Technology is constantly advancing, which means our lives and world are constantly changing. Look up any topic of progress, you’re likely to find plenty of, “but is this really a good thing?” articles mixed in with the excitement. Should robots be security guards? Should cars drive themselves? What about the internet? Won’t someone please think of the children!
This is certainly true as we look at how the cities we live in are changing or will change over the next decade. It’s exciting and intimidating and mysterious all at once. And certainly, it’s easy to feel like cities rapidly changing is a new phenomenon. But advancements have always changed culture and therefore, changed the very fabric of the cities we lived in. Cars and airplanes changed the world. The industrial revolution changed the world. Trains, printing presses, the cotton gin — technology has, historically, shifted the way we live.
These days, we buzz about smart cities. A smart city, as defined by the International Data Corporation (IDC), is a city that incorporates “the use of smart initiatives combined to leverage technology investments across an entire city, with common platforms increasing efficiency, data being shared across systems, and IT investments tied to smart missions.” Countries around the world are racing to implement smart technologies in their cities. According to the IDC, the United States spent about 22 billion on smart technology in 2018. China, nearly $21 billion.
Projects like the Google’s Sidewalk Labs Quayside neighborhood in Toronto (which is being described as the “world’s first neighborhood built from the internet up”) are getting a lot of attention for being on the forefront of what’s coming. And while there are concerns about what all this will mean for the people living there, there’s also plenty of buzz over the technology that could be implemented.
Here are some of the coolest tech innovations in development for our future cities.
Flying cars for work commutes.
In 2017, Uber announced they would be testing a pilot aerial taxi service in Dallas, Dubai, and Los Angeles and had signed a Space Act Agreement with NASA to do so. Uber Air, they say, could be available to mass amounts of customers as early as 2023.
Initially, this would be less like The Jetsons, a flying car in every garage scenario, and more like a combo of public transport and ride-sharing. Air vehicles would have pickup and drop-off points, and you’d book the closest pickup point to you. But it’s easy to imagine how more and more pick up points could eventually be available until you could get pretty close to being picked up and dropped off very close to where you want to go, by a flying vehicle. We could be looking at roads that are less trafficked — with more space for pedestrians and bikers. While we fly to work
Streets that can transform into a pickup basketball court when traffic is light.
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#Behindthescenes installing the new hexagonal street paving system at 📍307 Lake Shore Blvd E! See it in-person on Saturday March 2nd from 3-7pm during Open Sidewalk: Winter Warmer (RSVP link in bio). ❄️ The pavers' permeability, heating, lighting and modularity adapt to community needs and minimize road work disruptions. 🚧
Design firm, Carlo Ratti Associati , is currently developing more flexible street space for Sidewalk Labs’ Quayside project that will be able to change seamlessly to suit residents’ needs. They envision streets that could go from say, three lanes in heavy traffic times, to one or two, with the remaining lanes converted to walk paths and community space.
To do this, hexagonal modular pavers are being developed that would move easily without disrupting the flow of traffic. So they may be used for cars to drive on during rush hour, but then, moved to make way for a sidewalk or playground. And they will incorporate other elements like barriers that would section off park space or traffic lights that could transform into basketball hoops — turning a road into a place to grab a pickup basketball game on off hours.
This is a fascinating mission that will keep unused space from sitting, well, unused.
Skyscrapers sized air purifiers could become part of the skyline.
The United Nations predicts that by 2050, we’ll go from about half of the world’s population living in cities to two-thirds. This is a gigantic jump that will involve a need for new infrastructure and brings up concerns about environmental impact.
One possible solution is incorporating air purifiers into architecture and urban planning on a large scale. In Xi’an, a city of about 12 million people in China, there’s a 20 story tower made to purify the air. The 2016 project was done as an experiment to make air quality better, and it seems to have been successful. A study showed that there was a 19 percent drop in a pollutant called PM2.5 — meaning more of these smog catching towers could be in the future of major cities to offset our footprint.
Trash cans that know when they’re full and alert the city.
Emptying city trash cans and recycling bins doesn’t always happen in a timely manner. We’ve all encountered those overflowing trash receptacles and been grossed out. Hopefully, we hold onto our trash until we find another one, but it can be an excuse for some to just not bother and throw it on top or on the ground.
Last year in Baltimore though, the city unveiled Smart Cans that are solar powered and can help city officials arrange better pickup schedules, they also compact the trash and open with a foot pedal to cut down on germs. Meaning more cities could start reducing trash and making removal more efficient in the future.
Ambulances that can connect directly with doctors.
In an emergency situation, minutes or even seconds of intervention can make a huge difference in people’s lives. With this in mind, New York’s Westchester County has started incorporating special iPads into some of their ambulances that connect EMT’s directly with doctors and also can give doctors real-time vitals information on patients, allowing them to be totally up to speed the minute a patient arrives. This innovation seems like it could be in the near future for many more cities. Along with this tech, self-driving ambulances could also be coming as more driverless cars become reality. This would free up more Emt’s to actually work on patients — saving more lives.
Robots that can alert the authorities when you need help.
Robot security guards are becoming more and more common. AI tech can keep track of more locations than a human security guard at once, and there can be more of them, able to alert human security professionals where possible problem spots are.
This could lead to overall more safety, with more surveillance, not only in buildings but in public spaces — alerting security or police when someone needs help. In the case of California tech company, Knightscope, their security robots can be rented for as low $6.50 an hour, meaning that there can be more of them, in more locations, than a place might be able to afford if employing strictly human staff.
Sidewalks and roads could melt snow themselves.
Slipping on sidewalks, airport delays due to icy tarmacks, environmental concerns of snow removal, and dangerous roads could become a thing (mostly) of the past due to a new kind of conductive concrete invented by University of Nebraska civil engineer, Chris Tuan. Twenty percent of the concrete is made with steel shavings and a special powder that allow it to be connected to a power source and generate heat that would melt ice and snow and keep the surface clean — leading to safer commuting for all.