7 of MIT Labs’ Best Ideas for Future Cities

Future cities have captured our imaginations for centuries. From Thomas F. Anderson’s 1900 vision for a Future Boston, through Le Corbusier’s 1924 Ville Radieuse, to modern ‘future-proof’ cities such as Songdo, South Korea, architects and town planners have considered how cities will respond to the movement of people, capital, technology, and ideas.

Today, groups such as the Senseable City Laboratory at MIT have been created with the goal of suggesting ideas for the city of tomorrow. Through a technique known as ‘Futurecraft’, the Senseable City Lab places the designer in a possible future environment and asks them to generate design proposals which could enhance daily life. As we are about to see, some of their ideas would make heads turn even in a galaxy far far away.

HubCab

Imagine a city where an autonomous vehicle, such as those being developed by Google and Uber, will drop you to your office at 9am, drive other citizens to doctor appointments, university lectures and lunchtime meetings, and return to the office at 5pm to drive you home. Shared mobility was central to the Senseable City Lab’s 2014 HubCab experiment. Over the course of a year, the Lab tracked 150 million taxi journeys across New York City in order to identify commuter patterns and develop an efficient car share system. The Lab estimates that improved transport sharing technology could potentially reduce the number of taxi journeys by 40%, thus cutting congestion and emissions, and saving people time and money.

If cities embraced the concept of shared mobility, four out of every five private vehicles could be taken off city streets, leading to faster journey times, less noise and cleaner air. Given that the average city car is idle for 95%-99% of the day, new sites once occupied by car parks would become available for development.

With the success of car-sharing companies such as ZipCar and DriveNow, the clean, efficient, peaceful smart city of shared mobility may be on the horizon.

Learn more about HubCab by the MIT Senseable City Lab here.

Roboat


Roboat. Image Courtesy of MIT Senseable City Lab

Roboat. Image Courtesy of MIT Senseable City Lab

Perhaps autonomous cars are last week’s news. Instead, the Senseable City Lab has partnered with the Amsterdam Institute for Advanced Metropolitan Solutions to design the world’s first fleet of autonomous boats.

Many of the world’s largest cities were built with rivers and canals as their lifeblood. Senseable City Lab imagines a future scenario where these waterways are alive with ‘roboats’ transporting goods and people, creating self-assembly bridges, and forming pop up interventions such as concert stages. 

Furthermore, these boats can monitor the city’s water creating literal streams of information about urban and human health.

Learn more about Roboats by the MIT Senseable City Lab here.

Trash Track

With the rapid development of micro-computing in mind, Senseable City Lab imagined a future where micro-technology was so small and cheap that every object could be geo-tracked. 

In a 2009 experiment dubbed Trash Track, the Lab recruited hundreds of volunteers to place geo-locating tags in rubbish bins across Seattle. The experiment revealed a chronically complex disposal chain crossing the United States, leading to major improvements by waste management providers. 

A future city of smart rubbish could promote behavioral change amongst citizens, optimize and manage disposal chains, and if taken to an international level, could combat illegal exports of hazardous electronic waste worth 3.75 billion US dollars. 

Learn more about Trash Track by the MIT Senseable City Lab here.

Local Warming

Every evening, energy is wasted on heating empty rooms inside and lighting empty streets outside. Too often, our environment is optimized for potential habitation, whether in use or not. Therefore, consider a future in which an ‘energy cloud’ follows every citizen. The Senseable City Lab proposes a future city where wifi-enabled “responsive infrared heating elements” in every room are activated and deactivated by motion detectors, merging thermal comfort with energy efficiency.

The idea was showcased by Senseable City Lab at the 2014 Venice Biennale, under the title Local Warming.

Learn more about Local Warming by the MIT Senseable City Lab here.

Treepedia


Treepedia. Image Courtesy of MIT Senseable City Lab

Treepedia. Image Courtesy of MIT Senseable City Lab

The green canopy plays an important role in urban life, with trees helping to mitigate extreme temperatures, provide natural respite from traffic, noise, and congestion, and improve the quality of our urban environment. Despite this, the average citizen is often removed from the understanding and development of their environmental habitat. 

In response, the Senseable City Lab have developed an innovative metric called the ‘Green View Index’, using Google Street View panoramas to evaluate and compare green canopy coverage in major cities. Through monitoring the urban tree coverage, citizens and planners can see which areas in their city are green and not green, compare their green canopy with other cities, and play a more active role in enhancing their local environment.

Treepedia will continue to expand in more municipalities across the globe. In the future, users will be able to add unique tree information on an open-source street map and engage with officials to advocate for further planting in particular areas.

Learn more about Treepedia by the MIT Senseable City Lab here.

Light Traffic

Senseable City Lab, in collaboration with the Swiss Institute of Technology (ETHZ), and the Italian National Research Council (CNR) have developed slot-based intersections that could replace traditional traffic lights, significantly reducing queues and delays. In the concept known as Light Traffic, sensor-laden vehicles pass through intersections by communicating and remaining at a safe distance from each other, rather than grinding to a halt at traffic lights.

In dense urban areas, the system can be designed to accommodate pedestrian and bicycle crossing with vehicular traffic.

Learn more about Light Traffic by the MIT Senseable City Lab here.

Boston 3-1-1


Boston 3-1-1. Image Courtesy of MIT Senseable City Lab

Boston 3-1-1. Image Courtesy of MIT Senseable City Lab

Like computers, cities will only be as smart as the people who use them. The city of tomorrow will undoubtedly be a convergence of bits and atoms, where the virtual and physical are entwined. WikiCitizens will be connected to their city, and to each other, in real time. 

As virtual and social technologies develop, apps and tools are emerging which allow citizens to play an active role in the maintenance of their city. The Senseable City Lab have developed the Boston 3-1-1 app, providing Boston’s citizens with a platform for reporting social and infrastructural issues like potholes, graffiti, and litter. As digital platforms are integrated into the urban environment, citizens could design, operate, and adjust the cities of tomorrow.    

Learn more about Boston 3-1-1 by the MIT Senseable City Lab here.

All concepts and images via: MIT Senseable City Lab.

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