Moving past its controversial opening in June, the BMW Guggenheim Lab is bringing a rich selection of brains and topics to its wall-less temporary home in Berlin. MIT’s Jose Gomez-Marquez, who helps doctors with few resources turn toy helicopters into asthma inhalers, hosted DIY “maker” sessions. The lab unveiled the smallest house in the world and threw a “crowdscanning party” using real-life social networking app PeopleHunt.
This week, in a session hosted by Mashable and BMWi, talk turned to apps with serious city-transforming potential. Here are some of the areas Mashable chief strategy officer Adam Ostrow, Urbanscale founder Adam Greenfield and iStrategy Labs director of strategy Bonnie Shaw (pictured below) think are worth keeping an eye on.
#1 Urban decay – send photo, get action
Web and mobile apps such as US-based CitySourced or SeeClickFix (founder Ben Berkowitz is visiting the Lab in Berlin this week) let citizens submit photos of pollution or code violations in their neighbourhoods – San Jose claims a 90 per cent resolution rate.
#2 DIY sound policing
NoiseTube, a free mobile app out of the the Sony Computer Science Lab in Paris and Vrije Universiteit Brussel, lets you measure noise as you walk and either keep the data private or pass it on to be mapped and used by local authorities, city planners and researchers.
#3 Personal car access without ownership
Sservices such as Zipcar (US), Zimride (US) and new Berlin startup Carzapp (pictured) will still need to win over those who can’t imagine sharing their car with anyone, ever. But, if or when the trend takes off, it’ll have big design and industry implications. Most passenger vehicles in the future “better be designed as fleet vehicles,” Greenfield predicted.
#4 Pedestrian safety
Traficon’s SafeWalk and C-Walk use cameras to detect waiting pedestrians and control signals using realtime data, arguably more efficiently than the suite of options used now (push-to-walk buttons, “phase” scheduling, or radar or pressure mat detection).
#5 The perfect parking app
“I’m yet to see the perfect parking application,” Ostrow said. That app would show you parking spots in realtime via GPS, keep track of how much time you have left and let you pay via mobile, and ping you to help you avoid tickets.
#6 Trash cans that talk
Turning trash and recycling bins into web-networked devices could help citizens find closest recycling bins, monitor participation in recycling along trash routes – even charge citizens for the waste they create.
#7 Energy efficiency – smart devices
Smart appliances that track energy consumption and help users cut power bills are already in place around the world, though with plenty of room for improvement.
#8 Mobile grocery shopping
Tesco’s Homeplus virtual subway stores in South Korea let you shop while waiting for trains by scanning QR codes on printed billboards, pay via mobile and organise to have the groceries delivered at a convenient time. No word on how successful this has been – but it serves the impulse buyer in a way that German-grown online options HelloFresh and KochZauber (“Magic Chef”) don’t.
#9 Location-based social networks and recommendation apps
You’ll all know and probably use a few of these: Foursquare, for a start; Berlin-based Vamos, US up-and-comers Woofound, who are also visiting the Guggenheim Lab in Berlin this week… the list goes on.
What about crowdfunding for urban projects? Finnish platform Brickstarter, still in its first months of development, aspires to create a Kickstarter for the development of shared spaces and resources.
The digital divide – more about literacy than access?
Cities and smartphones are made for each other, as Greenfield put it, but not everyone can afford that kind of technology. Greenfield and Shaw argued that it’s not as much a question of access as you might think – more one of literacy and whether people are willing to use such devices.
“There are and will continue to be digital divides and we’re sincere in addressing them, but I want to push back on the idea that people don’t have access to these devices,” Greenfield said. “Within five years, I feel entirely safe in saying in that virtually anybody in the planet who wants one will have access to some sort of device of iPhone 2007 capacity.”
If what you could say is a healthy back-up plan, Greenfield said a large part of his work focuses on devices accessible to any user on the street, whether or not they have a smartphone or bank account. “The question will be, are you comfortable about making use of it?”
The BMW Guggenheim Lab is in Berlin until 29 July. All programme activities are free of charge and open to the public.
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