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Early Access: (emTech) Section for INSIDER Xpresso newsletter—#03

Our Early Access Release of the (emTech) section for INSIDER Xpresso #03. Non-subscribers can gain access to this information by signing up for our monthly Xpresso newsletter for free. Inside this issue, we talk extensively about Smart Cities, sensors, AR, VR—and more!

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

On Sunday 5 May 2019, we will release the INSIDER Xpresso newsletter #03 to all subscribers to the free newsletter. Our Early Access editions of the popular emTech section are for INSIDER members-only and include deeper commentary and more visuals.

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Xpresso #03 — A Word About the Next Issue

The upcoming May Xpresso #03 will boast a special feature article on Varjo, the Finnish innovator in the VR market with their Varjo VR-1 headset with bionic human-eye display technology. We look forward to sharing that fantastic story with everyone soon.

This month’s emergent technologies (emTech) section is highly focused on Smart Cities tech along with great posts on AI (artificial intelligence) in smart city design and architecture. In addition, we cover the bases on AR and VR technologies.

Five Innovation Platforms Each Worth Trillions

Before we get into Smart Cities I want to call readers’ attention to ARK-Invest, an investment advisory services firm exclusively focused on capturing long-term outperformance and capital appreciation created by disruptive innovation. The firm is led by Catherine D. Wood, who was named to Bloomberg’s Top 50 Who Defined Global Business in 2018. She writes on their website:


Over time, innovation will displace industry incumbents, increase efficiencies, and gain majority market share. More importantly, disruptive innovation impacts and concerns us all of our lives and changes the way the world works.

Catherine D. Wood


If you are reading INSIDER Xpresso chances are you agree with most of Catherine’s sentiment above. So what does her firm offer us now in this newsletter?

In the firm’s Big-Ideas for 2019, ARK-Invest identifies five major disruption innovations that are the bedrock of an entire “innovation platforms.” These five are:

  1. Blockchain Technology
  2. Genome Sequencing
  3. Artificial Intelligence
  4. Robotics
  5. Energy Storage

ARK-Invest believes that each of these five innovation platforms will generate multiple trillion dollars in market capitalization over the next decade, enabling further innovation. AI is the big one.

01 – ARK-Invest sees five major innovation platforms worth trillions of dollars each developing in the next decade ahead, spawning nine total related disruptive industries.  (image: ARK-Invest)

But importantly for INSIDER Xpresso, big ideas for accelerated core technologies and markets in 2019 include items like (1) 3D Printing for End-Use Parts, (2) Collaborative Robots, (3) Autonomous Taxi Networks, (4) Battery Cost Tipping Points and (5) Artificial Intelligence (AI) in the form of deep learning.

Author’s Notes: ARK-Invest provides end-users the abilities to get into investment vehicles that focus exclusively on these trillion dollar estimated innovation platforms. Reader’s interested should read here and here to learn more. 

As for these innovation platforms and our Emerging Technologies (emTech) topics, architects, engineers, and constructors all need to be aware of several of them. Principally, here are the impacts on AEC and Manufacturing:

  • AI — We know that deep learning continues to impact new formations for our digital tools and literally cuts across every sector in AEC and MCAD. Importantly, AI needs to act on data and while the data that has been fed into BIM systems for years is of value, it likely pales in importance to the data coming from sensor systems and networks and mobile-based data that users generate that relate their well-being, whether in specific buildings, parks, or on the urban street. As we can read in several articles below, AI is helping urban planners and designers, architects and policy-makers create better Smart Cities for people to live. 
  • Autonomous Taxi Networks — What does a city look like with thousands of roaming human-driverless cars, hauling passengers from point A to point B? The smart networks (think Uber’s logistics platforms)  can keep these cars moving and useful every minute, returning the vehicles to owners or fleet ports at the appropriate time. Car ownership will plummet and so will the need for parking garages and parking lots in towns and cities. This changes the way we must think about urban design and for architects how to make use of future unused structures and lots. 
  • Collaborative Robots — As we read about in the last issue of Xpresso, the nature of construction in buildings and infrastructure can find great new efficiencies through the use of robotic labor. I see Drones as part of the robotic labor workforce providing intelligence services and features. Drones will soon be outfitted to watch over robots and robots will eventually service drones. As you can see from the image from ARK-Invest, Robotics is a trillion dollar innovation platform. 
  • 3D Printed End-Use Parts — Tightly related to robotics, 3D printers and additive manufacturing as an industry segment has far-reaching impacts on everything we design and manufacture. 

Smart Cities

The world is facing a $15 trillion infrastructure gap by 2040. Governments around the world have been neglecting their infrastructure and its importance to the economy and human lives. Here in the US, we have heard President Trump tout a major infrastructure bill. Those who have dug deeper have learned that Trump plans, like other governments, to tap private investment partnership so that taxpayers are not footing the entire costs. According to the World Economic Forum article, however, private investors while ready with funds are “often unable to commit the capital required because governments have often been unable to create investment-ready project pipelines (a series of infrastructure projects presented in a programmatic way)—leaving investors unsure of how, where and when to commit capital.” Part of the solution to this issue is to evaluate the existing landscape of project preparation tools. This is where there are opportunities for technical design professionals to provide real-world case-studies that package up infrastructure projects into well-documented “investable project pipelines.”  Meanwhile, these countries are all building brand-new cities.



According to some estimates, in the 21st century, China might build more urban fabric than humanity has ever built before.



The world continues to become more urban. Worldwide the degree of urbanization (% of urban population) is 54 percent. By continent, North America leads at 81 percent, Latin America and the Caribbean just below that at 80 percent. You can see the full breakdown here.   The Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), often associated with the Second Machine Age, is going to transform how humans live. In this WEF report, titled,
Agile Cities, Preparing for the Fourth Industrial Revolution” (PDF download), we learn more about agility across numerous sectors, including: Agile Buildings, Agile Land, Agile Energy, Agile Mobility, Agile IT, Agile Security, Agile Education and lastly, Agile Governance. This is an older report from the fall of 2018 but worth a read.

Smart Cities experts talk about the risks and rewards of how Artificial Intelligence (AI) can be deployed in Smart Cities communities. In particular, local governments can streamline any kind of city service that tends to involve a queue.

Sidewalk Labs Releases Street Design Principles. Sidewalks Labs is the Smart City arm of Google parent company Alphabet. Read about their four principles of streets here. But here’s a snippet of SmartCitiesDive’s insight: “The mobility revolution means that roads that were once designed for cars are now having to serve bikes, scooters, and pedestrians, forcing a new conversation about shared use and safety.”  This last note about safety couldn’t be more important. Pedestrian deaths in cities have been on the rise and in the United States pedestrian deaths was the highest number in 28 years. (NPR report). US pedestrian fatalities have increased 41 percent since 2008 and now account for 16 percent of all traffic fatalities. Large vehicles, more people in urban centers and cell phone distractions all contribute to the rise.

01 – CityWays, a research project at MIT’s Senseable City Lab. Here is a screenshot of the landing page for the 2017 study. Senseable City Lab has been conducting urban research in Smart Cities for years.

China is one of the best places for experimenting with urban technology, says architect Carlo Ratti. He told Dezeen that “probably the most important conversation that should happen today is about Asian cities, and especially Chinese cities. According to some estimates, in the 21st century, China might build more urban fabric than humanity has ever built before.”

Ratti leads MIT’s Senseable City Lab as well as his Turin-based studio, Carlo Ratti Associati. He has worked on numerous interesting projects and MIT’s Senseable City Lab is a fascinating destination on the web for those interested in Smart Cities and the technology and concepts behind them. One such project that caught my eye was actually implemented back in 2017 and was called “CityWays.”

The project was conducted with the aid of Liberty Mutual Insurance and took place in San Francisco and Boston, to analyze billions of data from self-tracking apps to unveil how we move in urban areas. The study utilized fitness tracking applications present in 60 percent of smartphones. From that Big Data researchers were able to understand the activity patterns of runners, walkers, cyclists and the particular urban movement patterns they took through their city. The data, which was anonymized, also tracked differences by gender. You can explore the web-based interactive interface of the study here.

02 – A sample image of the CityWays research application on mobility patterns. Boston is shown in this image.

While the study naturally determined preferred locations and routes for each type of mobility (eg: runners in Boston prefer locations like the Charles River banks), other unexpected findings were that the presence of restaurants and grocery stores seemed to have a stronger effect on pedestrian activity than the presence of elements expressed designed for pedestrians—like benches, trees, and sidewalks.

AI, AR, VR in Architecture

We have spent much more time on Smart Cities in this newsletter release, visit older INSIDER Xpresso releases (#01 in particular) for more on AI and ML in architecture.

A French startup is using drones and AI to save the world’s architectural heritage. Active now in over 30 countries, Iconem is a French company led by an architect who was working in places like Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iran and Syria where archeological sites are getting disturbed, violated and destroyed. He decided to do something about it.

Architect magazine has a new piece on Morpholio AR SketchWalk, an app that brings floor plans into the real world. The new app utilizes Apple’s ARKit 2 release. The app works with multiple people as long as they have the app running on the device they can experience each other on a plan in a real-life context. Likewise, from ArchDaily, 9 Augmented Reality Technologies for Architecture and Construction. There are some apps in this list we were not aware of because they are relatively new so this was a nice find. How VR Technology Is Changing the Way Architects Design Your Home, goes through the many levels of how this technology changes perceptions from the client-side and how the exchange of information and feedback loops must naturally evolve.

Also, Gilles Retsin fuses AR with timber construction at the Royal Academy of London. (beautiful project so check it out!)

Our feature on the Varjo VR-1 headset is coming up in the actual May release of Xpresso in a few days and on Architosh for you INSIDER members.

Tidbits for the Salon

SmartCities require sensors and lots of them. The Sensors Expo & Conference 2019 takes place in Silicon Valley 25-27 June 2019.

AI researchers want to study AI the same way social scientists study humans. this MIT Technology article by Karen Hao asks the fundamental question, maybe we don’t need to look inside the black box after all, we can just watch how machines behave, instead. takes away The Bias In Hiring Process. This is news on a Bengaluru-based startup working in the area of staff recruitment for companies. They have developed artificial intelligence technology that can more accurately select candidates who are well skilled for the job at hand. Author’s Note: This is a fascinating find because there has been much written about inherence bias mechanisms in AI technologies to date. Additionally, why’s technology seems “fairer” and a vector away from bias there are still darker sides to AI in the workplace, such as how Amazon is tracking and firing warehouse workers over poor “productivity.”  This type of use of tech may be hazardous to long-term life for all types of employees, forcing a world where, as The Verge article points out, “workers are pressed to ‘make rate.’ ”

An AI chip startup inches forward with $800 million in Series A round. The AI industry has helped reinvigorate the chip industry as numerous startups and spin-offs attempt to seek out advantages for AI in silicon.

IEEE Spectrum has an interesting article on Using AI to Make Better AI. This article discusses the use of a type of “AI neural network whose development the new MIT algorithm speeds up is called a convolutional neural network (CNN).” Author’s note. This is a short but fascinating little read. 

On Tesla’s Incredible Platform Advantage. The article by Steve Cheney reason’s that Tesla’s tactic of developing their own chip expertise and their announcement of the Tesla Supercomputer is analogous to Steve Jobs’ move to bring chip design in-house at Apple and create the famed A-series ARM architecture line that powers only Apple’s mobile devices and potentially their future Macs. Apparently, both Tesla’s and Apple’s chip teams share common thread other than business strategy—former PA Semi heritage. Recall that Architosh has written about PA Semi in the past here. (see: Architosh, “Future PA Semi—based Apple MIDs may utilize virtualization to address multiple markets, including gaming,” 7 May 2008.)

The core advantage is owning your own silicon destiny, something that only Tesla has going for itself in the autonomous driving wars.

Somehow we keep finding a way to end our Xpresso newsletter on an Apple or Mac note, despite the fact that Xpresso has nothing really to do with Apple in particular. We do expect that AI and ML will continue to be high priorities for Apple and we should hear news of such at WWDC in June.

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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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