Weeknotes 151; horseless carriage robots

Hi all, thanks for reading and being subscribed (if not, feel warmly invited!)

I will not travel for vacation till half of August, so I keep posting these weekly updates, curious to see how much news there is happening. Personally, I will take some time to write up the research on predictive relations from the last year. The student projects at Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences and the Delft University of Technology provide insights in shaping a design approach to predictive relations. So I hope to be able to share more end of summer.

Looking back at last week, let me first gratulate Meike Kuipers on her graduation on designing a handbook for the Seabubbles. This new autonomous sailing public transport will trigger a new form of booking and with that is in need for a different approach to the docks. Meike looked into this in the context of Drechtsteden area and did some nice simulations. Still, a lot to explore.

Also last week we had the workshop for Cities of Things AMS-MUC Creative Embassy with our German partners of Munich Urban Colab and municipalities. It was a fruitful exchange of ideas and getting to know possible German partners in the consortium. Thanks for hosting us!The last two things to mention here as an update from Cities of Things; for those interested, I updated the website to reflect more on the current activities of the foundation and the field labs. Next to that, I wrote the monthly newsletter on Cities of Things specifically. Subscribe to get in your email, or read it on the website.

As summer kicks in the number of events are quite low, almost non-existent. The ProductTank AMS is a meetup that is running for years, sometimes I attend to keep up with this community. Tonite there is one on continuous discovery strategies. So if you are into that, check it out.

Ok, let’s check out the news of last week.

Personal touch to tech

BMW iX debuts all-new intelligent, multisensorial idrive user experience Cars always have been the ultimate example of the state of human-tech collaborations. With the ramp-up to more delegation to the car, the designers are looking into forms of connecting tech to our human sense. This is a concept of BMW for its new electric flagship car to introduce a personal assistant or companion.

This Star Wars-Inspired E-Skin Lets Robots ‘Feel’ Objects E-skin that can feel and self-heal catch attention. Not sure why this is catching the news now btw. “Researchers have developed a world-first smart foam technology that could function as the equivalent of human skin for robots – allowing them to sense and “feel” nearby objects, and repairing itself when damaged.”

AI voice actors sound more human than ever—and are ready to hire Blurring reality… “A new wave of startups are using deep learning to build synthetic voice actors for digital assistants, video-game characters, and corporate videos.”

Fitbits Detect Lasting Changes After Covid-19 Insights from quantifying tech used for some useful research so it seems. “Some people recovering from a coronavirus infection had an elevated heart rate for months, according to a new study.”

The Flemish Scrollers, 2021 This artist Dries Depoorter is doing interesting projects for years. This one went kind of viral last week as it is appealing to both our own fears for surveillance, the shame of our behavior and condemnation of power.

Catch the Bus: Probing Other-Than-Human Perspectives in Design Research Viktor was part of the organising team of the MAB20 workshop on subversive strategies. This paper was one of the inspirations, it just got public. “Prompted by Catch the Bus, an experimental street game design project with and for autonomous buses, this study explores strategies to substantiate the speculation about other-than-human perspectives.”

Engineers Built a Cockroach-Inspired Robot That Can’t Be Squashed I shared another take on this ant-like robot before I think, on it’s moving habits. It has more qualities too though. “Some of the best robots are inspired by nature. Now, engineers have developed a small, scurrying bot based on the humble cockroach – with almost as much speed and squashability as its biological equivalent.”

Horseless carriage robots

The future of self-driving? Maybe less like Elon Musk and more like Domino’s pizza robots We see starting a notice that the current approach of the autonomous vehicles might be suffering from the horseless carriage syndrome, and the future might turn out different from expected. Not worse, but different. “Elon Musk has talked up full self-driving for years but missed many deadlines. Some are betting the big progress in autonomous vehicles: delivering pizza.”

Elon Musk just now realizing that self-driving cars are a ‘hard problem’ Connect this to the notion that delivery might be a more important driver for autonomous technology. “Elon Musk admitted that self-driving cars were a harder problem than he originally thought.”

Ultrafast Delivery: The $28B Market to Build the On-Demand Bodega Maybe not per se the news you expect here, on new e-commerce business, but I think the infrastructure that is built for these last-mile delivery could be the foundation for autonomous shopping delivery.

Beyond intelligence

Cultural anticipations as an algorithm for divining the future  This is what the thinking on predictive relations is about: “What this method proposes is the future already exists, in some sense. Future events and future configurations of society are immanent in the world’s collective unconscious – we can’t name the future, we can’t talk about it, we can barely consciously feel it approaching, but the future is there and as real as the sluggish yet titanically unstoppable currents in the magma layer deep below the Earth’s surface.”

Radar trends to watch: July 2021  Sometimes I take out some of the interesting articles from this O’Reilly overview of trends in AI, Ethics, Security. This month I repost it as it is to explore yourself all.

A Global Smart-City Competition Highlights China’s Rise in AI  “Chinese entrants swept all five categories, featuring technologies to improve civic life. But the advances could also be tools for surveillance.”

Tech life routine bits

The Tech Cold War’s ‘Most Complicated Machine’ That’s Out of China’s Reach“ A $150 million chip-making tool from a Dutch company has become a lever in the U.S.-Chinese struggle. It also shows how entrenched the global supply chain is.”

The IoT is a privacy nightmare and more 5G  If you are deep into IoT I’m sure you listen to the podcast of Stacey already. It is always a great update to the latest gadgets to complete your connected home. But more important, Stacey is also critical on the data extraction, security flaws and other downsides of our connected life. This is a nice example.

It’s electrifying I like this search for ‘rules of thumb’ to make sense of a changing energy system that is also changing the perception of energy. Check the newsletter of last week and the insights of Cameron Tonkinwise.

America’s First Legal DAO Approved in Wyoming DAOs are interesting to follow as they represent possible new forms of a society driven by tech. It is also linked to the not-so-nice world of bitcoin cowboys. “Decentralized autonomous organizations, or DAOs, are recognized as a new form of company in the crypto-friendly state.”

Biden’s right-to-repair order could stop companies from blocking DIY fixes Good to see a push to right to repair “Executive order comes amid growing state, federal push to open repair process.”

Wishing you a great week, or vacation, or both!

Published by


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.