Shaping Tomorrow’s Cities Through Technology
As a native New Yorker, you learn to trust your gut. I’ve spent the last 10 years in New York City working with founders, investors, corporates, policymakers, and academics to build a cluster of companies making cities better: more efficient, resilient and liveable. My gut says we’re nearing an inflection point as new capital structures emerge, corporate citizens get more active and distributed technology shifts are accelerating. Today, more important and disruptive technologies are being commercialized than they were 10 years ago. We’re moving from imagination to impact.
Urban-X by MINI and HAX is a milestone in this shift, assisting companies with designing and launching products and services that improve life in cities and address the challenges of increasingly dense urban areas. Headquartered in New York, it provides even more reason to love this city.
New York is ripe for innovation: it is now the second most active startup market in the world, and it is bursting at the seams with a diversity of creative talent. Not only is New York emblematic of the shift to urban centers, it is committed to improving the quality of life of its citizens through technology. This commitment is more important today than ever before. Consider the following:
- One hundred years ago, about 20 percent of the global population was urban.
- Today we’ve hit 54 percent and projections from the UN show this number rising to two-thirds by 2050.
- In the process we will add a staggering 2.5 billion new urban residents to the planet.
- Imagine one million people joining cities each week.
The challenges of New York City today and tomorrow are significant: aging buildings, transportation, energy, waste, and water infrastructure that is particularly vulnerable to extreme weather events. But, these city-scale problems are not just New York issues, they are issues for cities around the world. They are the ones that Urban-X has been created to help address, and we are singularly focused on educating, investing in, and advocating for startups aiming to create a better future for cities. We need the best minds to solve the hardest challenges around equitable access to good food, housing, education, and public safety. We need these minds to help design the future, as the companies in our first cohort are doing:
- Brooklyness: has designed the world’s most intelligent bike helmet, and makes riding safer by increasing environmental awareness and visibility; @brooklyness1
- Buzzware: is creating a supercharging network for commercial drones, Buzzware.co
- CTY:builds sensors and software that create data insights and analytics from streets @heycty
- Farmshelf: creates smart hydroponic farms for urban environments, @farmshelfco
- MindRider: maps mental experiences as you move in order to identify geographic sweet spots and pain points, @mindriderhelmet
- nello: is an upgrade solution for intercom systems that enables keyless access to buildings and connects your home to the service economy, @locumilabs
- Industrial/Organic: applies industrial fermentation techniques to process organic waste faster, with lower emissions and odor, than existing landfill alternatives, industrialorganic.co
- SAMOCAT: is the lightest and the most compact public transportation sharing system, @SamocatSharing
- stae: provides municipalities with tools that enable 21st century compliance, taxation and procurement @staehere
We are at a key moment in history, and as a society, we need to seek out founders building technology that underlies smart and connected communities; companies providing advanced networking and connectivity; last mile mobility solutions, sensing, informatics and real-time data analytics, and control, automation and decision-making for building and food systems. At Urban-X, our job is to help founders get to product-market fit, and to help transition these technologies to widespread use, building scaleable repeatable business models in parallel with agile technology development.
However, hardware and software may not be sufficient on its own to provide the urban future we want and need. We also need innovation in institutions that can deliver clean and safe mobility, energy, food, water, and waste remediation to large numbers of people in our cities.
How we organize our systems needs to change, and in New York City, that change is happening today in the offices of regulators, utilities, and city and state policymakers. A wave of new thinking from government policy makers and new public-private partnerships will expedite these changes; as we’re seeing with the ‘Reforming the Energy Vision’ regulatory proceeding in New York (where I spent the last two years working on utility business model innovation). Forward thinking policies around transportation, food waste, and real estate can move markets. By 2020, cities around the world are expected to spend $20 billion on sensor technology, according to Navigant Research. Emerging privacy, security, and liability issues in this new urban economy will require a multi-disciplinary lens to create a future that delights and surprises customers and provides an accessible and equitable value proposition for all our cities residents. Today, organizations that were created in the days of the telegraph are finally getting smartphone ready. Better policy integration will deliver benefits to all city-dwellers. And there is no time to waste.
In a time rife with ‘innovation theater’, we don’t shy away from hard work. And because I love working on hard problems I’m thrilled to start this new role as Managing Director at Urban-X. There is huge promise in this mission driven joint venture between SOSV, a $250M accelerator venture fund with a proven track record and MINI, a world renowned leader in design, engineering and technology and one of the most respected urban brands in the world. This partnership is grounded in a shared belief that cities will continue to be the epicenter of human progress and creativity – that cities will evolve as multi-modal transportation options proliferate – that newly emerging city models will demand products and services built for and around it.
Distributed energy, distributed food, intelligent buildings, advanced waste management – all these elements of the low-carbon stack – represents a $17 trillion opportunity worldwide. That excites us. Modernization of city services via new technology has deep implications for investment and risk; fortunes will be made and lost as this paradigm shift plays out over the coming years. As Parag Khanna says in his new book on megacities, “The future always comes faster than we expect.”
The application period for the second cohort is open and the deadline for submitting applications is September 6, 2016. Startups, entrepreneurs and designers can apply by visiting Urban-X.com.
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Spotlighting innovations in urban sustainability and connected technology
I spoke last week with Krishna Desai from Cubic Transportation, and we discussed three big problems facing transportation, and the ways that Cubic is approaching these challenges:
1) If (or when) more workers return to traditional on-location jobs, but feel a lingering distrust of crowded spaces, people who can afford it may opt for private cars instead of using public transit for their commute. This will create a massive influx of cars on roads that were already crowded, and more financial woes for transit agencies already dealing with budget shortfalls. Krishna told me about a suite of optimization tools Cubic is deploying in places like Mexico and San Francisco to make public transit more efficient, more transparent, and, overall, more attractive to riders.
2) For the time being, though, we’re dealing with the opposite problem. How can transit agencies find ways to influence user behavior in a way that complies with social distancing and capacity requirements? How can you incentivize riders to wait for the next bus? (In a way that doesn’t alienate them forever – see #1). Cubic has deployed a loyalty/advertising program in Miami-Dade County that was originally intended to increase ridership, but is now being used to help control crowding and social distancing on transit.
3) Transportation infrastructure, in generally, was not built to accomodate 6-feet of separation between riders – or between workers. Little things like, for example, opening gates, requires workers to be closer than 6-feet to riders, and there are examples like that throughout every transit hub. Technology can help, but creating and implementing software/hardware solutions quickly and efficiently requires experience with innovation, deployment, maintenance and more. Cubic has a program called Project Rebound that shows the possibilities.
Advanced Urban Visioning offers a powerful tool for regions that are serious about achieving a major transformation in their sustainability and resilience. By clarifying what optimal transportation networks look like for a region, it can give planners and the public a better idea of what is possible. It inverts the traditional order of planning, ensuring that each mode can make the greatest possible contribution toward achieving future goals.
Advanced Urban Visioning doesn’t conflict with government-required planning processes; it precedes them. For example, the AUV process may identify the need for specialized infrastructure in a corridor, while the Alternatives Analysis process can now be used to determine the time-frame where such infrastructure becomes necessary given its role in a network.
The introduction of intelligent transportation systems, which includes a broad network of smart roads, smart cars, smart streetlights and electrification are pushing roadways to new heights. Roadways are no longer simply considered stretches of pavement; they’ve become platforms for innovation. The ability to empower roadways with intelligence and sensing capabilities will unlock extraordinary levels of safety and mobility by enabling smarter, more connected transportation systems that benefit the public and the environment.