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How will our future cities look?

Experts are saying the time has come to start designing smarter urban environments to accommodate a world growing population but the question that comes to mind is: How will our future cities look?

Almost half of the world’s population is currently living in cities, and by 2050 the figure is expected to rise to 75%. Nobody really knows what the city of the future will be like. Movies and books throughout history have attempted to recreate the 'city of tomorrow' – some with more success than others – but experts are saying the time has come to start designing smarter urban environments to accommodate a world growing population. Therefore, the question that comes to mind is: What will they look like? And what challenges will next generations be facing?

Companies like AGT, Ford, Xerox and Bosh, celebrated architects like Sir Norman Foster and institutions like Oxford University seem to have a very clear image of what we are to expect in the future. Or, at least, they are working on relevant projects that could give us hints as to what future smart cities could be like.

Let’s take  a look at some of them:

Airports of drones, aka ‘droneports’

Foster and Partners, the award winning British architects, are responsible for the development of the first airport of drones in the world. The aerodrome is currently being built in Rwanda (Africa) and after completion it will serve to transport medicines to areas that are very difficult to reach by road. “One of the main reasons of the lack of availability of medical supplies in Africa is the poverty of their infrastructures”, said Foster and Partners to explain the relevance that this type of transport might have for the country.

Considering that 80% of the parcels weight less than 2kg and most of them have a lower volume than a shoe-box, the use of drones as a transportation vehicle could imply great improvements regarding time and shipping prices.

Rwanda’s droneport is expected to be completed by 2020.

future cities

Transportation

The Hyperloop continues to dominate headlines, with experts suggesting the vehicle will eliminate the barriers of distance and time. Many think that the real transportation revolution will rely on autonomous vehicles and a substantial growth in the field of electric automobiles.

With regards to the autonomous cars, companies like Ford are expecting to deliver fully autonomous vehicles by 2021 and their experts forecast that petrol and diesel engines will likely disappear in the next 15 years. For some this could be a discomforting premonition, but so too was the steam train along with the first vehicles powered by internal combustion engines -not to mention that countries like France are already planning to ban sales of petrol and diesel cars by 2040.

For those refusing to embrace this possible change, there are other benefits Ford experts highlight when making their predictions, such as the regular use of autonomous vehicles increasing car-sharing services. This is expected to help decrease the number of vehicles and the need of parking areas, which will lead to a refurbishment of the public space: wider sidewalks, more green zones and, ultimately, more room for pedestrians to walk freely across the city.

Parking adapted for the autonomous vehicles

According to Xerox’s study Keeping our Cities Moving, 20% of drivers in cities like London spend more than 15 minutes trying to find a parking space. In the city of the future this won't be a problem anymore. Volskwagen, Bosch, the Polytechnic Federal School of Zurich (ETH) and Oxford, Braunschweig and Parma Universities are collaborating to develop ‘V-Charge’, a system that allows autonomous cars to find a parking space and a charging point with no need of a driver.

As soon as the passenger leaves the car, the app is activated and the passenger can choose a place and time to collect the vehicle. When the passenger returns, the car will be waiting.

Delinquency monitored

AGT is currently working with different governments to map out how safe is a city at any given time of the day. The company uses predictive algorithms and collects data from constant stream of sources including video sensors, face recognition cameras, databases and social media inputs. This data is then processed and converted into a comprehensive picture of the urban landscape that can be used to identify and alert on behaviours, events and patterns, or notify when an incident occurs.

future cities

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Vertical farms

Vertical farming is the practice of producing food in vertically stacked layers or other structures such as skyscraper or warehouse. Vertical farming could be a solution for cities to grow sustainability.
AeroFarms owns the world’s largest indoor vertical farms. The American company has invested $30m into a green revolution that seeks to produce more crops in less space. The greens are manufactured using a technology in which crops are grown in vertical stacks of plant beds, without soil, sunlight or water.
AeroFarms currently operates three vertical farms in Newark, New Jersey (USA). The biggest one is a 70,000-sq-foot facility that has the potential to harvest up to £2m of food per year.

A green future and smart cities

Some constructors and developers are already promoting the use of eco-friendlier and energy efficient materials and it’s expected that others will follow their steps.

Experts in sustainability predict carbon-free cities full of electrical vehicles and bicycles, in which the eco-buildings will blend naturally into the cityscape. They are also predicting the installation of sensors that will communicate information about weather, pollution levels, state of traffic and transportation or the health of the city infrastructure.

 

3-D printed homes

In March 2013, a China based company called WinSun claimed to have printed 10 houses in 24 hours using a 3-D printer that mixed industrial waste and mine tailings. At that moment, no one really believed these type of homes could last. However, a year later the same company further demonstrated the efficiency of their technology by building a five-storey apartment building and a 11,840 square foot villa, including decorative elements inside and out.

3-D printed buildings are, however, a reality that we will be seeing more and more as part of the digital revolution. For example, Dubai announced last year the opening of the first ever 3-D printed office and Amsterdam may soon be home to the first ever 3-D printed bridge.

These are just a few of the more notable features that we expect to see in the smart city of tomorrow. It is obvious that to make tomorrow’s city happen, a tremendous amount of investment will be needed, but it is highly probable that the benefits will outweigh the costs.

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