Weeknotes 155; inverted reality

Welcome (again) to my weekly update newsletter. I share interesting articles on tech mainly related to IoT, AI, robotics, and general impact. I also write a monthly reflection specifically on ‘Cities of Things’-related topics, based on one of the month’s articles before. The last edition was published last Wednesday and reflects on ‘Cities of Distributed Autonomous Organisations of Things,’ connecting the discourse of DAOs to Cities of Things and posting some questions that emerged.

Writing this on Monday 9 August, I cannot neglect the main news of the new alarming report on climate change. Last week we already got the news that the collapse of the Gulf Stream is accelerating. It is not surprising, but hopefully, it helps to stress the sense of urgency. It is a topic that is also one of the themes I follow closely, more even than I share here. It is good to stress that I am not a promoter of tech solutionism, also not for climate change. It can help make us more aware; electric mobility has been proven to help lower the overall footprint. At the same time, we must be aware not to bring all kinds of new devices and vehicles in our lives and cities to generate more climate impact. This should be part of the look into the future of our cities.

In that sense, it is interesting to listen to the podcast of Near Future Laboratory with Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino. She is a long-time part of the IoT and ThingsCon community and is shifting her focus to promote design for lowering our carbon footprint. I shared in earlier editions the residency she organized this year with the Low Carbon Design Institute.

Last week was short work-wise as I went to an art exposition in the North of the Netherlands (Intonature). Check my Instagram if you want to have an impression. Some of the interesting works that might fit this newsletter are the free energy sculptures of Johannes Büttner, the animated performing landscape of Jan Robert Leegte, and the robotic mimicry of Nina Canell. The latter story is intriguing; the artist aimed to make a new ‘hydromorphic’ robotic creature that fit the specific landscape of Bargerveen. It did not ‘live’ as much as hoped, though.

In the coming week, there are no events for me in the planning. I hope to attend the Fake Me Hard exhibition at the AVL Mundo premises, which is in its final week.

Before diving into the news of last week, let me mention that from next week I will have a vacation break and pause the newsletter for 3 weeks. Be back on 6 September if all is going according to plan.

Inverted reality

This touchy-feely glove senses and maps tactile stimuli

“An MIT-designed tactile glove could help regain motor function after stroke and enhance virtual gaming experiences.”


This week’s article on the metaverse is by the always smart Ben Thompson comparing different mv-strategies by the ‘big techies’. He sees an inverse in values. Not the digitizing of the real world but the reality of digital.“This too is an inverse of Snow Crash, where most jobs are in the real world, and recreation in the Metaverse; the future of work is online, and the life one wants to live in the reality of one’s choosing.”

Travis Kalanick is building a secretive dark kitchen empire in Europe 

“Company filings suggest Uber founder and former CEO Travis Kalanick is growing a network of dark kitchens in Europe.”This weekend, there was an article in the Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant on the new rise of flash delivery services operating from the dark delivery hubs. One secondary question was the social aspect of the city; what if more and more dark delivery hubs are replacing normal shops? It is already happening. It would be time to have thought about the future of retail areas in cities with these new concepts.

Cartoon filters

“Reality is catching up with the design fiction proposals we came up back in the day,”

Why Disposable Identities are inevitable

Designing for friction or even conflict is an important concept. Rob is diving into this in a thought-provoking article. “As we are in a time of eschaton, a moment in which the information gathered by sensors in datasets is actuating back into our everyday objects and services (…) this realization – normally dormant in societal, institutional practices, temporarily solidified – it was predictable (and predicted) that identity of people, objects and events (…) becomes the focal point of the new models of governance and the new notion of value itself.”

Apple’s photo scanning and our state of forced collective paranoia 

Great overview of the impact of surveillance and sousveillance technologies becoming relevant with Apple’s announcement scanning your phone. Mass social paranoia is indeed a big danger.

Cars that learn how to drive themselves by watching other cars 

“If self-driving cars could learn to drive in the same way that babies learn to walk – by watching others around them and trying to mimic certain movements – they would require far less data.” Comparing current self-driving cars to the walking capabilities of babies might be a smart communication campaign too :)

Robot reality

High tech community offers robot carts, smart hubs, drone deliveries

“It’s called a Gita robot, which encourages users to walk more and drive less.” It is all about context; you could also think this type of device results in less effort and not more.

John Deere Acquires Bear Flag Robotics to Accelerate Autonomous Technology on the Farm

How ‘traditional industry’ is preparing for robotic futures…: “Deere & Company has signed a definitive agreement to acquire Bear Flag Robotics for $250 million USD. Founded in 2017, the Silicon Valley-based startup develops autonomous driving technology compatible with existing machines.”

How squirrels can help us create better robots

Robo biomimicry as a strategy. “At present, there is no robot as agile as a squirrel, and none that can learn or make decisions about dynamic tasks in complex environments – but our research suggests the kinds of abilities that such robots would need.”

Watch This Ridiculous Robot Lay 100,000 Dominos In A Single Day

“A YouTuber spent five years developing the Dominator, a robot capable of placing 100,000 dominos in a complicated pattern in just 24 hours.” You wonder how many dominos he had been placing himself in these five years. Also, the excitement and thrill of domino records are the risks of failing humans …

Is robot therapy the future?

“Seek help for a mental health issue today, and you may find yourself referred to an online app or talking to a robot therapist. Is this welcome democratization of an expensive resource – or the ‘Uberisation of therapy’?”Spoiler, it does not work out very well for now. You can imagine a role for a pre-therapy session that is mainly an intelligent question routine. Asking the right questions as first relief, if you know that it will be followed-up.

The next generation of robots 

Robotics getting mainstream… “Boston Dynamics gave 60 Minutes a rare look into how it created some of the most agile robots in the world.”

Amid the Labor Shortage, Robots Step in to Make the French Fries

“Fast-food chains are working with a host of startups to bring automation to their kitchens.” Would there also be room for artisan robot cooks?

System reality

This Camera Can “See” the Bigger Picture 

Us humans will have to make do with the vision system we’ve evolved, but computer vision is always reaching new limits. In a recent advancement, a research team in South Korea has combined two different types of cameras in order to better track fast-moving objects and create 3-D maps of challenging environments

Systems of systems: The next big step for edge AI 

“An SoS serves as a superstructure, using AI to coordinate and aggregate data processed at the edge from these different systems.” The internet of edges?

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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.