next day Xpresso #04 is released. We are keeping our fingers crossed.

This month’s emergent technologies (emTech) section is a bit brief compared to normal as we prepare for upcoming conferences in the week ahead. Our summer issues for July and August will be jammed pack as we unroll treasures of information coming out of key AEC conferences we are attending.

We have AI in Architecture, Smart Cities, Robots in Architecture, Robots in Construction, and AR/VR and Computational Design news below—many items are very brand new to the market and not yet known.

Artificial Intelligence in Architecture

Princeton architects Barbara and J. Robert Hillier have recently made the largest donation in the school’s history to the College of Architecture and Design at the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT). The donation will be focused on research into the growing use of artificial intelligence (AI) in architecture. The news from Princeton’s Weekly Community Newspaper states, “The use of technology and AI in architecture has soared in recent years, now spanning all aspects of practice. But there is [a] concern that those who don’t incorporate emerging technologies (emTech) into practice will be left behind.”



What’s I’m fearful about is that with AI, you lose humanity. So the question is, how do you take this technology and human experience and make them work together? 



“The gift will allow NJIT to do research on how architects can embrace artificial intelligence (AI) instead of getting put out of business by it,” Hillier said. “What I’m fearful about is that with AI, you lose humanity.  So the question is, how do you take this technology and human experience and make them work together?”

Author’s notes: It is excellent to see a financial contribution of this size (though the exact size wasn’t given) that is squarely aimed at research into the core questions about how AI will impact architecture and practice moving forward and to focus on its impacts in the area of keeping architecture driven by “human experience”—a description that is as broad as it is ill-defined in terms of how architects operationalize their design and delivery methods. 

ArchDaily is working with the curators of the “Eyes of the City” section at the Biennial aiming to stimulate a discussion on emerging technologies, particularly, artificial intelligence (AI) and how they might impact architecture and urban life.  And André Brown, professor, and Head of the School of Architecture at Victoria, University of Wellington, New Zealand, writes about “What intelligent cities mean for our lives.” He mentions a study commissioned by Google that showed that the workday of an architect has changed by 42 percent in recent years (compared to other professions like police officers, 13 percent). He writes, “There are a lot of positive consequences of the use of AI and other digital tools in architecture—we can use them to design everything from better traffic flow to buildings that are increasingly sustainable.” The article is aimed at a general audience and another example of the rising popularity of AI in everything, however, Brown makes some key global observations, importantly that architecture and cities embracing emerging technologies like AI don’t lose sight of human needs and perspectives.

Smart Cities

Dr. Ying Jin, from the Department of Architecture at Cambridge University, UK, has built a computer model rich in data to help determine the future of Greater Cambridge. Called LUISA, the model is a lens to look at the future of working, living and traveling in and out of Greater Cambridge. From an article titled, “How to tend an economic bonfire,” in Research Horizons, one learns that Cambridge’s growth is a bit like an economic bonfire. “You can get a bonfire going and expand it as long as you keep feeding the center,” says Matthew Bullock, one of the founders of the business and academic organization Cambridge Ahead, “but you can’t pick a bonfire and move it somewhere else.”

The LUISA computer model is helping Cambridge in the UK better plan its growth in relation to its “bonfire economy” by treating development in jobs, housing and transport as one integral system. (image: screenshot from Research Horizons, Cambridge University)

Author’s note. It seems Cambridge is like Silicon Valley terms of commute times, soaring housing prices and stress. In 1997, the average housing price was 4.5 times the median salary. Now it is 16 times, making Cambridge the least equal city in the UK. The LUISA computer model appears to be a virtual lab for the future of Cambridge. It works with data at a very granular level and using methods honed over three decades of analyzing the Cambridge area. As such, it can see employment rate data at a richer level than national government figures. LUISA is unique because it can treat development in jobs, housing and transport as one integral system. 

“The Sins of Smart Cities” is a new article by Ruth Miller, published in the Boston Review. It asks, “what happens when we reframe complex social and political issues as technical puzzles?” To answer that question, the article discusses two new books that challenge the concept that modern cities thrive best when they make heavy use of data and technology. These two books argue that over-reliance on both has several pitfalls. The first book is from Ben Green, and is titled, “The Smart Enough City: Putting Technology in Its Place to Reclaim Our Urban Future.”  The second book is by Daniel T. O’Brien, “The Urban Commons: How Data and Technology Can Rebuild Our Communities.”

One cautious note that is discussed in this article is that cities today are “undoing the damage created by last century’s misguided dreams.” As we move forward with so-called smart cities in this next century, we would be wise to note our failures in planning in the last.

There are interesting criticisms of these two latest books in the article, including criticisms aimed washing over issues about race and the reliance of quantification. There is also the issue of cities and their impatience to capture the smart cities crown (the rapid pace of technology roll-out). Miller brings up Wired’s 2008 essay, “The End of Theory: The Data Deluge Makes the Scientific Method Obsolete.”  She writes,  it “is remembered to this day as best capturing the breathless impatience for the surrender to data.”

In her conclusions she writes:

“The Urban Commons and The Smart Enough City both challenge us to think critically as we develop our public data infrastructure, but the latter forces us to see how thinking critically about data means looking beyond the mirage of objectivity. For every generation, a new type of infrastructure consumes the focus of public investment, and so far every generation of public planners have relinquished our infrastructure to biases that fail their obligation to serve the whole public. If cities are to break this cycle, they must accept that even our technical problems are political at their core.”

Robots in Architecture

This is a regular (emTech) section for the Xpresso newsletter that we have only treated lightly thus far. Unlike AR and VR, for example, we have not yet published a special feature in this domain but aim to very soon. One of the surprising things I learned when we flew out to Seattle to talk to the McNeel folks about Rhino and Grasshopper (see: Architosh, “Inflection Point: Disruptions, Platforms, and Growth with Rhino + Grasshopper (Part 1),” 17 May 2016) was that Grasshopper had become the most popular languages to control industrial robots. You can actually see examples of that on the main pages at The Association of Robots in Architecture here.

The Association for Robots in Architecture, (ROB|ARCH) produces the KUKA|prc plugin for Grasshopper that enables Grasshopper to drive industrial robots.

The international association was founded in 2010 and is engaged in both soft and hardware development in robot pedagogics. A spin-off association of Vienna University of Technology, ROB|ARCH developed KUKA|prc, a plugin for Grasshopper that for the first time enabled robot control from within an architectural software. ROB|ARCH does an interesting thing that reminds this author of the early days of Architosh—it has mapped out where in the world robots are being used in the creative industries. (see image) The map includes a list that notes the homepage of each location and the robot type used. Notable American schools that have robots for use in architectural work include Harvard, MIT, Carnegie Mellon, SCI-Arc, UCLA, and Pratt. There are a few other American schools on the list as well and of course notable colleges and universities abroad like ETH in Switzerland. There are also some architecture firms themselves which possess a robot. Perkins + Will in Los Angeles, for example. And Snøhetta is another.

Map of world with industrial robots used for design and architecture—not construction.

Architect Patrick Schumacher, a partner at ZHA, believes that people need to adapt and learn to love the new architecture created by advanced technologies. He was speaking on a panel on the future of technology in architecture, hosted by Dezeen. “I don’t think we need to answer necessarily whether people like it right away or whether they buy into an aesthetic. I think we need to be market leaders,” he said. The article from Dezeen states that Schumacher believes people should begin to learn to hate the old because its wasteful of time, material and energy, and calls for an aesthetic revolution.

Robots in Construction

The construction industry may have been the last the of the AEC discipline areas to come to advanced technologies but with shortages of labor and skilled workers in a busy economy, contractors are actively looking at and putting to use robots on the construction site. A new market report forecasts that as much as 7,000 robots may take on construction work by 2025. The report further notes that robot suppliers to the construction market saw revenues of $22.7 million in 2018 but that will rise ten-fold to $226 million by 2025.

A Brokk robot handles demolition on a job site far faster and safer than humans with tools.

INSIDER Xpresso #02 brought focus to TyBot by Advanced Construction Robotics, a robot that ties rebar much faster than humans for large decks and bridges. A new startup out of New York, Toggle, automates rebar cages bending inside its factory, not onsite. Both systems are examples of robotic automation in construction.

So who are the major players in construction robotics? According to this report, Global Construction Robots Market, the dominant companies by market status, size, share, and profitability and overall growth are:

  • Brokk AB (Sweden) — robots specialists going back to 1976 focused on demolition robots
  • Husqvarna (Sweden) — demolition robots much like Brokk.
  • Conjet AB (Sweden) — hydro demolition robots.
  • TopTech Spezialmachinen GmbH (Germany)

There are a host of other companies, some of which we have discussed in Xpresso #02 which you can find a link to at the bottom of this report.

You can also see other companies in the video above (which we highly recommend).

AR, VR and Computational Design

A VIVE X startup called Mindesk has secured nearly $1 million in an initial seed round from HTC Vive, Barcamper Ventures, A11 Venture and Invitalia Ventures to develop real-time CAD collaboration software in AR/VR. What makes Mindesk different in the AR/VR space is that you use AR/VR for actual modeling within those environments. In other words—immersive modeling. Some basic forms of immersive modeling exist in other tools (The Wild, for example). With Mindesk software you can connect programs like Rhino to do immersive modeling in AR/VR.

Mindesk also works with Grasshopper and the Unreal Editor and supports multi-user collaboration. It works with HTC Vive, Vive Pro, Oculus Rift, and Windows Mixed Reality devices. It also supports a vast set of 3D modeling file formats. A 15-day trial version is available.

Nate Miller of Proving Ground and the Proving Ground team has launched a new video podcast. In their very first episode, they talk about RhinoInside, which we mentioned in INSIDER Xpresso #03. RhinoInside is so lightweight it can run inside other CAD and BIM tools and supports API to API connectivity. RhinoInside is getting very integrated with Revit, apparently. The question that emerges in this segment is if Grasshopper is now sitting inside Revit via RhinoInside and it now has the ability to author Revit families, is it now really a Dynamo killer? Nate says that Dynamo introduced really great new things into the conversation in generative design.

Nate and Co. explain that an advantage Rhino+Grasshopper has over Dynamo, besides a vastly larger and more capable ecosystem of tools, is its very fast geometry kernel and its ability to handle meshes and really good intersections, areas that Nate says are a sore spot in the Dynamo and Revit world.

3D Generative Innovator is also mentioned by Nate, which is a new tool by Dassault as part of its CATIA R2019X release. Blender and Houdini also have powerful node-based modeling technologies, where you can go from node to code.  Back to the Dassault Generative Innovator (see images below), DS has created a fully cloud-based generative node-based modeling environment in the same exact spirit and format as say Grasshopper or Dynamo. On the left side of your screen you have your node workspace and on the right side of the screen your 3D viewport. DS says its new 3D Generative Innovator unleashes “unconstrained creativity” that combines graphical visual scripting and interactive 3D modeling with the ability to use one or the other interchangeably at any time.

Dassault’s latest CATIA R2019X includes the new 3D Generative Innovator technologies with full-on node-based visual-scripting driven advanced modeling in the same vein as Grasshopper or Dynamo.

The new generative environment is meant for creatives in Architecture, Engineering and Design/Styling roles to quickly design, explore and validate variations of complex repetitive forms. The output from this environment is fully flexible enabling models to be used through design detailing through manufacture via the complete portfolio of roles of the 3DEXPERIENCE Platform.

Tidbits for the Salon

A climate change minimizer changes his mind after decades arguing against the realities of the evidence. Jerry Taylor, formerly of the libertarian think tank—the Cato Institute—explains why things changed for him with climate change.

In the wake of doctored Nany Pelosi video which Facebook knowingly propagated, Finland is giving classes on fighting fake news—a population-wide education campaign that reflects Finland’s total defense doctrine, where everybody in society, not just the government, is responsible for helping to defend the nation.

During the Cold War with the US and USSR, trade with the Soviet Union was only 1 percent. The Tech Cold War Trump is starting with China is between countries where the trade percentage is far from just 1 percent—rather approximately 1/6th of all US trade. China has reminded Trump and the US that America’s tech industry is dependent on rare Earth metals of which China is by far the dominant supplier. Meanwhile, British chip designer, ARM (Advanced Risk Machines) has suspended work with Chinese Huawei, the number two smartphone maker in the world. Huawei’s future Kirin processors were optimized for AI-based applications and were based on licensed ARM designs. ARM cut off Huawei because of the US-ban imposed by the Trump administration due to “US-origin technology.”

Driverless cars working together can speed up traffic by 35 percent, based on a University of Cambridge research project that demonstrated various real-world scenarios. They built a small fleet of miniature Landrovers and tested them on a dual lane roadway system. Take look at the video (quite fun interesting to watch). When autonomous vehicles work together by communicating situations they accounter that intelligence can help a coordinated response to all cars in the approximate area.

Alexa and Google Home already have the capacity to predict with 75 percent accuracy if a marriage or relationship will be a success just by analyzing verbal communication between the partners. Not only that, these technologies can interrupt an argument with an idea about how to resolve it, according to the latest research.

Exxon Mobile predicted that we would hit 415 ppm (parts per million) in 2019 for CO2 readings. The latest measurement as of May is 415.39 ppm. Nearly four decades ago an oil firm’s own climate scientists predicted with unnerving accuracy the trajectory of carbon levels.

Amazon rolls out new machines that pack orders far faster than human workers. The machines cost $1 million each but they do the work of 24 people. Author’s note. The way companies will tout these new machines as making work safer for other humans and enabling greater efficiencies that will lead to other new jobs in other areas of the company will be par for the course as the years go by. And the public will just have to watch to see if 24 jobs lost by a machine create 24 or more new jobs somewhere else in the organization. 

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INSIDER Xpresso keeps CAD industry professionals up-to-date on next-gen emerging technologies (emTech) that will revolutionize the worlds of AEC and manufacturing and design. As an Xpresso reader, you will hear from some of the most important voices inventing and using the very latest tech in areas such as AI, machine learning, algorithm-aided design (AAD), AR, VR, MR, 3D printing, 3D computer vision, robotics, and SmartCities technologies.

Each issue arrives in your inbox on the first Sunday of the month. Issue #1 arrived on March 3, 2019. Full archives and easy navigation for your pleasure. Enjoy! 

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