With a limited edition cover by Marina Abramović
Change is good. But if the pace of change leaves us no time to stand and stare, it's easy to lose any sense of perspective and start muttering aloud in public about the efficacy of the freemium business model or some such. To spare you this social maiming, Wallpaper* sat down with design and branding consultancy Wolff Olins and spent many happy hours racking our collective and considerable brains to identify the key trends and changes for the years ahead...
Microfinance – targeted loans as small as $100 – along with business training and other financial services to some of the world’s poorest, where access to loan capital is either out of reach or not viable. These aren’t simple donations – the money is used to help people start their own businesses with dignity, lent on proper commercial terms – but the organization caters for the unique requirements of economically disadvantaged populations. In ACCION’s words, helping millions help themselves. Lending criteria go beyond the purely quantitative; loan officers take account of ‘character-based’ factors like references from neighbors, ‘gut feelings’ about the entrepreneur’s drive, and other intangibles. Loans start small, minimizing risk for both sides, and increase as borrowers demonstrate an ability to build their business reliably and repay debts on time.
The numbers speak for themselves. Over 13,000 clients in Tanzania ($22 million) as at June 2009, 120,000 in Bolivia ($322 million), 463,000 in Brazil ($214 million), and 365,000 in Peru ($901 million), to name a few. From serving 13,000 people in 1988 ACCION catered for over 2.7 million in 2007. Like the MTN community phone and the University of the People (both covered in this series), the key principle here is empowerment – be it via the provision of phone networks, education, or in this case, business finance – to help the world’s most disadvantaged help themselves and ultimately to eliminate these systemic inequalities.www.accion.org
This is Nokia’s big foray into financial services. In cooperation with Obopay, a player in global mobile payment systems, the service will allow banking and bill payment to be conducted straight from a mobile device, via voice calls and SMS. Funds can be transferred by simply using the other person’s mobile number. It is especially useful in emerging economies and rural communities where access to 24 hour banking and online services is not widespread but where mobile phones are.
Potentially a huge market in the developing world, capitalizing on underserved banking markets in newly vibrant economies and in disconnected, rural communities. And with its vast market reach Nokia is well positioned to fill the gap. In the company’s words, it’s about making payments ‘time and location independent, while providing better financial control, especially for those people who have never had a bank account.’ Like the community phone service or a free online university (both covered in this series), it’s another big step towards empowering and integrating systemically disadvantaged populations.www.nokia.com
Why has it taken this long? Launched by Google in June, All For Good is a website that aggregates volunteer opportunities from charities and other organization across the globe. It now also powers the search portion of Serve.gov, a US government initiative to encourage and facilitate community service. Enter the type of volunteerism you’re interested in, choose your location and filter the results according to your availability. No more excuses.
Like its maps application, Google has invited public developers to participate in building and expanding upon the software. The goal is for it to be a starting point of sorts to encourage innovation in the field of volunteerism as much as to actually get people volunteering. Partners with Google on the project include big names like Craigslist, UCLA, YouTube, and others, and even an endorsement from Michelle Obama.www.allforgood.org
Simple and brilliant: a bottled water brand that uses it profits to fund clean water projects via its own charity (which operates as a standalone entity, Frank Water Projects). Founder Katie Alcott, 29, created Frank in 2005 after suffering dysentery from dirty water in India. As the marketing blurb reads, every litre purchased funds 200 litres of safe, clean water in developing countries, quenching the thirst of a child for four months.
Thirty-two clean water plants in India to date, reaching more than 220,000 people. Plans are in place to fund a further 16 projects by March 2010. A little really does go a long way. It’s another example, too, of how what we do at home can have global ramifications, and often in a good way – a bit of positive spin, this time, for the case of globalization.www.frankwater.com
Prepare to see our planet as never before. Welcome to the exciting world of statistics – and fret not, for this isn’t your usual high school variety. Hundreds of indicators – everything from income and mortality to aircraft accidents, inflation, literacy, energy consumption, HIV infection, and arms imports, can be interactively compared, correlated and cross-referenced over time and between countries with a few quick simple clicks of the mouse. Best of all the intuitive graphical output makes the mountains of data readily understandable and fun to play around with. Choose your indicators and press the ‘play’ button at the bottom of the screen to see, fairly spectacularly, how the world has changed over the last couple hundred years.
By turning volumes of dry data into an interactive, meaningful and visually engaging experience, this ‘modern museum’, as it calls itself, helps empower the individual at a grass-roots level, providing untainted access to raw facts about the state of our world absent of all hype and political rhetoric. Math degree and dusty textbook not required. Plug in ‘energy consumption’, for example, and it becomes blatantly clear why the world, and the new US administration, is so interested in China. Ever wondered which country has the best teeth? Or whether that correlates with its level of weapons exports? Probably not, but with all that information at your clicking fingertips, who knows what you’ll discover?www.gapminder.com
The advent of the internet age and the rapid spread of technology over the last decade has resulted in a modern consumer that is more informed and information- hungry, than ever. And nowhere is this more apparent, and the appetite more relentless, than in the realm of health and nutrition. Good Guide is a groundbreaking new website that goes a step further, displaying not only the health but also the environmental and social credentials of 70,000 products (so far) on sale in the US – and not just food, but cosmetics, toys, and household products too. It identifies ingredients of concern, like potential carcinogens, or lets you know if the toothpaste you’ve been using is banned, say, in Japan, and how the manufacturer scores on workplace diversity. The new iPhone app allows users to access the information directly by scanning a product’s barcode with their phone.
Like Gapminder (covered in this series) this is another one that helps consumers cut through to the bare-bones facts, in this case about the products they buy. And that’s more important than ever with the overwhelming range on sale these days, many with ingredient lists that read more like the appendix of a science journal. The site also actively helps consumers make better choices. If you discover your favourite peanut butter is especially high in sugar, for example, it’ll suggest healthier alternatives. A more informed customer bases forces manufacturers to act more responsibly, both in the quality of ingredients they select and in the way they run their companies – and that’s a good thing by any measure.www.goodguide.com
A way to give phone access via a SIM card to the millions of people who either don’t have GSM coverage or cannot afford a handset. Users take their cards to one of many publicly located ‘community phones’ and gain access to the usual mobile phone services – phone calls, text messaging, and voicemail – as well as having their own unique number.
Most of us take the existence of communication services for granted. For those without that basic luxury the result, in a world as technologically interwoven as ours, and as reliant on quick, long-distance communication, is a real sense of disconnectedness and an inability to properly participate in the global economic and social community. The MTN service helps alleviate an important systemic disadvantage affecting millions, laying the groundwork for a more integrated global community.www.mtnonline.com
Super simple: a camper van with a solar panel on the roof.
Like many of the ideas covered here (the Samsung Blue phone, First Solar, the Eko Atalantic and Masdar cities and the Passivhaus standard), the trend in technology and lifestyle is squarely towards green solutions. This makes particular sense in the camping world, where a fossil fuel burning mobile house parked in the midst of an otherwise untouched strip of nature rather undermines the point of the endeavor, at least for some. It’s also a commercial acknowledgement of the legitimacy and economic viability of integrated, environmentally aware technology.www.toy-factory.co.jp
Better Place is the world’s leading electric vehicle services provider. They create the infrastructure and systems like batteries, charging stations, and the like that fuel electric cars, or ‘sustainable transportation’ as it’s known. The electricity used in the company’s fuel cells, which drivers would replace at dedicated switching stations as required, will be generated from renewable sources such as solar and wind.
Any concept of a green future must account for vehicle emissions, one of the biggest pollutants on the planet. Companies like Better Place are a catalyst for the transition away from heavy polluting petrol-fuelled automobiles. The company started with the deployment of its charging spots in Israel this year (the founder, Shai Agassi, is Israeli) and will pilot the system in Denmark next year, with plans in place for a widespread rollout after that. This won’t be an overnight paradigm shift, but even a gradual, long-term reduction in vehicle emissions would have enormously positive environmental consequences.www.betterplace.com
A new, pure electric vehicle by BYD, China’s largest rechargeable battery maker that last year branched out into car production. BYD’s ‘Fe’ lithium iron phosphate battery, which powers the car, takes the green philosophy a step further: all the chemical substances used in it are recyclable. The e6 will be a five-seater with an acceleration of 0 to 60 mph in eight seconds, and a top speed of 100 mph. The range per charge is 249 miles, the longest of its kind. Charging the battery to full takes seven to nine hours from a normal household power socket, or it can reach 50% capacity in just 10 minutes via a high powered charger. It’ll be available on limited release in the US in 2010, at around $40,000.
Just a few years ago the idea of an electric car was a niche, novelty fascination. But with companies like Better Place (covered earlier) investing in and progressively rolling out infrastructure and BYD creating fully realized vehicle models with practical charge ranges that compete performance-wise with conventional urban cars, momentum is quickly building for the technology to enter the mainstream. This might just be the biggest paradigm shift to hit the auto market since its inception.www.byd.com
The concept of pay-as-you-go car rental isn’t altogether new (Londoners in particular might be familiar with the similar but less flexible Streetcar model) but Car2Go steps things up a notch – no booking required, return where you like (almost) and pay by the minute. That’s no fixed costs and the just 19 cents per sixty seconds (with maximum hour and day caps), which includes all incidentals like fuel, insurance, taxes, cleaning and maintenance. They plan to partner with cities worldwide and are currently up and running in Ulm, Germany, and Austin, Texas.
Considering that on average urban drivers use their cars no more than two hours per day, if that, the economic inefficiencies of private ownership are huge, which is where the quick rental concept really shines. And more than just a shake-up for the traditional rental and auto industries, it represents a shift in how we think about urban transportation more generally. Under a pay-by-the-minute system the car becomes a kind of public transport hybrid – on the spectrum somewhere between a taxi and a bus or train. If Car2Go does for cars what Vélib in Paris and others are doing for bicycles (and indeed given the greater costs involved the concept is potentially even more compelling for cars than bikes), the idea of private vehicle ownership might one day be just a novel anachronism.www.car2go.com
In a nutshell, beleaguered car giant GM’s attempt to take electric cars mainstream. The Volt (or Ampera as it will be known in Europe) will be the world’s first mass-production plug-in electric car. It’ll do short journeys up to 40 miles (which should satisfy most daily commuting needs) on battery power alone, and will utilize a petrol motor to recharge during longer jaunts. It is slated to hit the US market in November 2010, and with GM behind it has more than a fighting chance, recent public financial turmoil notwithstanding. The company expects to sell 70,000 in the first two years, retailing for around $40,000 ($32,500 after the Federal tax credit).
The environmental benefit of a mainstream shift away from petrol guzzlers cannot be overstated. Even hybrid models like the Volt, which alternate between electric and petrol systems depending on charge, dramatically reduce tailpipe emissions. The trend throughout this series and across industries is towards greener, environmentally sustainable solutions. It’s no longer just an environmental strategy for car manufacturers to move away from petrol; with consumer demand increasing, it’s fast becoming an economic one too.
Yet another electric vehicle alternative – we’ve seen a few in this series alone – this time an all-battery powered system which plugs into any standard household outlet to recharge. Coda, founded earlier this year, controls design, branding and IP and partners with other manufacturers on the more capital-intensive production components, notably Lishen, a Chinese producer of rechargeable lithium-ion cells. The company’s first sedan will deliver between 90 – 120 miles per charge, which is good for its class. It launches in California in 2010, will retail for around $45,000 (before the $7,500 US Federal tax credit), and the company expects to sell 2,700 units in the first year.
Compared, for example, to the Chevrolet Volt, also covered here, the Coda model goes significantly further on a single charge, but doesn’t have the benefit of a backup petrol system if the battery runs dry. That said, the range is unlikely to be a problem for standard use, assuming you have a power outlet handy each evening. Another example of the trend in auto away from petrol. Finally, it seems, the manufacturers are waking up to the call.www.codaautomotive.com
A mass-market, zero-emission, true electric car – no hybrid here. It was announced in August and is set to launch in late 2010 in Japan, the US and Europe. For a properly futuristic effect, the car incorporates a remote control and monitoring system via mobile phone, and an advanced IT system connected to a global data centre providing support, information and entertainment 24 hours. Top speed is 140 kph with a range of around 160 km (100 miles) on a single charge. Nissan is particularly committed to mass-market electric vehicles. CEO Carlos Ghosn is strongly endorsing the Leaf, and says that electric cars could account for 10% of car sales in 2010.
The Leaf feels to us like one of the most compelling electric vehicle offerings of the current crop, combining practical drive ranges, true zero-emission standards, and a bit of old-fashioned whiz-bangary to boot. Nissan knows all about mass-market appeal, and its partnership with Renault makes it a unique Japanese-European player. With a management team committed to the green ideal, the age of the mainstream electric vehicle is imminent.www.nissanusa.com/leaf-electric-car
What do you get when you combine the principles of an electric vehicle with the guts of a high-performance sports car? The Tesla Roadster has design and performance credentials to rival a Ferrari, minus the environmental guilt. At around $109,000, it’s significantly more expensive than any of the other (already fairly pricey) electric vehicles we’ve covered here, but for that money you get an all-electric sports car that can travel more than 320 km (200 miles) per charge – more than double that of its electric kin – and can accelerate from 0-60 mph in just 3.7 seconds, putting it squarely in the realm of white knuckle driving. In July Tesla hit a milestone, shipping 109 cars in a single month and making its first ever profit since production began in March 2008. As at September they’ve delivered over 700.
While the Roadster isn’t intended as a mainstream offering it does show the exhilarating potential of the electric vehicle concept. And by setting new benchmarks in design and performance, it paves the way for future mass-market offerings to up their game too. Once the dust settles and electric cars become the norm rather than the exception – and they will – Tesla could well emerge as a future equivalent of today’s Porsche.www.teslamotors.com
Ideology and other allegiances aside, in the Middle East, water is king. Imagine a type of sand that’s completely water-resistant. It might not be the sexiest thing around but so-called hydrophobic sand, invented by Dime in the UAE, could revolutionize, among many other things, the way agriculture is approached in this very water-scarce region.
If a layer of the sand is used below planting soil it can reduce water wastage by 75% by allowing water to be retained in the soil for longer, instead of seeping away into the ground water. And a high load-bearing capacity means that it can be used to fortify weak building foundations and protect against salt erosion affecting infrastructure. Best of all, it achieves this cleanly, without any detrimental environmental affects. Other applications include the cleaning of oil-polluted water during a petroleum spill; the sand allows oil to pass through while trapping the clean water behind. Or creating horseracing tracks or golf courses that don’t turn muddy during rain.www.dimecreations.com
Turning large-scale renewable energy into a realistic, economically viable proposition has tended to be elusive. First Solar, dubbed the ‘Intel of solar energy’, is the world’s largest manufacturer of ultra cheap photovoltaic solar modules and represents the best hope for solar. It is a pioneer in using highly efficient thin film CdTe cells (pictured), and is looking to break the 1GW barrier and become competitive in retail electricity by 2010. It has become one of (if not the) most economical manufacturer in the industry at $0.87/watt, and claims to be able to bring the production cost down to $0.50/watt by 2014.
No one doubts the attractiveness of solar power from an environmental perspective – safe, clean, zero-impact, and infinitely renewable. Ideal really. The problem has always been economics and efficiency – producing enough electricity at a low enough cost to stand up as a viable alternative to conventional energy. If First Solar cracks the nut, and it’s well on its way, it could be one of the most significant developments in energy and environmentalism this century.www.firstsolar.com
A green phone, except it’s blue. Earlier this year Samsung unveiled the first solar-powered touch-screen mobile phone, free from harmful substances, and constructed using recycled plastic bottles. It even includes a pedometer and will tell you how many trees you’ve saved just by using it. Try getting greener than that! Or, bluer.
Apart from the green credentials, we’d frankly like to see the solar option become more mainstream, especially useful for outdoor types, but equally handy for urbanites caught without a charger. Samsung is setting a good example here, piggy-backing on a general sense of green-consciousness. While it won’t save the planet single-handedly, it helps keep the environmental message relevant and hip. And if it proves commercially successful, might encourage other manufacturers to up their environmental game too.www.samsung.com
Bare is a special ink that, when painted onto the skin, turns it into a conductive surface allowing users to seamlessly interact with electronics through gesture, movement and touch. Just tapping a light bulb with a painted finger can cause it to illuminate. And of course, it’s non-toxic and washes right off. It was designed by a recent crop of MA graduates from the RCA’s Innovation Design Engineering Programme.
According to the designers, application areas might include dance, music, computer interfaces, communication and medical devices, but its usefulness is limited only by creative imagination. In this series we’ve seen a number of innovations that bridge the divide between real and virtual, organic and electronic. Whether through more efficient online search tools, augmented reality applications, devices like Microsoft’s Surface, gaming platforms like the Xbox Project Natal, or the utilization of this unique ink, the direction forward is clearly towards a more seamless integration between what we think and do, and how the technology – and the world – around us responds.www.bareconductive.com
Even those folding bikes we see whizzing conspicuously around city streets are limited by the size and rigidity of their wheels. RCA industrial design grad Duncan Fitzsimons went one step better, inventing the world’s first folding wheel. In addition to helping cyclists easily fit their bikes into cars and busses, it’ll mean the ability to fold a standard sized manual wheelchair into a bag small enough to take along as hand luggage on a commercial flight.
As we move towards a more sustainable future, innovations like the Crossbreed folding wheel, which make cycling more convenient, and which allow wheelchair users greater mobility than ever, become crucial. Environmental awareness isn’t enough. It’s only once sustainable options become attractive in and of themselves – like the latest crop of high-performance electric vehicles, or a hassle-free bicycle – that widespread public attitudes towards green alternatives will properly start to shift.www.folding-wheels.com
Just like magic – a beam of light you can nudge around with your bare hands, without the need for special tracking equipment or complex wiring. Want to move the circle of light from the right side of the desk to the left? Just give it a push. Useful for retail and exhibition spaces, where spotlighting could be adjusted without having to actually climb up and manually maneuver fixed equipment. Or for circumstances where people don’t have the full use of their hands, like surgeons in the midst of an operation.
Designer and RCA graduate Adrian Westaway was awarded the first ever James Dyson Innovation Fellowship in 2007 for his design, and more recently a two-year Royal Commission Research Fellowship to help develop the technology further and hopefully bring it to market. Beyond the obvious novelty factor (the importance of which mustn’t be discounted!) the applications here are numerous. But what gets us most chuffed is the whimsical use of design to rethink something as simple and ubiquitous as a beam of light, transforming the mundane into something magical.www.foldingbaguette.com/magiclightvideo
Augmented reality (AR) is a field of computer research that combines real-world and computer-generated data, blending virtual objects and real footage in real time – a type of virtual reality. You’ve likely experienced it at its most basic during a sporting event on television, whenever data such as scores get overplayed on the image during the match. A more interactive (and impressive) example is the popular tube and subway finders available on some smartphones. Point your phone’s viewfinder in any direction and the real-time image gets overlaid with arrows and directional information about nearby stations. Flip the screen around and the information recalibrates before your eyes. We took our own foray into augmented reality with W*130, out now, animating a selection of pages from our Graduate Directory – get your hands on the latest issue to see more…
Augmented reality is essentially a blurring of the boundary between real and virtual. This notion has been the stuff of science fiction for decades but it’s only recently, particularly with the proliferation of smartphones and other low cost, high power computing, that practical, economically viable applications of the concept are coming to real, mass-market fruition. The possibilities are endless – from interactive, 3D children’s books, to the ability try on clothing without, well, actually trying anything on. Like many of the concepts covered in this series, it’s all about the seamless and intuitive integration of life-enhancing technology into the everyday.augmented reality
A new way of collaborating and communicating online, combining email, instant messaging and social networking concepts. Multiple collaborators act in real time, editing and altering a central ‘wave’. It was first announced in May and a preview version was released to a million users in September. As an open-source platform, Google is inviting the involvement of private developers to expand the service.
Anything Google gets this excited about is bound for greatness. And with the wildly increasing popularity in recent years of social networking and instant messaging, people are more comfortable and willing than ever to communicate and work on virtual platforms. Wave is the logical next step, a formalized, rigorous platform that makes virtual collaboration more seamless and intuitive than ever – and therefore, one hopes, more useful.wave.google.com
The Surface is basically a large digital display in a tabletop configuration, which provides easy, intuitive access to digital content through natural gestures, touch, and the detection of physical objects. It works by using cameras to sense objects and hand gestures to bring the surface to life. It can wirelessly interact with other devices, like phones, which need only be placed on the tabletop.
At the moment the Surface is limited to corporate applications, like hotels, public entertainment areas, and stores. And it’s unlikely, in its current form and price, to earn a place in our living room just yet. It does, however, represent a bold step forward in making technology more interactive, and provides a testing ground for further refinement. Already the iPhone takes the notion of touch-screen technology to a new level, with users resizing images by ‘pinching’ the screen and rotating the device to flip the display. Interactivity of this sort, and beyond, is definitely the stuff of the not-too-distant future.www.microsoft.com
How many times have you thought up a great product idea but didn’t know what to do next? Quirky is a new website by 22-year-old college dropout Ben Kaufman, founder of Kluster, that allows you to submit your idea online, where it’ll be discussed and refined by other members and depending on its popularity, fast-tracked through to development. The plan is to launch a new product every couple of days with profits split between the website and the originator, although Quirky, which takes a 70% cut, keeps the product license too.
The capacity to make money from an idea – and just the idea – is a powerful concept. Quirky acts as a virtual marketplace, quickly connecting ideas with capital and talent, and a forum for public critique. Some of the products are already available to buy from the company’s website, like a toothbrush holder that keeps your brush upright and clean. After they reach a certain level of sales they’re green-lighted for store distribution. Expect to see Quirky’s wares popping up on shelves from around January 2010.www.quirky.com
Volunteer four hours of your time and earn a ticket to a rock concert. So far over 45,000 volunteers have attended more than 20 live events. Launched in the US in 2005, the first UK concert took place in September 2008 at the Royal Albert Hall featuring Busta Rhymes, Ludacris and John Legend, with two further gigs in 2009. The organization has over 450 charity partners in the US and Europe, and is funded (in the UK and Europe) by Orange.
Like All For Good, the Google-backed volunteer website also covered in this series, RockCorps, which calls itself a ‘social business’, applies the mass-marketing power of the internet to fund-raising and taps into a generally increasing public sense of social responsibility, making a big difference by encouraging lots of small ones. Just four hours isn’t much, but with the total number of volunteered hours fast approaching 200,000, the impact is substantial.www.orangerockcorps.co.uk
If you’ve ever wanted your own private cinema, this might be the next best thing – or perhaps, even, a step up. A thoroughly simple concept to remove the ambient sounds of a public cinema – popcorn chomping, coughing, chatting, unwrapping – by equipping viewers with their own pair of wireless headphones. Imagine, an uninterrupted sound experience, and the ability to munch on a noisy food to your heart’s content. You can even pop off to the loo without missing a word of dialogue. And you still get the benefit of the big screen and the communal atmosphere. Or as they call it, an individual experience, together.
The concept premiered on Halloween night at the atrium of the Andaz hotel on London’s Liverpool Street. Dates at the venue are also set for November and December. We can’t see it becoming mainstream, and indeed there’s a certain pleasure in the traditional theatre experience, but it will present an appealing alternative for some. It also speaks to our current age where, for better or worse, the line between public and private experience is increasingly blurred.www.silent-cinema.co.uk
Don’t just surf the web – command it! That’s the tagline for one of the latest innovations from Mozilla Labs, the open source software developer famous for its popular Firefox search engine. The idea is to save time by simplifying common web activities via special custom ‘commands’ (e.g. searching, mapping, translating). The software has about 80 built-in commands and users can also create their own.
By integrating natural command language more fundamentally into the online experience, Mozilla not only makes things quicker but more intuitive. It’s all about integrating the power of the internet more seamlessly into daily life, lessening bit by bit the distinction between how we act and interact on real and virtual levels.www.mozillalabs.com/ubiquity
The democratization of higher education - a tuition-free, online only, open-source university, founded by Israeli entrepreneur Shai Reshef. It relies on volunteer professors and the backing of educational institutions. As yet it’s unaccredited and offers limited programs in just two fields: business admin and computer science.
Having only just launched it’s still early days, but considering that around four million people in the US took at least one online course in 2007, the potential for growth seems very significant. Like the MTN Community Phone service, also covered in this series, it’s all about the empowerment of the world’s economically disadvantaged, be it through access to mobile services or education. The hope is to build enrollment from 300 during the first intake to 10,000 over five years. While various incarnations of open learning and online education exist, UoP’s unique for its scope and ambition. And with technology costs dropping, online access increasing, and social networking becoming more mainstream and habitual than ever, this might just be its moment.www.uopeople.org
Touted as the biggest internet revolution for a generation, this is a new kind of search engine that understands questions and gives specific, tailored answers in a way that the web has never before achieved. Ask it to compute intricate math problems, compare the height of Mount Everest to the length of the Golden Gate Bridge (3.2 times), play the musical combination C A Eb D, or just tell you how many calories there are in a Big Mac. Give it a chemical formula and it’ll shoot back the molecular weight, density, thermodynamic properties, and 3D structure, among much else. The possibilities are endless.
Huge, potentially. It’s been billed as a Google killer but it actually does something quite different, and there’s room and need for both. Plus it was only released in May so its capacity is still growing. Like Mozilla’s Ubiquity (also covered in this series) the trend here is clearly on a refinement of the online experience to render it more intuitive and efficient. And with technology and online services becoming more ubiquitous and entrenched by the day, that’s crucial.www.wolframalpha.com
This could be the next big step for gaming and entertainment. Nintendo Wii was the first to really integrate free, natural motion into their games: swing a plastic tennis racket to hit the ball on the screen, turn a wireless wheel to steer a racing car. Project Natal, set for a 2010 release, aims to take this up a level, allowing for an entirely controller-free gaming experience, detecting physical movement, depth and sound with advanced sensors. Best of all it’s an add-on to the Xbox so current users won’t need to buy a new device.
Throughout this series the trend in tech, be it Microsoft’s Surface, Mozilla’s Ubiquity application, Google’s Wave, Augmented Reality, or Xbox Natal, is squarely towards creating as seamless a connection as possible between user and technology. Microsoft says that the Natal tracks 48 joints in the player’s body, keeps account of multiple participants, and can differentiate between clashing voices and sounds. If successful, this might just be the closest thing to real future-style virtual reality we’ve ever seen.www.xbox.com
Reading electronic books has become commonplace with the advent of the Kindle. And although many of us would have once baulked at the idea of reading books on an iPhone screen, the popularity of the medium is rising. Convenience and portability trumps the hassle of having to scroll every tenth line – at least for some. The natural evolution is to make the experience more interactive. Rather than just providing blocks of text publishers can take advantage of the hardware by including film and voice clips, interviews, and other multimedia to enhance the experience.
Lovers of good literature know that nothing replaces the singular experience of curling up with an actual book. But that doesn’t mean e-readers don’t have a place. And who knows – with smartphones so widespread and e-book downloads relatively cheap and convenient, it might just be the perceived ‘death of books’ that finally gets people reading.www.enhanced-editions.com
Creates a book on demand like an espresso machine makes a coffee. The ATM-like box literally prints the entire book in minutes direct from a digital file, producing a normal quality paperback at a low cost. No shipping, warehousing, returns or pulping of unsold books, and allows for titles to be released and distributed simultaneously around the globe. Time Magazine named it ‘invention of the year’ and it’s certainly got our attention.
Traditional book selling is under attack. Whether it’s electronic readers like the Kindle, hybrid devices like the iPhone, or machines that squeeze out a Henry James while they froth your cappuccino, the old paradigms are looking decidedly…old. The EBM in particular preserves the physicality of the book-reading experience, quieting critics who fear the demise of books altogether, while cleaning up some of the industry’s inefficiencies – in time, production, materials, and distribution. Reading and publishing have undoubtedly entered the digital age – and rightly so. Innovations like the EBM acknowledge and cater for the demand that does, and probably always will, exist in the realm of literature for a bendable, coffee-ring-stainable physical volume.www.ondemandbooks.com
Music and video self-publishing – less glitz, more raw experimentation, and a rethinking of the old paradigms. Artists bypassing the usual marketing and distribution hierarchies and going it alone, or via smaller, independent channels.
One current and inspired example is the Beck’s record club project, where artists attempt to record an album in a day based on a chosen work (so far they’ve done Leonard Cohen and The Velvet Underground). A track is posted on the website each week, with nothing rehearsed or pre-arranged. The opportunity as a listener to step out of the commodified mainstream music market for a moment, to eschew the usual pre-packaged, over-produced soundtrack and enjoy talented artists experimenting and creating their own authentic sound, is a refreshing and necessary experience. Whether as a deliberate counterpoint to the current moment, or something simpler, in today’s X-Factor/American Idol age it feels more critical than ever.www.beck.com/record_club
These are tiny hand-held projector units that can give iPods, smartphones, laptops and cameras on-the-go project-ability. No more lugging around heavy projector units to business meetings, or having to all crowd round a tiny Nano screen to see the latest baby snaps.
Ten years ago it wouldn’t have made much sense. But the rapid proliferation of smartphones, portable digital media players and lightweight laptops means that most people now have a library of images, films and presentations either in their back pocket or their briefcase at all times. Pico projectors make the obvious leap. Connecting a tiny laptop to a projector double its size is sort of like lugging around a 20lb battery for your iPod. It’s hard to believe it took this long.www.optomausa.com
Another one of those ideas that feels like something properly futuristic – sections of newspapers and magazines that display moving images and sound via ultra thin and low cost screens embedded within. The screen starts playing when the page is turned and can hold 40 minutes of video content.
With technology costs dropping and components becoming ever tinier, the trend seems to be towards multimedia-fying every aspect of the reading experience. Entertainment Weekly used the technology earlier this year to display CBS trailers and a Pepsi ad. Eye-catching, although one has to question the environmental credentials here.www.americhip.com
A page out of Dubai’s book for Nigeria: the ambitious Eko Atlantic is a massive man-made island and a new, state-of-the-art city off the coast of Lagos, Africa’s most populous city, and arguably one of its most chaotic. One-hundred-and-forty million tones of sand are being laboriously dredged from the Atlantic to create the nine sq km plot, which the developers anticipate (and hope) will become a glittering home to upwards of 250,000 residents and attract 150,000 commuters daily. Geographically it will be divided into seven districts (evoking a mini-Manhattan, perhaps, with names like Downtown, Financial District, and Avenues), linked by light rail and waterway networks, and crucially for this part of the world, independently powered and watered.
This isn’t an exercise in simple architectural vanity. More fundamentally it seeks to address the severe coastal erosion that has plagued the Lagos shoreline for the past hundred years, reclaiming kilometers of land previously lost and buttressing against further degradation. It’s tricky separating dreamy marketing hype from reality this early on. If successful, however, Eko Atlantic could be a real turning point for the region, and a welcome boost in the arm to the country’s beleaguered international reputation.www.ekoatlantic.com
Welcome to the world’s first carbon-free fully sustainable city - a Foster + Partners designed planned development 17 kilometres south-east of Abu Dhabi in the UAE (where else), which will rely entirely on solar and other renewable energy sources like wind power and waste incineration. Cars will be banned and waste levels will be reduced or eliminated entirely. The first phase of the $22 billion, eight-year project is due for completion this year. At just six square kilometers the city will house around 50,000 people, but size isn't the benchmark. Rather, Masdar will be a living, breathing template of possibility, a Petri dish of sorts for environmental experimentation in an urban context.
An experiment like Masdar doesn’t come cheap, and it is some irony, or perhaps just a 21st century reality, that it is only possible on the back of the region’s vast oil wealth. Abu Dhabi pledged $1.2 billion in early September of this year for the project. Oil, it seems, it getting serious about green energy. But with the world’s supplies dwindling and consumer preferences skewing in favour of cleaner, renewable options, it’s a wise economic play too. This major exporter of black gold may yet become a world leader in a new, greener energy economy.www.masdar.ae
Any convincing vision of the future must be environmentally innovative. And when it comes to architecture, it’s cheaper, simpler, and more effective to tackle the issue as an integrated part of the construction process. Passivhaus, meaning ‘passive house’, is a building standard for ultra-low-energy construction – airtight buildings so well insulated that they require no conventional heating at all (‘superinsulation’), and which utilize zero-impact technologies like solar panels and underground heat pumps. It’s widely recognized in Germany (where it originated in 1988) and Scandinavia, but remains a technical, niche discipline elsewhere.
There are between 15,000 and 20,000 ‘Passivhauses’ worldwide, a drop in the ocean but a strong statement on the environmental potential and practical viability of low-carbon building. Structures built according to Passivhaus standards achieve a 90% energy saving, so even a relatively moderate level of international adoption would have a big impact. The movement is set for a high-profile boost during the 2010 winter Olympics in Canada: Austria House, the headquarters for the Australian Olympic Committee is a Passivhaus.www.passivhaus.org.uk
Weed is good – that is, fewer non-indigenous flowers and plants in modern cities and more messy but productive weeds. ‘Let nature work’ as they say at Turenscape (‘Tu-ren’ meaning literally ‘earth-man’), the preeminent Chinese architecture and urban planning firm whose cheap, sustainable solutions are now in high demand. It’s an urban revolution of sorts, a rethinking of infrastructure and design ideas from an ecological and sustainable perspective.
A litany of quiet successes, including the Red Ribbon project at Tanghe River Park in Qinhuangdao (pictured), a strikingly simple urban oasis epitomizing the successful integration of unobtrusive infrastructure and nature, named one of the seven modern architectural wonders of the world by Conde Nast. Head designer Yu Kongjia, who gave the keynote speech at the IFLA annual meeting in Brazil in October, is a Harvard graduate, a prolific writer, and an outspoken critic of what he sees as his country’s wasteful ‘imperialistic’ approach to architecture and urban design.www.turenscape.com