The Cities of Things Lab010 project has been running for a year now since its kick-off on February 16, 2022 at Gemaal op Zuid. It has been a busy year for everyone, and also for our project. In this update, I’d like to bring you up to date on the progress and plans for the rest of the project.
Last 23 March we organized a workshop at the Marineterrein in Amsterdam to discuss the progress of the field lab plans and connect with existing and new contacts. The session was a step towards the planning of a field lab program – hopefully – later this year.
We had a good group of people in the hybrid workshop, both from Amsterdam and Munich (and Berlin). We first updated the attendees with the latest developments. Four agencies of the starting consortium have been developing the first conceptualization for the neighborhood hub we now call Collect|Connect Community Hub. Focus is a ‘commoning buffer’ that plays an active role in the neighborhood community life. From the people for the people.
As announced in the latter post the field lab Cities of Things Lab010 was invited to organize the hackathon together with Creating010 and Civic Prototyping Lectorate of this year’s IoTRotterdam event. In the end, four teams participated and build some very nice citythings; autonomous moving objects on the streets of our near-future cities. The goal of the citythings was not defined and part of the process of the teams. Great to see it turned out most of the teams made the decision to let the citythings take a social role in the city life.
At the 10th edition of the IoT Rotterdam event on 8 April 2022, organized by Creating010 of Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences, Cities of Things will be one of the organizers of the hackathon. More than even hacking, prototyping “urban smart-things” as a different name for citythings will be key. And these prototypes will be tested on the streets of Rotterdam by the teams.
In the hackathon teams of participants will rapidly conceptualize and prototype an “urban smart-thing”: a plausible, autonomously operating agent envisioned to roam the public spaces of the near-future Rotterdam. The participants will confront the prototype with the citizens of Rotterdam in the public areas of the city, interview them and jointly reflect on the necessary forms and shapes of the public debate around the role of AI in cities.
The prototype will use a pre-made “wizard-of-oz” platform, allowing a human operator to remotely simulate an AI algorithm, and control the movement of the prototype. Examples of possible prototypes include, but are (by far) not limited to a mobile garbage bin, interactive street signage, or a mobile plant.
See this movie to get an impression:
The teams will work at the new VONK Innovation Center located just off Coolsingel in Timmerhuis. The results of the explorations will be presented end of the day at Het Nieuwe Instituut where the conference program of IoT Rotterdam is located.
AI is increasingly used in cities to improve their efficiency, as part of urban services and infrastructure, but is also being embedded in various kinds of soon-to-be-autonomously operating agents. Autonomous passenger cars are only one example of such use of AI that will become commonplace within the coming decade. There will also be autonomous garbage collection vehicles, safety, and traffic monitoring agents, advertising and informational bots, delivery vehicles, and many more… As citizens we still rarely think about the impact that such autonomous AI agents will have on our everyday life, beyond the advertised improvement of everyday conveniences, such as the comfort of care-free riding in a self-driving car, or receiving fast online deliveries. Autonomous AI agents will soon, however, impact almost every aspect of our lives, for example
will share the public space with us on every step,
will take over automatable jobs (chauffeurs, vendors, cleaners),
will be used to monitor us and enforce rules and laws (street signage and access control).
We can’t fully predict what the impact of autonomous AI agents will be on our society and cities, but we can try to collectively envision, understand and democratically shape the applications of this future technology so that it serves our society to the best possible extent. However, as non-expert citizens, we lack first-hand experiences with autonomous agents in the everyday-life setting, which we could use as a point of reference for debate and contestation of AI-related developments.
Spring officially began. A good moment to share some of the activities of Cities of Things in the last months. I write a monthly update and reflection via this email newsletter you can subscribe to.
The two biggest programs at this moment are the field labs in Rotterdam as part of the CityLab010 program, and the field lab as part of Creative Embassy Munich-Amsterdam.
City of Things Lab010
We had the official kick-off with the consortium parties in February and we did start the research activities with a graduation student looking into the design for the Cities of Things design toolkit, and a team of Technical Information students that will work on a prototype of a citything that can be used in the further explorations in the neighborhoods.
We also will organize the hackathon of the IoT Rotterdam program on 8 April with the same prototype as a basis. The first wizard-of-oz version of the prototype was made by Tomasz Jaskiewicz.
MUC-AMS Cities of Things field lab
As reported here before we signed the Letter of Intent in October in Munich. Four of the Dutch consortium partners started to develop a possible field lab research program: a logistic neighborhood hub that will be designed for the neighborhood. Springtime, Space&Matter, Sophisti, and INFO are working towards the first concept to present to possible partners in both Amsterdam and Munich.
Coming 23 March a hybrid session will be organized at the Marineterrein Amsterdam to meet partners, both from Amsterdam and Munich, to update the program plans and discuss the hub concept. If you like to join, contact Iskander.
16 May we will travel to Munich again to participate in the Munich Creative Business Week with a workshop dedicated to the same goal; connecting the right partners for making the field lab project happen.
Next to these more activities are starting or in the planning.
Together with Advier we are looking into a research program for Living as as Service in Cities of Things.
We plan to partner more with Responsible AI group of Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences. We commissioned a assignement for prototyping natural interactions with vocal citythings in the Applied AI minor.
Cities of Things is part of two RAAK research proposals by AUAS.
We are very happy that our proposal for setting up Cities of Things Lab010 as part of the CityLab010 project is selected by the commission. Together with partners Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences research group Creating010. Afrikaanderwijk Co-op and Studio voor de Stad we entered the project in the summer. We plan to start the project in early 2022.
After an exciting time for many Rotterdam initiators, the decision is finally made. 49 Rotterdammers will receive a starting budget from CityLab010. Good for over 3 million euros. With this, they can make their dreams come true.
Aldermen Roos Vermeij (Economy, Neighborhoods and Small Districts) and Arno Bonte (Sustainability, Air Quality and Energy Transition) and chairwoman of the city jury, Carolien Dieleman, congratulate all the initiators on their starting budget and wish them every success with the implementation.
The short description of the City of Things Lab010 project is: More and more intelligent and autonomous objects are appearing on our streets. This is changing the city at the system level, with impact at the hyperlocal neighborhood level. The Cities of Things Labkar allows neighborhood residents to design and prototype citythings together with designers.
On October 11, after a year of preparations and sessions, online a Dutch delegation traveled to Munich to officially kick off the second phase of the ‘Creative Embassy MUC-AMS’.
Alderman and deputy-mayor of the city of Amsterdam Victor Everhardt, and Head of Department of Labor and Economic Development and city councilor Clemens Baumgärtner of the City of Munich together with numerous supporting partners signed the Letter of Intent to continue the cooperation between both cities. The goal of the cooperation is to stimulate innovation, strengthen the creative industry, learn from each other and inspire. Munich and Amsterdam, therefore, aim to develop cross-country field labs in specific topics.
This aftermovie shows an impression of the day. Read further to learn more about the outcomes of the day.
Successful collaboration between Munich and Amsterdam enters next phase with Cities of Things field lab
On 11 October 2011, at the EXPO REAL event in Munich, City of Amsterdam alderperson Victor Everhardt and Clemens Baumgärtner, Head of the Department of Labour and Economic Development of the City of Munich, will sign a Letter of Intent regarding the continued partnership between the two cities on innovation and the creative industry. This signals the joint launch of the ‘Cities of Things’ field lab: a program to identify and test new solutions for urban issues.
This joint field lab follows from the Creative Embassy MUC-AMS initiative, in which Dutch and German creative companies cooperate to develop solutions for the challenges facing society. With these programs, Creative Holland (an initiative of the Dutch ‘top sector’ program supporting the creative industry) aims to stimulate international business development. The goal is to give Dutch creative SMEs a kick-start on the other side of the border.
This post is also sent as an update via the monthly newsletter. Around the end of a month, I share learning on the Cities of Things. More on the backgrounds of Cities of Things and the current research projects via the website. In my personal weeknotes newsletter Target_is_new I keep track of the news of the week.
Reading back the weekly updates, it is noticeable that there are continuous introductions of new robot-dog applications, mostly Spot from Boston Dynamics; from policing to being a doctor. The last mile delivery pods are also now adopted by new players every week, so it seems, driven by pandemic lockdowns probably. The pods could see these as typically the creatures inhabiting the cities of things, but it is interesting to reflect on some differences.
From an outside perspective, the way they resemble human characteristics is very different. The last mile vehicles resemble other types of vehicles that we use for transport, while the robot-dogs are a new type of living creatures and touch upon more human-animal interactions often. The robot dogs are also a kind of democratization of industrial robots to a smaller and easier to adopt form factor. The new Stretch robot of Boston Dynamics, introduced last month, is another interesting example. It is positioned as a moveable logistics robot, taking stuff from a truck to the warehouse and vice versa. It is like a combination of a human worker with a tool like a forklift. That make these robots into three types of support connected to human capacities: replacing a delivery person with an autonomous moving bag, replacing the warehouse worker with autonomous lifting gear, and a human guarding or communicating position with an autonomous living object.
All of these are staying close to the objects or tools they replace. That is needed for the acceptance and for the transparency in what they do. Here we touch an important aspect; for acceptance in our regular life we need autonomous operating devices that are readable archetypes. For now.
Will this change? Will we give the autonomous operating citythings more credits for their own character, the authentic choices they might start making. Like the painting robots that create art, that is even sold as NFT. If the autonomous thing is just a predictable extension of human-operated things, there is no character to recognise, and would it be also not likely it will produce interesting art. So might it be a virtue to have non-explainable AI driving these characterful citythings, creating a kind of non-transparent working? In that situation, the relations we have are not are based on our human representations in the autonomous things but in the embodiment of the decisions the robotic things make…
The science of behavior, applied to embodied computation in physical media that can be evolved or designed or both, is a new emerging field that will help us map and explore the enormous and fascinating space of possible machines across many scales of autonomy and composition.
Interesting to see how it plays out, also in relation to more hybrid systems, especially in a city context. That is something for another edition though.