Weeknotes 133; nature-tech symbioses

Welcome to weeknotes edition 133; looking back and forward, sharing and reflecting on some interesting news on IoT, and relations with intelligent things and robots.

Speaking of that. This week we are entering the weeks of events. March is always an intense month for some bigger events I tend to follow and/or visit. Like SXSW that starts next week, and Mozfest, which I always missed, until this year I hope. Runs for two weeks and has too many sessions to prevent FOMO I am afraid… And this week it is interesting for the human-robot-interactions. I will follow the academic conference HRI2021 that – just like SXSW – will be an evening experience due to timezones.

Also; Thursday evening and Friday (CET) the conference Public Spaces is held, interesting for those interested in the public values in smart cities and mediated spaces.

In a way, I am happy the conferences are in the evening, and online, as time is always limited. On the other hand, I truly miss the shift to the “other dimension” a conference can be when visited abroad. A good way to disconnect a bit and focus. Much harder with these online versions…

From last week I have no events to report on. I had to miss the PhD defense of Cristina Zaga, but will try to check it out later.

In the Cities of Things Lab-related activities, there were meetings with 4 of the 5 graduation students, and presentations by the 8 teams of the minor Design Connected Experiences on their concepts for “things that predict” in the city. A pleasant surprise all the teams had a different topic. I will take some time later to add the projects to the citiesofthings.nl website. As an overall reflection, it is a challenge to unlock the value of really autonomously interacting objects that form a different counterpart than ‘just’ contextual information touchpoints. Building communities of objects, longer dialogues is a new lens on the city. Now they will also add the predictive knowledge. Looking forward to seeing what that will change.

In other news: nice to see that the ThingsCon initiative of the Trustmark is part of the NYC IoT regulations, check this post of Peter Bihr to learn more. We will organize some sessions on these principles in April and May by the way. The program for the IoT Masterclass in Rotterdam is now online, and we will organize 3 workshops in April and May with IoT Eindhoven. By the way; check also the latest ‘Getting Tech Right’-podcast from Peter with Anab Jain on speculative evidence among other things.

News of last week

Let’s jump into the news articles of last week. Remarkable explorations on nature-tech symbioses with a robotic angle. And the usual round of new applications for Spot the robot-dog, and for delivery pods. Also in legislation; how do they have a place in the city. Maybe start with a round of autonomous vehicles and levels of autonomy…

Levelling up autonomy

The future of electric cars isn’t Tesla. It’s golf carts.

I missed this before, in the suite of micro-mobility the tiny car is apparently hot in China. We have the Biros in the Netherlands, however, a sharing pilot (Lev) in Rotterdam just ended.

“Millions of people in China are buying off-brand electric cars, which are cheap, tiny, barely regulated, and extremely useful.”


Honda launches next generation Honda SENSING Elite safety system with Level 3 automated driving features in Japan

You might think that Tesla’s autopilot is doing level 3 autonomous driving, but it is still considered as level 2/2,5: adaptive cruise control. Honda is now announcing level 3 capabilities. If the legislation is ready for it of course…

“One of the “elite” technologies featured is the “Traffic Jam Pilot” function, an advanced technology qualifying for Level 3 automated driving (conditional automated driving in a limited area), for which Honda has received type designation from the Japanese Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism (MLIT)”


Driverless autonomous trucks lead the way

“Driverless trucks are already heading out to the highway, as shipping companies increasingly look to autonomous technology to meet the rising demand for goods.”

Makes sense: level 3 comes to market, but still no full autonomy in the near future. The focus will be on specific applications like traffic jams.


Self-driving startups are becoming an endangered species

I don’t have the business books at hand, so cannot be certain if this shake-out is a usual step in maturing technology looking for the right business model… Let’s see what happens…


Human-less autonomy, and dogs

Safeway to test robot delivery

In the series autonomous delivery pods: “Safeway is the latest supermarket to begin a test of robots for contactless delivery of online grocery orders.”


Uber spins out delivery robot startup as Serve Robotics

“Postmates X, the robotics division of the on-demand delivery startup that Uber acquired last year for $2.65 billion, has officially spun out as an independent company called Serve Robotics. ”

Introducing another variation on the delivery pod.


Real estate group in Las Vegas launches fully autonomous security robot

“A new spin to security. The Westland Real Estate Group has launched a fully autonomous security robot at its Liberty Village Apartments in northeast Last Vegas.”

Check the movie, these surveillance robots have been around for some time and earlier pilots were terminated. On private property, everything is possible of course…


Robot dogs the newest ’employees’ at Alberta Shell refinery

Seems like the place to be for robotic assistants. I am wondering if the form-factor will evolve in optimized robot-animals over time. Will there be a ‘dogless-carriage’ phenomenon in the future?

“Bringing in robot dogs seemed to be the next logical step in our evolution in our digitization journey.”


The (robotic) doctor will see you now

“A large majority of patients interacting with a health care provider via a video screen mounted on a robot said it was similar to an in-person interaction with a health care worker. The work was led by MIT and Brigham and Women’s Hospital.”

What does that say about the normal interactions with the health care workers?

I am also wondering if using Spot-robot-dog makes the most sense.


Sidewalk robots get legal rights as “pedestrians”

Interesting to notice; we used the example of delivery pods with pedestrian rights for some time in our presentations on things as citizens. In this article some worries are summed up… “Fears of a dystopian urban world where people dodge heavy, fast-moving droids are colliding with the aims of robot developers large and small — including Amazon and FedEx — to deploy delivery fleets.”


Synthetic nature robotics

Researchers introduce a new generation of tiny, agile drones

“Building insect-like robots can provide a window into the biology and physics of insect flight, a longstanding avenue of inquiry for researchers.”

Nice to see these explorations, hope they will become market-ready sometime, but at the same time, I hope that they will not be flying everywhere all the time then ;-)


Biohybrid robot wired to “hear” using locust’s ear

“Researchers have managed to create a kind of cyborg, integrating the ear of a locust into a robot. The robot was then able to respond to noises that the biological sensor picked up, which could pave the way for more sensitive and efficient sensors.”

More nature-robot-integrations that might serve humans…


A submersible soft robot survived the pressure in the Mariana trench | New Scientist

“A silicone robot has survived a journey to 10,900 meters below the ocean’s surface in the Mariana trench, where the crushing pressure can implode all but the strongest enclosures.”

The most interesting robot-article on new developments.


Scientists have engineered spinach plants that know how to send emails

Intriguing technology I would say. And will requires new types of spam filters…

This technology is called “plant nano bionics”.


And to close, some other news…

Facebook’s New AI Teaches Itself to See With Less Human Help

Why is this interesting? On the one hand, it is a clear representation of the developments in AI and at the same time of the fear of us humans getting ruled out of the equation (especially if Facebook is orchestrating this). On the other hand, we believe the model of co-performance, a partnership of human-nonhuman will be much more inspiring to explore…

“Most image recognition algorithms require lots of labeled pictures. This new approach eliminates the need for most of the labeling.”


Announcing the 2021 AI Index Report

Something I will dive into as soon there is time… Good to know it is there to check!

“The 2021 AI Index report is one of the most comprehensive reports about artificial intelligence to date. This latest edition significantly expands the amount of data available in the report, which was drawn from a broader set of academic, private, and non-profit organizations for calibration.”


A quantum internet is closer to reality, thanks to this switch

“When quantum computers become more powerful and widespread, they will need a robust quantum internet to communicate.”

I follow the whole quantum computing from a distance, the promises are huge.


NFTs Are Hot. So Is Their Effect on the Earth’s Climate

The hype of this tech-spring is NFT (ok Clubhouse too), I mentioned it last week. And with the hype the worries come. For a good reason. Who would have thought that art would be subject of a discussion on footprint on the earth….

“The sale of a piece of crypto art consumed as much energy as the studio uses in two years. Now the artist is campaigning to reduce the medium’s carbon emissions.”


You’re On Allocation

An interesting development to follow: the shortage of chips is stalling production.

“The electronics supply chain is knotted up with shortages seemingly everywhere. We think we are probably past the worst of it and do not believe it will last into 2022.”


Bjarke Ingels and Xiye Bastida on Designing the Ideal City

This book arrived in my mailbox a couple of weeks ago and is waiting to be explored in detail :)

“What kind of cities do we want to live in? What do we believe is important for a good life? And what makes a good home for all of us?”


That’s all!

Hope you think it is not too much :) It is a long list. Let me know if you think this is too much, or just fine. I also changed the layout a bit with a new template Getrevue is providing. Cleaner, I like it!

I hope I can share some interesting insights from the HRI conference and other events. Have a great week!

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I am a design director at Structural. I curate and organize ThingsCon Netherlands and I am chairman of the Cities of Things Foundation. Before I was innovation and strategy director at tech and innovation agency INFO, visiting researcher and lab director at the Delft University of Technology coordinating Cities of Things Delft Design Lab.

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