Edge Cities: Highly populated cultural wastelands could exist by 2064

In the next 50 years our most populated urban areas may become ‘cultural wastelands’ as our cities evolve with growing populations that are spread out across city types.

Those who are living in Edge Cities will service other city forms, as well as being low paid and having a lack of public services, according to a report produced by City University London.

The report proposes six ‘ideal-type’ cities that aren’t a model for a future but represent what may exist based on the cultural changes that have happened in recent years.

“Cities will be functional dormitories with transport links sponsored by corporate urban interests. Due to low pay, and the low tax base, few ‘public services’ will be provided,” the authors write.

“Moreover, such services would be more expensive to provide in such a dispersed form. Thus, it is also likely that there will be little support for additional taxation to sustain cultural facilities.”

They also say that shopping will have migrated online and in Edge cities and prices in them will be too high for those living there to receive personal deliveries. This would also be reflected in the lack of culture in the cities.

“In cultural terms when compounded with economic and social polarisation, and small government, this will result in what is in many respects a cultural wasteland.”


It was put together looking at the cultural changes that have happened in the last 50 years.

The other types of cities will include the tourist-experience city, the homeland city, the campus city, the business lounge city and the omnivore city.

They said: “We present this as a range of scenarios based upon six ideal-type cities. We do not expect any one of these cities to be the model for the future, but rather that this range will point to the potential parameters for the role of culture in cities.”

This was backed up by the understanding that there are several underpinning factors, which are long-term or slowly changing.

The authors said that these included a population that is ageing, better educated and multi-cultural.


The tourist experience city, they say, will be organised for, and tailored towards, an augmented reality of the city. This could provide an immersive experience that is tailored to the individual visitor.

A homeland city would be one that offers the “security and containment of the past” and be lived in by those who are over 50. “Those under 50 will be restricted from visiting except at weekends and public holidays,” the authors wrote.

Campus cities would be hubs of innovation that have developed from science cities and technological hubs; they involve culture and education for instrumental purposes.

Those who are well off would be able to pay for entry to a business lounge city, where exclusive groups can inhabit around high culture and “the best performances”. The privileged will have more opportunities and be surrounded by the best products.

The omnivore city will house those who are educated but are not in the corporate world, and will be tailored to accommodate a fast changing cosmopolitan culture.

Featured image courtesy of Sam Howzit via Flickr/Creative Commons Licence. Images one and two courtesy of Future Cities Catapult.



Setting sights on fusion: Entrepreneur to build prototype reactor within three years

A British technology entrepreneur has founded a new company with the intention of creating a prototype fusion reactor within three years.

Richard Dinan, whose company portfolio already includes meteorite-based security wearable Senturion and 3D printer company IonCore, has founded Applied Fusion Systems not to win the race to large-scale power generation with the technology, but establish a foothold in the field from which to explore other money-making avenues.

“Obviously there are these giants at it – ITER – and my view is not to try and beat them, it is that I need to get my hand onto this technology and the best way to do that is to get your hands dirty and build one,” he said in an interview with Factor.

Dinan, who has previously appeared on structured reality programme Made in Chelsea, joins a growing body of companies beginning to take fusion seriously as an emerging technology.

“I’m not alone in doing this, there are other small companies developing their own reactors and they’ve built some pretty small ones,” he explained.

“There’s one I know of that’s achieved 200m Kelvin in the UK – without giving the name of the company – and they are a reasonably small operation.”


Dinan’s decision to launch the company was prompted by enquires his 3D company IonCore, which is behind the Zinter range of home printers, received.

“We were approached recently – I say recently, about a year ago – on whether or not we would be able to print some of the unusual shapes of tokomak reactors,” he said, referring to the most common reactor shape being explored for fusion.

“Electromagnetism doesn’t just circulate, it’s more toroidal, it’s more like a corkscrew shape. These are quite challenging shapes to produce, especially when you are prototyping this kind of thing. It’s perfect for 3D printing, because we can make the most obscure shapes.”

Because Dinan owns a 3D printing company, he has the resources to rapidly prototype parts for a prototype fusion reactor, one of the key reasons he decided to launch the company.

“More was this an excuse to because it’s fascinating to me, I’ve always been fascinated in prototyping machinery, it’s quite complex, with plasmas and super-cooled magnets and all the problems of space and size and temperature that come with it,” he added.

“But I’ve hired some nuclear physicists myself and I had them on hand to consult, and we built a theoretical prototype – we built an electromagnet setup of a tokomak and looked at how the technology works and why, and some of the problems that are being encountered.”

The prospect of building a fusion reactor may seem utterly pie-in-the-sky to most of us, but Dinan is both enthusiastic and optimistic about the prospect.

“Effectively we just have a location where we’re just building it ourselves,” he said.

“I don’t really want to put a timeframe on it, but within three years we would be looking to demonstrate our prototype. But I would like it to be a lot sooner than that.

“I’m not saying that within three years we’re going to make something that’s going to break any records or win any nobel prizes, but it will be a tokamak that it is capable of heating and moving the plasma which is something that’s been done before a long time ago but it will be a prototype that works to a level where we can study the technology.”


For most, the key focus of nuclear fusion is its potential for revolutionising energy supply, however while the technology has seen considerable development, it has not yet reached the stage where it is a viable power source.

However Dinan believes there are other underexplored aspects to the technology.

“There’s a reason we’ve called it Applied Fusion – its applying that technology to other things, because it’s all very specific at the moment, the main goal is to be able to make this – to create more energy than it uses to run, which has been the problem before,” explained Dinan.

“We are achieving [fusion], but it takes so much energy to do so. And that’s where most of the focus is, but at the same time there is a lot of other interesting technology that is being built as a result of these tokomaks, which isn’t really being looked into that much, especially with plasmas and the control of plasma.”

With funding in place through his own network of contacts, Dinan is confident that his gamble on such an emerging technology will be successful; however he is remaining coy about exactly how he plans to make money out of fusion.

“There’s opportunities within opportunities. The assumption is that we totally believe in the technology and we believe it’s going to come much quicker,” he said.

“If that assumption is wrong, then we’ll lose, but if it is right then on the back of the implementation of this new power source there are plenty of avenues to make money. But the way of doing it is not to be theoretical, it is to get practical and small companies can do that, and I think it’s time they did.”

All images courtesy of of the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy



Drones with bee wings solve problem of flying in poor weather

Drones with bee-inspired wings may be the solution to allowing unmanned aerial vehicles to fly in poor weather and efficiently round the streets of our cities.

It may sound slightly peculiar, but that’s what Glenn Smith the CEO and co-founder of MapleBird is trying to build. 

Smith and his team have been working on creating drones that are “palm sized, it’s about the size of your hand basically and weighs around 20 grams.”

The small aircraft, like many robotics projects which are being worked upon, are based around the efficiencies in flight that have evolved in nature.

He said the drones are based on honey bees as they fly well in poor weather, an ability that drones may help drones to be able to fly in strong winds and rain.

“In reality why you want to do that is to make things that can fly in the real world in windy and dusty conditions,” Smith said in an interview with Factor at the Re.Work Robotics Forum in London, where he was speaking about the drones.

“Quadcopters and the like, they can hover and they can move forward at a decent speed but as they begin to get smaller they become really affected by gusty conditions and those are the conditions that are prevalent in cities, you have wind sheers, you go around buildings so this becomes something that they need to deal with.

“They don’t want to be blowing around they need to be able to control their position well.”


However Maplebird isn’t the only company that has looked to imitate the biology of a bee.

Harvard University has developed Robobees, which are the size of bees and have been made to be autonomous.

The American university’s bees may be able to be used to help pollinate a field of crops, as well as everything from search and rescue missions to traffic monitoring.

Smith’s hand-sized drones have many of the same potential applications as the smaller versions created by Harvard. In particular he pointed out the potential use for ‘eyes in the sky’ and industrial monitoring, as they are able to put up to five cameras on the flying devices.

However the technology still needs some work before it will be flying around our cities.

Smith said that the company have developed an engine that allows them to replicated the beating of a bee’s wings.

“What we’re really doing right now is making sure our flight platform works correctly so when you get it in the air,” he said.

“So there’s two elements to that one is getting it taking off the ground, getting all the lift and thrust that we need, which we are developing rapidly, but in conjunction with that we are also developing the control systems that you need to fly stability and the communication to that. We’re working on both of those at the moment.”

Featured image courtesy of MapleBird



In Pictures: The high-end results of multi-material 3D printing

3D printing has become increasingly sophisticated, particularly among printers targeted at manufacturers rather than home users, with the ability to combine multiple material thicknesses and colours in one print.

Global 3D printing heavyweight Stratasys has pulled out all the stops at this year’s Association for Computer Aided Design in Architecture (ACADIA) conference in Los Angeles in order to demonstrate just how intricate 3D printed objects can now be.

The company has enlisted the help of internationally recognised designers from a range of fields to create objects that demonstrate this, and the results are pretty spectacular:


Although it looks like an alien egg, this creation is known as the Durotaxis Chair, and is designed by noted industrial designer Alvin Huang. It sounds pretty comfy too, as it functions as a rocking chair with both upright and lounge configurations. The more you look at this design, the more impressive it becomes – it combines different colour gradients and different thickness gradients to give the final finish, giving an oddly fluid finish to the final creation.

“In some parts my chair is thicker and more rigid, but thinner and softer where it needs to be; this makes for an optimal relationship between form and performance,” said Huang. “Without multi-material 3D printing, the gradient distribution of material properties and performance would be impossible.”


3d-printed-chair-zaha-hadidBespoke and mass-production furniture is an area that Stratasys is keen to see growth in, and they haven’t been shy in pursuing heavy-hitters to achieve this.

Zaha Hadid, perhaps the world’s most famous living architect, contributed this chair, which was designed to show off the company’s Objet500 Connex3 printer. Although printed in one unit, the chair features a range of colours and material opacities – a feat that would be extremely difficult to replicate using other methods.


Elsewhere the luxury fashion market is being seen as a key focus for 3D printing, thanks to its ability to create highly intricate, bespoke products. The Molecule shoe seen above is by disruptive accessories designer Francis Bitonti.

“For me, using 3D printing in my work is not a choice, it is part of a design philosophy that is emerging as a new industrial revolution,” said Bitonti. “As an architect and fashion designer, I was inspired to create something that encapsulates the point where we become connected to our environment, for example the part of a building where it hits the ground, as our foot does in a shoe – this is where the story of an object is told.”


Jewellery has been a key area for 3D printing, and this necklace from Jenny Wu’s Lace collection is no different. Printing using industrial-standard FDM technology, using thermoplastic that is melted to a liquid state before it is printed in layers, the necklace demonstrates the complex shapes that can be achieved with 3D printing.

“I enjoy the possibilities that FDM 3D printing technology offers, as the strength of the materials enable me to directly manufacture jewelry pieces as opposed to just prototype,” said Wu.


3D printing is also going beyond these areas, as shown by The Polymo by Jose Sanchez. This is more of an exploration of the possibilities than a functional object, but it’s extremely impressive nonetheless, combining hundreds of independent units within the structure, all of which were printed at once.

“Inspired by games such as Minecraft, where players can build incredible creations within a game environment, 3D printed assembly means that it is possible to combine hundreds of independent units into one,” said Sanchez.

“This removes the constraints of traditional manufacturing and what kind of connections the unit could have, allowing a richer space of possibilities and the ability to work with strong, flexible and precise materials.”

Images courtesy of Stratasys.



Reprogrammed skin cells give hope for Huntington’s treatment

Scientists have developed a method of converting human skin cells into the type of brain cells that are affected by Huntington’s disease, prompting hopes that the technique could one day be used to provide a treatment for the devastating condition.

The approach, which unlike other regenerative research does not involve the production of stem cells, has been successfully demonstrated in mice, and is now being trialled in humans with the disease.

“Not only did these transplanted cells survive in the mouse brain, they showed functional properties similar to those of native cells,” said study senior author Dr Andrew S Yoo, assistant professor of developmental biology at  Washington University School of Medicine in St Louis.

Huntington’s disease is a neurodegenerative disorder that causes movement-controlling brain cells know as medium spiny neurons to deteriorate, resulting in a slow loss of control over movement, the onset of dementia and eventual death. There is no cure at present.

Although a hereditary disease, the symptoms of Huntington’s can begin at any age, but most typically occur in the late 30s or early 40s. Between five and ten people per 100,000 will be afflicted by Huntington’s, depending on ethnicity and location.

This new technique would in theory allow degenerated brain cells to be replaced with newly reprogrammed ones, potentially reversing the decline in motor control that Huntington’s sufferers experience.

The treatment could also involve converting the patient’s own skill cells, which would dramatically reduce the chance of the body rejecting the new brain cells.

Skin cells already contain the DNA instructions to become other types of cells, so for the scientists the focus was on developing a system to encourage this to happen.

They already knew that exposing skin cells to microRNAs – small molecules of ribonucleic acid, a close cousin of our own DNA – would cause them to change into other cell types, so the primary work was fine-tuning the process to produce the specific type of brain cells needed.

“We think that the microRNAs are really doing the heavy lifting,” said study co-first author Matheus Victor, a graduate student in neuroscience.

“They are priming the skin cells to become neurons. The transcription factors we add then guide the skin cells to become a specific subtype, in this case medium spiny neurons.”


This reprogramming technique not only offers hope for Huntington’s, but could also be applied to other types of cells, giving it promise for a wide range of genetic conditions.

“We think we could produce different types of neurons by switching out different transcription factors,” added Victor.

The research was published today in the neuroscience journal Neuron.

Featured image courtesy of Jensflorian. Inline image courtesy of Leevanjackson.



Is anti-surveillance clothing the fashion of the future?

Yesterday at the launch of Biometrics 2014 in London, Isabelle Moeller, chief executive of the Biometrics Institute, came onstage wearing a rather unusual face mask.

With a lace-style finish, the mask covered most of her face, finishing in a point some 10cm beyond her head. She described it as a piece of head jewellery designed with the sole purpose of protecting her identity, bought from an unnamed designer at a wearables event.

“I started wondering if people will start wearing these kinds of headpieces and jewellery in order to protect their identity,” she said, a comment that was met with amused giggles from the assembled biometrics and surveillance experts.

However, as the day continued, her point seemed increasingly valid.

Biometrics 2014, a highly regarded event in its 17th year, is by no means encouraging Big Brother to rise up. The speakers are focused on improving the field and refining technologies to weed out errors, and there is impressive work being done on many different aspects.


Yet there is much in the field to make non-experts concerned. Dr Itier Dror of the University of London’s Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, for example, brilliantly demonstrated how operators of biometrics systems can unintentionally introduce bias into technologies we think of as incorruptible, such as the leading fingerprinting system AFIS (automated fingerprint identification system).

Possible new recognition systems were also highlighted. Dr Maja Pantic, professor of affective and behavioural computing at Imperial College London, explained how our range of facial expressions are so unique that they too could be used as a form of biometric identification, in the same way iris scans and fingerprints are.

With so many developing and emerging ways to identify us, and an increasing range of surveillance options to boot, there is naturally growing concern that surveillance is getting too good, and many of us are starting to long for the ability to move around untracked.

Could, then, face masks such as the one worn by Moeller really become a viable part of future fashion?

A number of organisations have started developing high fashion-style anti-surveillance wear, as well as more technologically-focused designs and DIY-centric users can take matters into their own hands using online guides. Dazzle makeup designed to prevent facial recognition from surveillance cameras is also gaining prominence.

The trend does not just extend to head wear – a growing range of clothing designed to protect our identity is also emerging, such as the Stealth Wear range designed by Adam Harvey.

For now, however, the trend is still very much on the fringes, and it will undoubtedly be some time before it has any chance of gaining prominence.

Mainstream anti-surveillance fashion would require the perfect storm of increased privacy concerns, adoption by celebrities and other high-profile individuals and the inclusion in collections by leading fashion houses.

This is all likely to be prompted by how visible future surveillance is. If it remains quiet and largely unseen, or at least unnoticed, most people will undoubtedly spend little time worrying. However, if it becomes more visible, such as through increased drone use and police body cameras, then anti-surveillance fashion may become a serious prospect.

Featured image courtesy of Fabrica. Inline image courtesy of Adam Harvey.



The future fracturing of the internet: How access will define the web of tomorrow

The future of the web is a system that is completely different depending on the method of access, to the point where many will think of it as several completely different things, thanks to the future evolution of technologies such as virtual reality.

When the World Wide Web launched a quarter of a century ago, it was accessed on hulking desktop computers in university labs and the homes of the wealthy but nerdy.

Over time this spread, first to more affordable computers and then to laptops and palmtops, and finally on to smartphones and tablets.  Now we expect to be able to access the web in some form from almost every electronic device we own, including TVs, smartwatches, music players and more.

The abilities that the internet has given us have made us almost superhuman. We can find the answer to almost any question in moments, and learn almost any skill just through online resources.

In some countries the internet is now even regarded as a human right, something so important that it would be abhorrent to prevent people from accessing it.


Evolving the web

The internet as we know it know is just a step on the road to what it will become. Just as it has moved far beyond the first web page, so will it continue to change and grow as technology allows.

Most interesting, however, will be the fact that it will evolve to become several different forms of internet, depending on the method of access.

We are already starting to see the embryo of this at present.

CSS3 mobile queries have enabled websites to appear differently depending on the device they are accessed from. While for most websites this just means a simplified version for smartphones, some have gone to greater extremes by tailoring content and in some cases serving completely different designs to suit the audience.

But this is nothing on what we are going to see in the future.

At present, while we might get different sites depending on whether we log on with a tablet or a desktop, we are always accessing the information in basically the same way.

However, our future selves might be accessing the internet through a number of different means, which require the information to be displayed in ways that are virtually incompatible.


Virtual reality and the future of the internet

While some of these technologies are yet to be invented, there are a few that look likely to grow in use and dominance.

The most prominent of these is virtual reality. Oculus Rift is nearing consumer-readiness, and tech giants such as Sony have finally started to wade into the VR pool.

For most, VR is about gaming, but there is also a movement to make it work on the web.

For anyone who has dreamed about a fully immersive internet such as the one portrayed in the Futurama episode A Bicyclops Built for Two, the prospect is very exciting.

The leading work in this area is a project called Janus VR, which is an internet browser developed specifically for the Oculus Rift.

In its most basic form, Janus VR reinterprets the web as 3D spaces, with links as doors and images as pictures on a virtual wall. However, inventor James McCrae has also added Janus-specific code that web designers can add to any site they build.

Users browsing from regular computers won’t see any effects of the code, but if you visit the site with a Rift you could be met with a full 3D world, complete with interactive elements. Other users can even meet you there and communicate over voice or text.

Janus VR is very much in its infancy, buts its potential is obvious and support is growing. Before long it could become a common browsing method with its own set of standards, completely separate from those used for the traditional web.

Hearing the web through virtual assistants

The projected rise of virtual assistants – starting with today’s technologies such as Apple’s Siri and Google Now – also present a possible alternative version of the web.

Chris Brauer, co-director of CAST at Goldsmiths, University of London, recently said that virtual assistants (VAs) would in the future be our primary access point to the web.

We would ask questions of our own personal VAs, who would provide us with answers through their own web searches.

If VAs become this common, web design – or at least a part of it – but undoubtedly evolve to match.

Just as web design trends have closely followed the best approaches to getting a high Google ranking, the web’s content could be increasingly presented in a manner meant for virtual assistants, not humans, to access.

Given that some of us will still wish to access the web through traditional means, this information is likely to end up in its own separate space – a section of the internet only accessible by VAs just as the VR web is only viewable on a VR-compatible browser.


The internet’s fractured future

Undoubtedly there will be other means of access that require different versions of the web for their own suiting, brought about by new developments in technology that are barely ideas at present.

All of this will result in an internet with many faces – although it will all be one system, the code for each access type will be unreadable by the others.

As a result the internet as we use it on different devices will be so radically different that non-techy users will think of it a several completely separate things.

The internet as we know it will be one of several, and may even fade into obscurity as other access methods become more popular.

Featured image courtesy of Sergey Galyonkin. Second inline image: screenshot from Futurama S2E13. Third inline image courtesy of Martin Deutsch.


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