October 2019

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Autonomous Automated Buildings
and autonomous vehicles are on a collision course as cities get smart or digitized.

Sudha Jamthe

Sudha Jamthe

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What is a city in the first place?

It is generally assumed that it is a physical geographical area with buildings and some nature - trees, beaches, rivers, mountains etc.  What does it mean for us to identify with a city? We call a place our home town. We were born or grew up for a substantial part of our early formative years and have memories and our early identity tied to that place.

Many of us live in one city or town and commute to work in another.  We develop an affinity to the place we work as we create memories of spending time with colleagues and growing up in their careers, developing a part of our professional identities there.

Today, people work remote, and travel occasionally to visit other work locations to meet colleagues with whom they work remotely using some technology.  As the book, 'workism' says, globally spread out companies are giving a sense of purpose, community and identity to employees and is becoming the equivalent of religion.

So there's the home town where one's identity is shaped and is more amorphous than real. There's the work city where we commute daily and spend money on lunch at restaurants, parking, maybe grocery, salons as we shop on our way out of work. Then, there is our relationship with the extended web of cities we visit that is tied to our identity of work and work relationships. So cities are essentially places we spend time in, and it contributes to our relationship with people who share the same physical space with us and contributes to our identity in some form.

What shifts when cities become smart?

Now, in this context, let us think of making our cities smart. The word smart seems to imply that what we have is dumb so I don't like that term. So let's talk about digitizing our cities to automate them to make life better for the users (residents, visitors).

The first step to digitizing the city is digitizing the infrastructure, adding Internet of things sensors and connectivity to add efficiency to manage city resources such as water, waste, energy and real-estate such as parks, bridges, and buildings. The second step is to digitize the resident's communication with the city in the form of city hall online and tools for resident's communication with the city leaders and amongst themselves or non-profit organizations.

All this still keeps the city as a fixed physical space centered around main street and city hall with citizens as spokes to a fixed system tied to separate industries.

The real automation of the city begins when you start digitizing mobility. When you digitize the buses, trains, and offer ride-sharing and autonomous vehicles, it changes the scope of the city center and gives power to residents now to be everywhere in the city, and it brings an influx of visitors more easily to the city for work or for tourism or for social visits. 

When people can be mobile when they work, coffee shops are not just for coffee but become meeting places for business and remote workplaces for people working with companies outside the city.  When people can manage their mobility seamlessly with connectivity everywhere, they care less about the space they use to meet or work and extend that to their cars or trains.

Smart cities to Automated Intelligence

The next step to this automation is intelligence in the buildings, in the mobility infrastructure with a digital identity that can move with people. Mobility data of people's transactional mobility needs of going between home and work or preferred coffee shop drop-offs by a ride-share company or their preference when to hail a taxi vs pickup an e-mobility bike becomes the fuel that powers this intelligence.

Now, I want you to stop and think about why should this intelligence be different in buildings, separate from the mobility vehicle when the user blurs the line between them and is focused on working or living their lives.

Now add to that the complexity that each person has their own preference of time, location and preferred mobility and workspace channels that they want to be personalized to them. For example someone is a morning person and works till their kid comes home at 3pm when they go pick them up while someone else preferred to work during the whole day and enjoy the evening with family or friends.

The mobility data that powers this lifestyle essentially extends the boundary of cities for people and is the key driver that brings the collision of buildings and vehicles as conjoint spaces serving the needs of the people.

[an error occurred while processing this directive]Now let us go back to that topic we started with about what defines a city and how the identity of the person is developed in their home town, the city where they work and extended cities they visit. What is the shift in identity of the person as they blur the boundary of the working space aka building and mobility vehicle? That shift of identity, I believe, is going to shift from the city to the autonomous vehicles. This is where the automated building is on a collision path with autonomous vehicles.

We should not think of where the person spends their time. But let us think about it as what experience of interacting with the data and AI builds trusts and binds the identity of people, so they willingly share data of who they become as mobile working and mobile living beings.

It is time we stop focusing on automating buildings or vehicles for efficiency and begin focusing on the experience we give people with AIX or AIxDesign to seamlessly move between buildings and vehicles to expand their worlds to a more joyful place.

For AIX to work in this shifting boundary between buildings and mobility vehicles, we should capture the context of the person as it travels with them. We should focus on humanizing the AI they will interact with as it contributes to their identity.

Sharing the data transparently will help train the AI to make it work for people will become important. This will give power to the designers and product managers to not only shape the experience of the user.

With the right AIX Design, we can ensure that buildings and vehicles are not vying for the person's attention but are expanding the definition of the city to include the buildings, vehicles, community of people who become part of people's mobility solution. In such a world, AIX Designers will empower people to shape their identities as mobile beings.

For more incite read last month's article A Designer's Guide to work in AI


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