Friday, May 22, 2015

The Three-Dimensional City: How Drones Will Impact the Future Urban Landscape


Hawkins\Brown’s ‘Romance of the Sky’ proposal for the site of Heathrow Airport features drones – but does the urban design of the proposal accommodate the role of drones in the urban sphere?. Image © Factory Fifteen

Many have come to associate drones with the looming unmanned aircraft deployed in the defense industry, but as technology continues to improve drones have gotten smaller and progressively less expensive. Consumers can now purchase their very own drone for as little as $600 or less and the technology is already proving to be useful for a wide variety of purposes, including possible uses for architects in everything from site analysis to construction.

However, this technology could have much broader consequences on not only the airspace above our streets, but also in how we design for increasing civilian and commercial drone traffic. Just as other technologies such as cars and security surveillance have shaped our urban infrastructure, so too will an emerging network of infrastructure for pilotless technology. Particularly as drones become ever more precise and nimble, opportunities arise for their increased use in urban areas. If these devices can be programmed to learn from repeated maneuvers with the use of cameras and sensors, it is not unrealistic to say that they could soon learn how to navigate through increasingly complex vertical cities. But if drones become fixtures of our urban environment, what impact will they have on exterior spaces? And could they become as ubiquitous in our city’s skies as cars on our streets?

Drone technology in cities may take a number of decades to fully develop, as designers of smaller drones currently struggle to incorporate the battery life and power required to navigate the unpredictable wind patterns created by tall buildings. However, assuming technology continues to improve, we could begin to see drones used in cities for everything from delivery services to window cleaning. Curiosity for such services was first sparked last year after Amazon’s unveiling of a new delivery system using drones, and since then the uses for drone technology has become increasingly promising. Uses in the architectural realm include site analysis by realtors and architects in order to stitch together photos for 3D maps, monitoring construction site progress, producing dramatic photography of completed projects, and much more. As other industries begin to make use of this emerging technology, an increasing number of drones will carry out services hundreds of feet above our streets, and we currently lack the necessary infrastructure to benefit from and sustain this increased aerial traffic. Independent urbanist, designer and futurist Liam Young tells City Lab, “When you have services coming at people from different cross-sectional heights, you can’t have a city planned solely around the ground. Buildings would have to adapt to the kinds of visual cues and parameters those drones are programmed to respond to.” [1] The task of creating visual cues for drones in cities is particularly complex and is an area still under development.

The acrobatic moves that some smaller drones can be programmed to perform often rely on powerful sensors placed around the area in which they are flown. In order for a drone to be called “smart” and fly on its own it must have advanced processing capabilities to analyze its environment in real time. Some of these visual cues such as QR codes are simple, whereas the ability to identify shapes and track movements is far more difficult. Urban three-dimensional space designed with drones in mind could address some of these obstacles by providing locations for sensors and consistent access to wireless networks for drones to maintain communications. Wireless signal attenuation caused by tall structures and even materials such as glass has already proven to be an issue in urban areas, and improving these communication services will be a crucial step in encouraging better drone infrastructure. Architects will play an important role in designing cities that appropriately respond to this unprecedented multidimensional urban space, making buildings that work to facilitate drone navigation and communication rather than inhibit it.


Some have already begun to creatively envision how cities could adapt for this increasing array of technological uses for airspace, including Liam Young in his drone-based art installations. As many such visions of the future suggest, the infrastructure designed around drones could give architects a chance to reimagine how exterior vertical surfaces are used to suit the needs of drones. The devices would most likely require charging docks at regular dimensions, and if they are used for shipping, one could imagine drone delivery docks on each floor of tall buildings.


As for how drone technology could further change our urban experience, driverless vehicles have long been a staple of depictions of the future, and some researchers speculate that if driverless cars become a reality, driverless aircraft could soon follow. [2] Smaller drone technology could be the key to unlocking the potential of larger pilotless vehicles, and even developing science fiction’s long-awaited flying cars. This reality could be even closer than we imagine, as some Boeing and Airbus jets already take off, land and brake to a stop without human hands on the controls. Just as architects have already contributed to the notion of a technology-filled city with driverless vehicles, exemplified by BIG’s proposal for the Audi Urban Future Award, architects may also play a role in developing such an infrastructure for urban airspace. Responding to how pilotless vehicles navigate cities is essential if we are to create safe and flexible spaces that change based on traffic patterns and time of day.

All of these speculations about drones in our urban environment raise important legal questions regarding the ownership of three-dimensional space in cities. [3] The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) already regulates consumer remote-controlled aircraft to a maximum height of 400 feet. Amazon and many other commercial interests are still waiting for the FAA to grant permission and establish regulations regarding the use of drones, and without these laws in place it is difficult to predict how the technology will continue to progress. However, many daring filmmakers and hobbyists have proven that it is difficult to enforce these regulations, prompting lawmakers to consider how enforced provisions would be put into practice. In the coming years, we may witness an increasing number of legal battles over the rights to airspace just as conflicts ensued with the emergence of automobiles at the time of the Model-T.

Some urban designers have already proposed rough ideas for possible zoning laws for drones. A post on his blog Humanitarian Space by Mitchell Sipus, an urban designer who has worked in Kabul and Mogadishu, reveals an early attempt at creating possible zoning for the airspace in which drones fly. [4] Sipus developed representations of color coded areas of Chicago, with green being flat and open public areas in which drones could fly freely, and orange, yellow and red areas delineating various restricted or prohibited spaces. The airspace over commercial stadiums, for example, may be restricted to advertising and television drones, and barred from civilian aircraft. Since his initial speculations, Sipus tells ArchDaily he has been involved in expanding the idea, including some recent work with NASA, suggesting that these ideas are ripe for real-world implementation.

If municipal governments established these zones, drones could then be programmed to respond to sensors that would either grant them full access to select areas, or alternatively automatically redirect their paths when approaching restricted areas. This digital infrastructure mapped over three-dimensional airspace would be completely invisible but play a crucial role in the deployment of infrastructure such as “highways” for delivery drones and more open recreational spaces for civilian drones.
Concerns over the use of pilotless aircraft and privacy have been another driving factor in developing legislation to regulate the use of drones through zoning and other means, following reports of paparazzi using drones to capture photos of celebrities in their private homes. Zoning may be one tool to approach these issues, but the design of homes themselves could also potentially transform to respond to increased needs for privacy from aerial viewers. This may include the design of outdoor spaces that simultaneously offer the open qualities of being outdoors, but take advantage of innovative canopy systems to provide increased privacy. Alternatively, private residences may return to Roman-styled central courtyards to improve protection from drones and perhaps create an entirely new “McMansion” typology designed around ensuring optimal privacy.

In everything from the design of skyscraper façades with integrated drone landing pods, to invisible urban infrastructure for government zoning, to the nuanced design of private residences, it is clear that the technological revolution sparked by drones will have widespread architectural ramifications. Drones could have a great many positive and negative effects on how we experience our cities, and we have yet to see the true extent of these effects in practice. In this complex multidimensional future, architects will face the challenge of working with both tech industries and government agencies more closely than ever before to develop truly pioneering urban design.


3.     Drone City: How Unmanned Drones Will Change Urbanism For the Better (Phil Pawlett Jackson, The Architectural Review)

4.     Zoning and Urban Land Use Planning for Drones (Mitchell Sipus, Humanitarian Space)


Friday, May 15, 2015

Taller Than Skyscrapers (New Technology May Double the Height of Skyscrapers)


Finish elevator manufacturer KONE has unveiled a new hoisting technology that will enable to travel heights of one kilometer – twice the distance than currently possible.  The new development implies that the Burj Khalifa, whose longest elevator travels a distance of 504 meters, will not remain the world’s tallest building for very long.

Currently, the fastest elevator in the world, made by Toshiba, takes passengers from ground to roof in thirty seconds, rising 33.7 mph through the Taipei 101. This surpasses the speed of the Burj Khalifa’s Otis Elevator, which travels at a mere 22 mph. At 828 meters tall, the Burj Khalifa would still be nearly 300 meters shy (equivalent to the height of The Shard) of the elevator journey that this new technology proposes. This advanced vertical transportation will allow building ever-taller to become even more feasible.

UltraRope, the new hoisting technology developed by KONE, will replace the conventional steel rope used for lifting with one that is developed with a carbon fiber core and a high-friction coating.  This rope is extremely light, reducing energy consumption in high-rise buildings as well as reducing the weight of its moving components, such as the hoisting ropes, compensating ropes, counterweight, elevator car, and passenger load.  This means, at 800 meters, the weight of the moving masses using KONE UltraRope is a fraction of the weight accumulated with the conventional steel rope. 

The carbon fiber rope has a number of other advantages.  KONE says that since “carbon fiber resonates at a completely different frequency to steel and most other building materials,” elevator downtime caused by building sway will be reduced.  In addition, the rope will have twice the lifetime as steel rope, requiring less maintenance and thereby reduces material waste and environmental impact.

This comes as a breakthrough in elevator technology, as Antony Wood, Architect and Executive Director, Council for Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH) states, as one of the major limits of single elevator travel distance was that at a height of approximately 500 meters the weight of the rope became unsupportable.  Check out this website for a more in-depth look at this technology.


Friday, May 8, 2015

Holographic Technology

Trimble Partners with Microsoft to Bring Microsoft HoloLens
Wearable Holographic Technology to the AEC Industry

Trimble to Integrate Microsoft HoloLens with Selected Trimble Solutions for 
Mixed-Reality Design, Construction and Operation Processes

SAN FRANCISCO, April 29, 2015—Trimble (NASDAQ:TRMB) announced today that it is working with Microsoft to develop a new generation of tools, integrated with the HoloLens holographic platform on Windows 10, which are intended to improve quality, collaboration and efficiency in the design, construction and operation of buildings and structures. A proof of concept was demonstrated at Microsoft's Build Developer Conference held this week in San Francisco.  

Microsoft HoloLens is a head-mounted, holographic computer that provides a mixed-reality experience for a range of commercial and consumer applications. When used by architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) professionals, the HoloLens device extends interaction with 3D models beyond the confines of a 2D computer screen, creating new ways for the many stakeholders of complex, multi-phase construction projects to visualize, collaborate, share ideas and manage change.  

Demonstration Highlights Design and Collaboration Scenarios

During the Build Conference keynote session, Microsoft demonstrated how the integration of HoloLens with Trimble's SketchUp 3D modeling software and the Trimble Connect collaboration platform could improve design and construction processes. Using HoloLens, architects were able to experience their SketchUp models as holograms placed in the real world—enabling them to quickly analyze various "what if" design scenarios in the context of the physical environment. The demonstration also illustrated how using Trimble Connect with HoloLens holographic technology enables remote teams to effectively review and collaborate in order to resolve constructability issues in real time.  

A recording of the demonstration is available at: Additional information on the Trimble and Microsoft collaboration is available at:   

"Trimble has a mission to deliver solutions that transform the user experience and work processes in many industries," said Bryn Fosburgh, vice president responsible for Trimble's Construction Technology Divisions. "We believe that HoloLens is a game-changer for design and construction teams by facilitating improved communication, and enhanced transparency. We're excited to partner with Microsoft in creating what could be a new era for technology in the AEC market."

"Microsoft HoloLens is a revolutionary tool for people and businesses enabling professionals in industries like design and construction to do more and achieve more," said Yusuf Mehdi, corporate vice president, devices & studios, at Microsoft. "Trimble's deep knowledge of design and construction processes makes it a natural partner in bringing holographic computing to this industry."  

Initial Development Focus

Trimble's initial research is focused on the integration of HoloLens with three Trimble solutions:  

  • Trimble® Connect - a collaboration environment for design, engineering and construction projects, based on Gehry Technologies' GTeam™ software acquired by Trimble in in 2014, Trimble Connect enables teams to access and manage project data via a cloud platform.  
  • SketchUp - the world's most popular 3D modeling platform, used by millions around the world to create, update and communicate designs in 3D.  
  • Trimble V10 Imaging Rover - an integrated camera system that precisely captures 360-degree digital panoramas for efficient visual documentation and measurement of the surrounding environment that can be transformed into data-rich geospatial deliverables.
Trimble's HoloLens-enabled solutions are currently under development. Details on availability were not disclosed at the Build Conference. Information on Trimble's broad range of existing solutions for the design, construction and operation of building and infrastructure is available at:  

About Trimble 

Trimble applies technology to make field and mobile workers in businesses and government significantly more productive. Solutions are focused on applications requiring position or location—including surveying, construction, agriculture, fleet and asset management, public safety and mapping. In addition to utilizing positioning technologies, such as GPS, lasers and optics, Trimble solutions may include software content specific to the needs of the user. Wireless technologies are utilized to deliver the solution to the user and to ensure a tight coupling of the field and the back office. Founded in 1978, Trimble is headquartered in Sunnyvale, Calif.  

For more info please see link: