Weeknotes 152; context aware human-tech

Happy holidays over there!? Getting quieter as excepted for the news here; and still is covid not gone even with more people vaccinated. Hope you all hold tight.

I keep the update short. Two graduation students are in the final stage of their project, two are starting up aiming for a serious start in September. I will refocus my activities from graduation mentoring to research cooperations, I project a max of 3 students in the second half of this year (from 5), and even less next year. I believe in the value of good and focused graduation projects for exploring the topics we like to address with Cities of Things, and build on collaborations with other labs inside and outside TU Delft. It was good to have a chat with Suzanne of Seamless Personal Mobility Lab. Find more on the developments of the Cities of Things knowledge hub on the website.

Last week I was able to check in with the ProductTank AMS session with speaker Teresa Torres who was sharing her views on continuous discovery. Always interesting to keep track of this more applied form of product design. I shared a twitter thread in the newsletter two weeks ago by Sebastian Deterding where he responded on a comparison of design lead vs business lead product development. It connects very well to this. Continuous discovery fits an approach of almost agile design and continuous improvement. New questions (for the field) of bringing in ethics are good to notice. It also feels that there might be a benefit to using the thinking of Thing Centered Design to change perspectives, something Teresa liked to stress too.

This week again not too many events to visit. Another Internet(s) of Everything session tomorrow is organized by the Billion Seconds Institute in partnership with Logic magazine. And even all podcasts are on vacation break. Time to finish some of the books I’m still reading… 🙂

Ok, let’s jump into the noticeable articles of last. To start with multiple ones on human-tech relations.


Contact-aware robot design

Every week I can share new forms of human-tech cooperations and new forms of more understanding with robot(parts). Nice one again. “Researchers at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) created a new method to computationally optimize the shape and control of a robotic manipulator for a specific task.”

Air-powered computer memory helps soft robot control movements 

Always super interesting if very tangible technologies are part of our virtual tech. “Engineers made a pneumatic RAM chip using microfluidic valves instead of electronic transistors.” “Dense arrays of these valves can perform advanced operations and reduce the expensive, bulky, and power-consuming electronic hardware typically used to control pneumatic robots.”

Festo advances robot programming with AI

These Festo robot explorations are a nice example of finding an ideal human tech partnership. “We are investigating how the most versatile training data possible from multiple locations can be used to develop more robust and efficient solutions using artificial intelligence algorithms than with data from just one robot,”

Responsive skin makes better robot helpers 

More on the interaction of humans with robots. “An electronic skin helps facilitate natural interactions between robots and humans.”

Designing with machines

Let’s break my rule for one time, this article is not from last week but I missed it (the newsletter oio.studio mentioned it was of last week). oio is doing great explorations in the human-machine interactions and I think that the concept of centaurs is a valuable one to sketch possible futures.

Sushi robot gets a fancy sim trainer | FierceElectronics

Just like the weekly examples of human-tech collaborations that make sense, are there also now every week new uses of robot-arms taking over human tasks. Two thoughts: this is apparently something people like of value, and the other; with the costs of these arms, the way to profitable ghost kitchens with robots as assembling cooks is still far away. “USC and Nvidia researchers have built DiSECt, a differentiable simulator for robotic cutting”

What would be interesting to explore is if the personal touch of a chef and her/his employees is replaced with a robot arm that learns from the work it is performing, can it become a sensing learning experience too? A Robot Chef.

Eeuw van de Stad HollandDoc 

For Dutch-speaking, a very old interview (the early 60s) with an artist that designed a city called New Babylon. Shared yesterday in an interesting edition of Zomergasten with Government Architect Floris Alkemade. The same problems of clash of technology, mobility and liveability of cities on a different scale, but stressing the importance of human connections that build cities, not the infrastructure of technology.

What is also is striking: he compares the rise of robots in our lives as a liberating force, humans can focus on creative tasks and the work is delegated to the robots. Nothing new, this concept was tested before when slaves were common. Not sure if that is a preferable comparison.

Networks and sensors

Private networks are coming. Businesses are not ready

Interesting observation by Stacey: “as companies investigate 5G, they are also assessing the validity of private networks — networks that don’t share traffic with the traditional cellular networks in the area.”Is this a good thing as it makes the networks safer, or a bad thing, breaking down the essence of the internet as an open network space…

Toyota strengthens autonomous vehicle play with Carmera acquisition

Toyota seems to speed up the possibility to produce a service-based autonomous car park. “Less than 3 months after acquiring Lyft’s self-driving unit, Toyota subsidiary Woven Planet Holdings is acquiring HD mapping startup Carmera.” Leapfrogging with an established service platform and adding now a core element; understanding of context.

world’s first 3D printed steel bridge installed over one of amsterdam’s oldest canals

I have been following this project for the last 3 years and walked across the bridge once during the Dutch Design Week. Next to the attention for the 3D printing as a construction method is the research to the digital twin of the bridge that is fully sensing its environment, an interesting part. Especially the place of the bridge in the red light district makes it into an edge case for sensing infrastructure… “world’s first 3D printed steel bridge, by MX3D, has been installed over one of Amsterdam’s oldest canals, in the red light district.”

New tools and models, promising or not

Why Not Use Self-Driving Cars as Supercomputers?

Is this what Elon is projecting as future use of his cars? A new form or free lease of your car as long it can mine new coins as it is charging overnight… “Autonomous vehicles use the equivalent of 200 laptops to get around. Some want to tap that computing power to decode viruses or mine bitcoin.”

Dead Startup Toys

Shared a lot last week. Sold out and I am not sure if that is part of the experience, making a series of iconic shitty products? “Iconic startup disasters – now as collectible toys!”

Unboxing the Toolkit – Toolshed

This is sweet. And inspiring for all of us designing the new toolkits for design of this or that… “Perhaps our toolkits can offer new ethical and pedagogical frames, reshaping the contexts for tool use – and informing the worlds we build with them.”

To close, some memes

Welcome to the ×-Minute City 

“Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo garnered international praise when she launched her plan for the 15-Minute City. In her wake, similar but different concepts sprang up around the world — from 1-Minute Cities to 1000-Minute Cities.” Great overview of different takes on the x-minute city.

TikTok melts your brain. And rebuilds it in new ways

TikTok is triggering some creative use and kind of formulating a new visual language, however, it of course relives in a way Vine, that Twitter professionally killed… The collective part is extra nice here.

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.