Switching hats for disruption

Day 2 of the Disrupting Mobility Summit was focusing on sharing, governing and design. The morning session discussed the role of technology as it empowers individuals and institutions to share and redistribute excess capacity of goods and services. In the session on governing for disruption, the panel comprising representatives from local and national authorities (who repeatedly denoted themselves as “idiots” referring to yesterday’s comment by Nicholas Negroponte on the public opinion of civil servants) discussed the need of changing the norm in governing in order to enable innovation – both on the local as well on the national level. A holistic approach and the collaborative development of ideas were deemed essential for engaging the public and the private sector to achieve disrupting solutions and share different viewpoints. Also in the following session on Designing for Disruption (with two very inspiring talks on robots and designing for the future) the panelists agreed that “switching hats” – working in multi-/inter- or anti-disciplinary teams with each expert focusing on totally new areas – can boost innovation on the power of imagination.

The summit concluded with a closing talk by Zipcar CEO Kaye Ceille, followed by a casual joint lunch with lively discussions and making new friends and contacts. Finally, the participants rushed off to different company visits and campus tours, like to the Media Lab. Great closing for a great summit!


The Urban Autonomous Delivery Hackathon

From November 6 to 8, 2015, the Changing Places 48-hour Hackathon invited mixed student teams to make up their minds about Future Autonomous Deliveries in Urban Environments. 

While in public discourse, the main stream of reflections revolve around future roles of  what today is the passenger car, the very same urban space in which self-driving vehicles will operate also needs to accommodate cargo deliveries. The sub-domains in which participants had been invited to research were as diverse as "Small Packages", "Food&Beverages", "City Services", "Medical Services", "Disaster and Emergency Handling", and finally "Moving People" - the latter being understood as a very special "freight". 

By Sunday noon, the hackers came up with an amazingly wide range of solutions - from dense urban cargo pipe networks for small express deliveries to robots crawling through post-quake debris and bringing water relief to victims awaiting their rescue, from route optimization for trash collection trucks to freight cars on subway trains and to resilient networks of emergency building signage. The solutions presented to the jury on early Sunday afternoon reflected a deep understanding for future challenges awaiting urban communities, and included approaches from all fields of advanced science. 

Awards, books and robots

The first day of the Disrupting Mobility Summit ended with a poster session comprising 30 posters covering different topics such as technological innovations as well as social aspects. After that, participants were invited to join a reception with award ceremony for Best Posters and Hackathon winners. The Best Poster Award including two books from MIT authors went to Ronnie Kutadinata and his colleagues from the University of Melbourne for their poster “Shared, Autonomous, Connected and Electric Urban Transport“. The poster presentations of Dewan Karim from the City of Toronto („Innovative Mobility Master Plan: Connecting Multimodal Systems with Smart Technologies“) as well as R. Sheehan et al. from the Federal Highway Administration („Accessible Transportation Technology Research Initiative“, a last minute submission which didn’t make it into the program) received special acknowledgements.

Of course also the winners of the Autonomous Urban Delivery Hackathon have been celebrated during the event. Of the 82 hackers in nine teams, who had been hacking 48 hours right here at the MIT Media Lab the weekend before, 4 winning teams were welcomed on the stage: Team “Capsule” (Michal Cap, Kasia Marczuk, Samitha Samaranayake, Valerio Varricchio) and Team “Dirty Jobs” (Sophia Yang, Angad Randhawa, Hosea Siu, Sesha Sendhil, Christian Umbach) shared the 3rd Prize; the 2nd Prize (awarded by the Hackathon participants) went to Team “Mesh Egress” (Ryan McLaughlin, Jamie Farrell, Siddharth Gupta, Zach Hyman, Xinhui Li). The Grand Prize was well-deserved by Team “Relay” (You Wu, Max Qu, Esya Volchek, David Wang), who developed an innovative approach of combining drones and public transport for urban deliveries. This performance was also rewarded with the Turtlebot2 the team used for simulating drone-bus interaction, which was impressively demonstrated in a video.

The award ceremony ended with the announcement of the Disrupting Mobility Book, which is going to be published mid 2016 in Springer Lecture Notes in Mobility. Authors will be invited from the presenters of the summit based on the quality of their posters and talks. The evening was finally concluded in a relaxed atmosphere with “Relay’s” robot serving drinks for the team.

Cities are for people… not machines

The Disrupting Mobility Summit kicked off with welcoming remarks by Ryan Chin (MIT Media Lab), Florian Lennert (InnoZ), Philipp Rode (LSE), and Susan Shaheen (U.C. Berkeley), followed by a a series of inspiring talks and a lively panel discussion (moderated by Greg Lindsay, New Cities Foundation) among Dan Doctoroff (Sidewalk Labs), Victor Mendez (U.S. Department of Transportation), Nicholas Negroponte, and Kent Larson (both MIT Media Lab) on the future of mobility and cities in general.

Regarding megatrends like urban growth and technology revolutions, the keynote speakers agreed that the main goal of all efforts being taken should be to achieve high quality of life for all people. Current trends like sharing economy, connected automation of transport, and new housing concepts have the potential to reshape the cities towards more compact and more livable environments.

The (all American) panel also looked into other parts of the world, emphasizing that European traditions like governmental regulations or radical trends like car-free cities could inspire a paradigm shift in the perception of the value of taxes for the society (“normal market forces screw cities”) or the role of the automobile.

About 300 registered attendants from research, industry and municipalities participate in this event. The summit will continue today with sessions on technology and social trends disrupting mobility as well transforming cities.

Disrupting Mobility Summit

Our current mobility systems face tremendous change given the emergence of autonomous vehicles, drones, the electrification of transportation, and the sharing economy. The Disrupting Mobility Summit (November 11-13 at the MIT Media Lab in Cambridge, MA) explores the technologies and social trends that have the potential to fundamentally change the way we move. With more than 300 guests from academia, industry and the public sector, the Disrupting Mobility Summit provides an overview of state-of-the-art research, and a platform for policy leaders and industry experts at the forefront of mobility disruption.

The event is co-hosted by MIT, UC Berkeley, London School of Economics and WZB Berlin Social Science. Featured speakers include Dan Doctoroff (Sidewalk Labs), Edward Glaeser (Harvard University), Victor Mendez (U.S. Deputy Secretary of Transportation), Nicholas Negroponte (co-founder, MIT Media Lab)Janette Sadik-Khan (Bloomberg Associates), Shoshana Zuboff (Harvard Business School) and Raffaello D’Andrea (ETH Zurich), and many others.

Partners and sponsors of the Disrupting Mobility Summit are: Zipcar, Enterprise CarShare, Ridescout, BCycle, Bridj, Lyft, Hubway, Munich RE, Shared-Use Mobility Center, TransitCenter, Via, Transportation for America, Alfred Herrhausen Gesellschaft, Stiftung Mercator and the Transporation Research Board.


Disrupting Mobility Summit (Early Bird Registration extended until Sept 30th)


The rise of the shared-economy has completely disrupted existing products and services in the urban mobility space. Peer-to-peer mobility services like Uber and Lyft have challenged the taxi, livery, car share, and mass-transit establishment. Disruptive innovations like this have the power to not only redefine industries, it can bankrupt companies as well. The shift from analog to digital cameras eventually led to the demise of Polaroid. The mass adoption of personal computing saw the end of industrial manufacturers like Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC). Technologies like VHS tapes, landlines, and even encyclopedias all have been uprooted with the introduction of new technologies. More recently, Airbnb has disrupted the travel and hotel industry by increasing the supply of options for people to stay and providing matching services. The Disruptive Mobility Summit brings together leaders from academia, industry, and government to discuss the role of disruptive innovations within the mobility networks. 

The MIT Media Lab along with U.C. Berkeley and the London School of Economics invites you to participate at this event held in Cambridge, MA on November 11-13th, 2015.  Confirmed speakers include Dan Doctoroff (Sidewalk Labs), Edward Glaeser (Harvard University), Janette Sadik-Khan (Bloomberg Associates), Raffaello D'Andrea (ETH), and many others.  This event also includes a Hackathon on Urban Autonomous Delivery to be held the weekend before the summit (Nov 6-8th).

To register for the summit and/or the hackathon, please go here:


Disrupting Mobility Summit (November 11-13, 2015) held at the MIT Media Lab in Cambridge, MA, USA.

Disrupting Mobility Summit (November 11-13, 2015) held at the MIT Media Lab in Cambridge, MA, USA.

CityScope Riyadh

Exploring density, walkability, energy, and daylighting in one of the world’s fastest-growing cities

We recently led a workshop in Saudi Arabia, with staff from the Riyadh Development Authority, to test a new version of our CityScope platform.  With only an hour to work, four teams of five professionals competed to develop a redevelopment proposal for a neighborhood near the city center.   The goal was to achieve the highest scores for three variables:  walkability, building energy performance, and access to daylight.  As participants placed optically tagged Lego bricks on our augmented reality table, the design performance was revealed in real-time by changing color-codes projected onto the pieces, and data displayed on the dashboard.  Fundamentally, the challenge was to achieve an optimal density and mix for commercial and residential buildings.

Riyadh, one of the fastest-growing cities in the world, is an extraordinary place to explore these issues.  In 1940, Riyadh was a small, compact city with a density of approximately 38,000/km2.  Today, Riyadh is a sprawling metropolis of 5.7 million, with roughly 1/8th of the density before oil was tapped and cars took over. Although the city center has high-rise commercial buildings, density steadily declines from the core. Riyadh is experienced as wide streets, traffic congestion, stand alone low-rise buildings in parking lots, and residential neighborhoods with 2-story villas separated from commercial districts. 

Officials realize that Riyadh must reduce the near total dependency on private cars, and the city has started work on an ambitious new subway system.  This will surely help, but it is extraordinarily difficult to serve such a dispersed population with mass transit.  In the long term, Riyadh must address the challenges of extreme urbanization by: 1) creating much higher density, walkable, live-work districts within the city - particularly at the new subway stops, 2) developing largely self-sufficient satellite micro-cities in the outer areas as the city expands, and 3) implementing public policy and new systems that create more convenient alternatives to private automobiles.  CityScope Riyadh is a first step towards an evidence-based, data-driven platform that cities can use to help achieve these goals.

What did we learn from the workshop?

First of all, I was pleased to see the level of engagement, as is revealed in my 30 second video (above). This team was so engrossed in the process that they seemed oblivious to the intrusion of my camera.  Afterwards, the participants reported that the instant feedback, with changing color-codes and data, was extremely valuable.  Each team could immediately understand impact of their decisions on walkability, energy, and daylight as they placed elements on the table.  It encouraged an iterative, collaborative decision-making process. In the discussion that followed, there seemed to be a general frustration with the lack of metrics for evaluating an urban design proposal with traditional media, such as plans and renderings.  There seemed to be an appreciation for the power of such a new tool, even if we just hinted at possibilities.  Not insignificantly, they all appeared to have fun in the process.

Of course, there is much work to do. It is critical that we develop real-time feedback for the impact of density and walkability on traffic congestion.  We must model a range of new mobility modes, such as shared-use autonomous vehicles.  We should work towards the simulation of possible creative interactions and entrepreneurship activities so critical to a successful innovation district.  Eventually, we should be able to predict safe and high-crime zones, or perhaps the GDP of a district.  But CityScope Riyadh is a good first step.

Note: density figures are notoriously problematic: administrative boundaries often include undeveloped land, parks, and industrial areas.   But these figures for Riyadh, even if not precise, reveal the steady trend towards low-density sprawl.


Sprawl vs. Smart-Growth - A Study

The Global Commission on the Economy and Climate just published a study on the effects of urban sprawl. The report not only investigates the costs of sprawl, but also points out benefits of “smart growth”, i.e. compact, mixed and multi-modal developments. Furthermore, it identifies policies that can improve health, safety and wealth in communities.

A glimpse into the future of city halls?

The new ideas on Design, Urban Planning and Policy Making are inspired by the rising of a new type of citizen who is less territorial, more environmental sensitive, and willing to engage in direct public, social discourse. Architecture has historically played an important role in setting up  or breaking down power structures and barriers, both from a symbolic and technical stance. 

An array of interesting examples of new city halls that are mirroring the shift in the way citizens envision political power, and the ways to engage with it, is presented on the guardian: 


The vision described in the article coincides greatly with the Changing Places' vision on Cityscope, particularly the interactive, data intensive aspect of a dynamic observatory that conveys something different from a frozen monumental city view.