Weeknotes 136; soft robotics

Last week was less packed with events than the week(s) before, so the focus was on meetings with students, planning for the field lab Cities of Things and beyond, and preparing for some workshops in the future.

One of them is the workshop we organize for the Media Architecture Biennale 29th of June (MAB20). As it is practice for academic workshops, we ask participants to submit a short position paper on the topic. We made a website with all of the information: subvercity.org. The subject of the workshop is ‘Subversive Citizen Manual for the More-Than-Human City’, and we will “explore the design space of contestation within the more-than-human city, employing thing-centered-design techniques to envision a set of subversive strategies creating a manual of subversive strategies to disengage or mingle with artificial agents in the smart city”. Check it out!

Speaking of MAB20, one small event I attended last week was the inaugural lecture of Martijn de Waal, who is now officially a professor at Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences. He repositioned the research group towards Civic Interaction Design (and also one of the organizers of MAB20). As expected, he did a great job in positioning the domain. Civic in a networked society, helping citizens to shape the future of their cities. Where civil society is influenced by networked individualization, the markets become platforms and government changes to liberalization. From dutified citizenship to intrinsic motivation (cooperations), social organizations, urban commons. His central question: How can citizens, institutions, and companies collaboratively shape society to address the needs of citizens & matters of public concern and contribute to societal missions? Definitely recommended to watch the whole lecture if you are into this subject.

For the rest, I missed more than I experienced as things go. I did attend the final session of the CityLAB Berlin smart city symposium. I listened to some sharp moderators of sessions stressing the need for learning cities by the value creation in the city ecosystem and looking to other cities that have been there earlier. The worst outcome for smart cities is a standardized way. And start seeing smart cities as communities first and cities as regional actors. Maybe I can find some time to watch back some of the sessions sometime ;-)

I had a nice discussion session as part of a focus group session in the research on autonomous driving and the perception and societal aspects organized by Maria Luce Lupetti of TU Delft. Curious to hear the conclusions combined with the questionnaire.

Let’s dive into the news captured from last week: soft and helpful robotics, bigger and smaller stories…

Find links on capturing soft robots, robot helpers, humanoids, and the bigger stories via this week’s edition of my weekly newsletter.

This week I do not have a lot on the agenda for public events. I watched the presentation of the NGI Forward session this morning on Explainable AI. Beatrice Fazi was introducing the philosophical concepts of her paper (Beyond human: deep learning, explainability and representation) that I definitely will read later. It is quite hard to summarise I think ;)

At INFO this Wednesday a livecast is organized on the innovation cases of Just Eat Takeaway and GROWx, in Dutch. In the evening of The Hmm will do a tour on alternative platforms. Alternative to a broken internet as they say.

I mentioned earlier we will do a masterclass at IoT Rotterdam next week (9 April). It is already fully booked I think, so in case you did not submit, check the other activities that whole week!

Next Monday will be easter and I am not sure I will be able to compose the newsletter, maybe on Tuesday instead. Enjoy the long weekend!

Weeknotes 135; looking back at an online SXSW

Last week was packed with external events. I was a bit disappointed not being able to follow a lot of Mozfest. I attended two sessions last week in the end. The program looked very interesting but also overwhelming and a challenge to make the right choice.

That is typical also the case with SXSW. Last year it was canceled on late notice, this year it was fully online. With a huge amount of sessions to chose from but also with some flaws.

Reflections on SXSW

Looking back at the online version of SXSW, I concluded that it was quite a different edition that missed a lot of the energy and inspiration you normally have, being away from home, in a giant bubble of people making the stuff you use, with random meetings, etc. It was a pity that the setup of the platform did not manage to have only a bit of the special community feeling in the system. It was a straightforward set of live and on-demand talks. The on-demand one stays even online till half of April so the need for the rush is not there at all.

I was invited to contribute to a Dutch group blog and that created a sense of urgency to follow it last week and share impressions. I wrote three posts (all in Dutch), the first on the trends presentation of Amy Webb, the second on a combination of talks reflecting on Chinese and Western design culture, and the last one an overall reflection with a short overview of a couple of talks.

People tend to ask what you have learned from the conference when you are back. This time I found that harder than ever. It is not about one big trend, but often it is about a set of weak signals, combined with confirmations of developments you were watching already. The last time I was in Austin in 2019 it was already very prominent that inclusivity and ethics should play a role in thinking about tech. That was still very present in the program, even more maybe. Also, AI is still very everywhere. But it was more combined maybe with cultural backgrounds.

I have a slight feeling that topics as synthetic media and filtered and extended realities are upcoming, touched upon but not yet as big as AI. I might expect that will be a hint to next year though. Moving away from a human-first focus to a humanity-first, or even beyond; ecology-first, popped up in a couple of presentations. Combined with the You of Things, a shift of focus is on its way.

So maybe if I should take-out one thing; that it would be that there is a quest for the new reality. A reality that is both artificial, filtered, but also embodied again as we might get confused about what reality is after all…

And further…

The rest of the week was packed with meetings and plan-making. It is not healthy for your night rest to have these evening conferences…

The news of the week

On to the other news of last week. I thought for a moment that there was nothing on NFTs this week to reach the bar, but it did in the end. Of course a round-up of new applications of robotics and specific robot-doggies.

Continue reading Weeknotes 135; looking back at an online SXSW

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…

Continue reading Weeknotes 133; nature-tech symbioses

Weeknotes 132;

Welcome to the new readers. Thanks for subscribing! And thanks to Matt for the shout-out last week. I am a fan of his blog and it is almost a weekly returning inspiration source with interesting thoughts. Check this week for instance the post on ‘Nothings is real vs everything is real’ exploring with to-the-point how the future of real. And I also liked the thought experience on AI-pagers, see below.

For the new subscribers, I aim for publishing end of Monday (European time), but occasionally meetings mess up the planning ;-) I start with a short overview of the past week what happened in Cities of Things-lab and ThingsCon, two important activities. And share an overview of news that has mainly a relation with the topics of human-nonhuman relationships in the broadest sense, and IoT. I end with an overview of possible interesting events to join the coming week.

Last week; new research, ThingsCon,…

So to look back at last week. Nice to mention a new master graduation student of IDE has kicked off his project. The students at IDE come from all over the world, I now have 5 graduation students, one in South Korea, one in China, one from Italy, and two from the Netherlands. Normally they all live in Delft, but in this covid, they end up abroad, like Peicheng from China. He is in Shenzhen and can not come back easily. Luckily his project is framed on ‘hacking’ a XiaoMi vacuum robot and other devices with predictive knowledge, so he is close to the source ;-)

I am happy to have Nazli Cila as chair in the supervisory team as we have worked together for some years and my first contribution to an academic paper was her paper on Products as Agents. Still quite relevant turned out in a client project we did last week. I will keep you posted on his projects and the others!

We had a nice conversation with the teams of ThingsCon Germany and The Netherlands to discuss plans for the coming year. Keep track of our plans via the website or newsletter. And welcome Lorna Goulden as a fresh member of the Dutch board!

…, visiting events, …

I mentioned before that I miss the intensity of events now (keep track on the newsletter of Monique of the latest insights on events as social objects), but it has one upside: you can easily follow events you normally would skip, for instance, if it is too expensive for the expected return of inspiration. Last week I checked out DLD All Stars. DLD is a long-running German conference that in a true German conference fashion combines a kind of corporate audience with potential interesting curation of content. It was interesting to see how Dennis Crowley was framing its user base now as machine-to-machine more than end-consumer oriented (and claiming to have a billion users in that frame). I am curious about what that means for the design practice.

Another speaker (Marc Berg from Freenow) claims that we will see flying taxis earlier in our cities than fully autonomous driving cars. I understand the message, but I might expect that our cities will adapt to self-driving vehicles at a certain moment accelerating the adoption, and these vehicles might be more cost-efficient in the end. We will see in a decade or two. At the same time, Oliver Zipse of BMW is promising that they are shifting their strategy towards a cradle to cradle production and taking responsibility for the end-to-end life of the products. A big challenge is to find the new business model in an autonomous service-based mobility landscape; it is not easy to transform the business models he thinks. He sees that a city like Munich (where DLD is based) will change to a bicycle + car-based mix, with public transport declining.

Also at DLD was Rem Koolhaas, with his thoughts on the shift towards more rural living. This is not a respons on Covid, he has be preaching this for years, I can remember a talk about 5 years ago in Amsterdam with the same topic. The dichotomy between cities and rural without any in between, might be accelerated now as we have tasted remote working…

I missed the other events on the list, except for some Clubhouse conversations I hopped in (and out). Let’s see what will be interesting this week.

…, and a podcast…

And let me not forget to mention the new podcast of Peter Bihr I was interviewed for and was published last week. Getting Tech Right is a very nice series and I was honored to be invited to share some thoughts. We discussed the value-sensitive design and other ways to incorporate a different frameset in design processes. The case of Public Stack of WAAG is an example I mentioned as we starting a project contributing to the research on the design layers.

Now, some captured news-items.

Continue reading Weeknotes 132;

Weeknotes 131; ai-art and artists

Hi all! Thanks for subscribing to my newsletter (if not, check this), happy to share the observations of last week again!

Do I want to talk on Clubhouse again I’m wondering? It is still interesting to follow the developments. There is something strange happening with Clubhouse; the first people to embrace this new social platform are not teenagers or young adults, but it adapted with all ages and even more maybe with a bit more mature users. And it got adapted really quick by ‘the old media’ and entertainment people to have conversations, share the gossip. I am not speculating why that is, this deserves a better analysis. One of the research questions could be if this is related to a broader maturing of digital media as part of our -locked downed- lives? Or is it about the low barriers in audio-chatting?

Ben Thompson had a good analysis on the inevitability of Clubhouse last week. Worth reading. And it made me think about the need and power of the ephemeral stage of a new social medium. Do we need that to build trust, even in a so clearly not-to-trusted company as Clubhouse looks like to be… The first place to start often is to check if there is any academic writing on ephemeral trust as a concept. I did not dive into it, researching new social media is not really my focus at the moment. I would definitely connect it to the concept of disposable identities of Rob van Kranenburg. As he responded to my tweet it is hard to connect this to Clubhouse though with all its possible collecting of not-so-disposable voice-identities

Shift to another news. From the Cities of Things-lab; I am happy to have two news students joining with graduation projects; on the design of engaging cultural specific digital assistants in future mobility systems (working title), and the other looking into the relationship with a robot vacuum with predictive knowledge. I also started looking a bit more into the relation of Digital Twins and Cities of Things, more to follow up soon I hope.

I participated in a couple of sessions last week; the Cross Media Café on Synthetic Media, AITech Agora, Sensemakers AMS on business transformations (half of it), IoT Ghent, and Uncertainty Cocktails by Changeist. With most of them, I fell into the online meetup-trap of getting distracted by other things… I still think it is a good chance to pick up one or two inspirational insights, so I will keep doing this; check the end of this newsletter for this week.

On to the news!

Continue reading Weeknotes 131; ai-art and artists

Weeknotes 130; collective blobs and intentional mistaking AI

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Inspired by a podcast (Another Podcast) of Benedict Evans discussing Clubhouse: the current social networks are not judged on the social character but the discovery: TikTok vs. YouTube, Clubhouse vs. Podcast. And in his newsletter, he wonders: “But if social is pop culture, you can’t ‘win’ pop culture or own or control it – you can only try to ride it and try to keep up, and there will always be something new.”

That to jump in a look at last week, the second week of the Clubhouse-hype. What I think is interesting is that Clubhouse has found a way to discover audio that is happening in a way that podcasts lack discovery. Just like TikTok created a form of discovery that YouTube can not offer (or Facebook). It is another time, but what seems to happen that the social networks built on relations between people and the reputation of users are now shifting to the mechanics of addictive discovery pur sang.

As a disclaimer: I am not saying that the success of Clubhouse is only about this discovery model, the good-old nearness factor, being close to like-minded friends and famous is a fundament. But the spread and the buzz are mainly caused by the addictive discovery.

The topic Clubhouse might be a bit of the usual focus here, on intelligent things and our relations. It remains an overview of what happened last week and the reflections on that. I am planning to start a specific newsletter more in-depth on the human-nonhuman relations in cities. Hopefully, I can point you to that next week (I am creating a deadline for myself here 🙂).

As I announced last week, I had two ‘Things That Predict’ new initiatives happening last week at the Industrial Design faculty. The presentation and Miro-session at the Master Research Day and the bachelor elective Designing Connected Experiences kick-off. The latter 8 teams will work on the exploration to design things that predict in the city context. I was happy to the students ask some good questions. Looking forward to the results!

We sent out a newsletter to our ThingsCon community. Looking back at our latest event and announcing some new Salons and workshops April 9 at IoT Rotterdam and April 22, May 6, and 20 with Eindhoven IoT. Keep an eye on the website.

Ok, let’s have a look at the news of last week. Snow and ice distracted us here in the Netherlands from Covid, literally sometimes, looking at the open-air parties happening… And collective blobs and intentionally designed mistakes in AI.

Continue reading Weeknotes 130; collective blobs and intentional mistaking AI

Weeknotes 129; living with proto-beings

Luckily winters still exist. I hope you enjoy the winter views as much as we do here! What is a returning question is the vulnerability of our transportation systems. The extremeness of the weather is blamed but even so important is the inter-dependability of systems I think. It is good learning for how to build a society based on a continuous connecting system and digital twin influencing both the resilience of the tools we use and our preparedness…

This last week I captured a lot more articles in my Instapaper. Might be because I had more time to collect but it might also be just a changing flow of news. Especially in robotics and how we relate to these is having a lot of attention. How to learn living together. Plans from maybe the most uncanny robot to roll out (Sophia), to new initiatives of last-mile robots. It also appears that the initiative of Apple to partner with Hyundai to build a car is focusing on an autonomous last-mile vehicle, however, the opinions of tech-watchers are not conclusive yet.

Before diving into the articles more, first a short look back to last week, I ended with the notion that there were fewer events happening, but in the end, I did check a couple. I captured the most insights from the internal presentations organized by Connected Everyday Lab of TU Delft. Matthew Lee-Smith, a critical designer and researcher, currently working with Loughborough Uni, is in is final stages of his PhD and gave an intense presentation on designing beings. He introduced Blurryism as a state for agents and looked into the design of proto-beings. How to design something that has no purpose? It triggered -amongst other things- an interesting question of how much this being is defined as a state or as an assemblage of states and interactions (in line with the thinking of fluid assemblages and phase media). I tend towards the latter, but that might be a topic to explore for another place.

Also last week I had the second evaluation session of the students of Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences on Things That Predict. We discussed how a project without a clear user-driven goal made it hard to match the ‘standard’ design process of a user experience design. That was as expected and together with the findings of the other team, it gives interesting pointers that can also be related to the research of Matthew mentioned above. This Wednesday about 8 teams of the bachelor elective Designing Connected Experience of Delft University of Technology Industrial Design Engineering will start with a similar assignment and I hope to have a lot of learnings after.

It was also good to get the results of the research into ethics and (processes) digital technology application at Rijkswaterstaat (executive organization of the ministry of infrastructure and water management) where I was invited as an external expert. There is a lot of relevance with the changes we research in Cities of Things.

Ok, let’s dive into the articles I collected. To begin with the diverse ones on robotics. On new last-mile robots, on designing strategies, and more generally, the different roles you can position the robot in our relationship with this technology with agency…

Continue reading Weeknotes 129; living with proto-beings

Weeknotes 128; epistemic coup and other systemic changes

I don’t think I gonna say anything about GameStop here. Or do I need to try to look at it from a more human-tech-relation? The wandering and getting lost, or the new ‘weapons’ we have to break institutions. It might segway to the interesting essay of Shoshana Zuboff on epistemic coup; I really like here analyses on the stages of the coup and the recognition of the current state of epistemic chaos. It is a much better wording of my couple of sentences on the algorithmic system failure I noted last week. There is a tendency with thinkers to see the dismantling of capitalism as a society and economic structural thing, set apart from political colors. Benedict Evans is writing about the great unbundling in his yearly core presentation. They are kind of the same drivers.

To bring it home to last week, I was happy to be part of the Midterm Review Panel of Master Digital Design of Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences. It started 4 years ago to create a school for stunning designs; it soon developed into a place to educate critical designers. And this is also the route for the whole of the creative faculty, seconded by the professors of practice Kate Raworth and Marleen Stikker, who both are known for rethinking the (digital & economic) system. The master has done a good job the last 4 years and is promising to get even better with Gabriele Ferri’s plans, the new head of the program.

For me, it is highly relevant. It is one of the guiding principles to look at the Cities of Things research; what is happening on a structural level, what does the city look like? How will we design governance if we are not living exclusively as humans in the city? I might forget to share the presentation of Elisa Giaccardi last week where she has the very true observation: “Agency should be foundational to our understanding and crafting of autonomous technologies as was once was the notion of function to our understanding of tools.“

Let me quickly mention two project-websites of the student teams (WePredikt and WeConnect) that have been working on Things That Predict last semester at Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences. They did both a great job translating the rather abstract assignment into interesting design explorations; for a mental health coach, a sleep coach can.

Before diving into the news, let me congratulate Thijs Turel on opening the AMS Responsible Sensing Lab. I participated in Marcel and Kars’ nice workshop to introduce some aspects of transparency when designing Citizen Interactions for Urban Sensing Systems. Time was too short to dive into depth, but it was good to see the current projects.

I also listened to the lecture and discussion on the State of the Internet on Inclusive AI. Or, in other words: do you agree that the best way to reach equality is to respect differences? You can rewatch it here (in Dutch). And finally, I attended part of the minor Interactive Environments presentations with some nice explorations on how to make social distancing into a social experience. Check the 5 projects here.

On to some interesting ‘articles’ of last week.

Continue reading Weeknotes 128; epistemic coup and other systemic changes

Weeknotes 127 – anti-network effects of our current era

Welcome to the weekly overview of news from Cities of Things Lab, other activities I’m involved in (like ThingsCon), and the capture of interesting news from all over the internet (or at least, from the sources I follow ;-). Especially the new subscribers; thanks for subscribing! I try to post this newsletter end of Monday every week.
News from the Cities of Things Lab and other things: I had update sessions with 2 graduation students working on digital clones and mobility hub, and we had a pre-kick-off meeting on a new project designing a docking station for the autonomous sailing Seabubbles.

We also published the aftermovie of ThingsCon and had a short evaluation session with the team. We concluded that we had a great time and most of it worked as expected and better. Of course we have also found some room for improvement, especially in the planning of the AMA-sessions that deserved a bigger audience (found the videos on our channel), and the communication part (might relate to the first finding). We miss a dedicated member in our organizing team so if you know someone that wants to support us there, let me know (ThingsCon is a voluntary activity now to be clear).

The presentation during AiTech Agora on Artificial Moral Agents and autonomous vehicles was insightful as always. Andreia Martinho layed-out 5 perspectives, and posed questions like the need for Self Driving Driving Licences. You can watch the presentation via the YouTube channel.

At Sensemakers AMS session on Robotic wearables, Anouk Wipprecht showed her work. I have been invited Anouk to the ThingsCon conferences a couple of years ago, but as she is living in the States that did not work out. In current times that are easier to arrange of course. I like her work a lot. She is making real-life prototypes of the human-body-mind-tech-partnerships. You can watch the presentation on YouTube too.

I also was invited to take part in a session on a Code for Children, dealing with the impact of technology, a collaborative project by Leiden University and WAAG for the Ministry of Internal Affairs that delivered good discussions.

And today the podcast came online where Dries and I discuss the article we wrote for this year’s RIOT report on Ludicrous IoT.

Continue reading Weeknotes 127 – anti-network effects of our current era

Weeknotes 126 – robot interactions in 5-minute cities

Last week, it was a mix of preparing for future plans, and having some nice projects presented. The two Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences teams I mentioned before here finished their design projects that dealt with predictive knowledge. The team ‘WePredikt’ added predictive behavior to the Somnox sleep cushion. Team ‘WeConnect’ designed a device to prevent burnouts by creating a kind of a reversed-Tamagotchi. Check their product pages to find out more details; overall I think they did a good job! I will dive into their learnings about adding predictive knowledge soon.

Some time ago, I was invited to a session on the future of mobility in the city by Urban Arrow. The report of the session is published, and I had time to post the main conclusions here.

I also checked some of the program of the Dies Natalis, that I mentioned last week. The theme was Resilient, and they tried to create an interesting online asynchronous experience. It can still be watched here. Always interesting to have new approaches, good input for the program committee for Dutch Digital Day that I am invited for again this year. Keep you posted.

Last week (or a week earlier maybe), a small upgrade to the online meeting setup: I received the OBSBOT camera, a Kickstarter project that I almost forgot that I had backed it. The OBSBOT Tiny is the cheaper camera with the same AI features of following you around and gesture-controlled zooming in and out. The image is entirely white and in the first weeks it works quite well. And it is a nice conversation starter. It is a nice example of how ‘AI’ is used to sell products nowadays and how it enhances products by not only connecting but also adding intelligence.

What else happened last week? Some interesting articles on HRI (Human Robot Interaction), as apparently this type of device, become standard part of CES.

Continue reading Weeknotes 126 – robot interactions in 5-minute cities