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December 18 2013

Making London's Streets Safer for Pedestrians, Cyclists

Five cyclists were struck and killed by motor vehicles on the streets of London in early November. The deaths occurred within a nine-day period, raising the total number of biking fatalities to 13 for the year

In protest, a large number of the city's bicyclists staged a "die-in" last week outside the offices of Transport for London. They lit candles, painted their faces in fake blood and — essentially — played dead on the roads.

Some have argued the recent deaths have to do with the city's bike lanes: narrow, blue-painted lines on the sides of the streets that, like most cycling paths, don't offer any real separation between those in vehicles and those on bikes. Others, like Mayor Boris Johnson, say reckless bicycling is most likely to blame. Read more...

More about Features, Data, Cities, Big Data, and Global Innovation Series

November 20 2013

How Nest and Smart Technologies Are Re-Inventing Climate Control

Have data, live smarter. That's the mantra of a new generation of connected products, from fitness trackers to finance apps. By measuring and aggregating your activity, whether it's steps taken or money spent, "smart" consumer products aim to help you see patterns in your life, giving you the information you need to change them for the better.

Perhaps the most unexpected place smart technology has cropped up in recent years is in climate control. When the Nest thermostat debuted in 2011, it awoke a sleepy category with novel tech and sleek design, and got us to look at those round things sticking out of our walls not as ugly necessities but as beautiful lifehacking devices. Read more...

More about Global Innovation Series, Tech, Apps Software, Gadgets, and Nest

October 30 2013

7 Apps for a Faster Commute

Time is money; this is more true now than ever before

There are multitudes of apps designed to help you stay organized and be more productive, but you could be wasting precious minutes or hours getting to and home from work. Whether you drive, take the bus, subway or bike to work, we've rounded up seven of the best apps to help you streamline your route and save those crucial minutes

SEE ALSO: 16 Apps to Help You Get Around Your City

1Beat the Traffic


Get up-to-date, real-time traffic information including average speeds, incidents and roadwork currently taking place on your route to work — or your route to anywhere, really. The free version of the app allows for up to three door-to-door addresses within one trip, meaning you can even throw in a coffee stop on your way to the office and still manage to be on time. Or, if you take the same route every day, you can set an alarm within the app to alert you of any roadwork or accidents without having to manually check before heading out the door. Beat the Traffic updates so frequently that many TV and radio stations use its technology to power their traffic reports. Read more...

More about Apps, Global Innovation Series, Tech, Apps Software, and Commute

October 23 2013

These Pedestrian Maps Are a Feat of Design, Data and Diligence

Within a week of moving to New York City, you gain a grasp of "the grid" — streets run east-west, avenues run north-south, and everything follows a pretty simple numerical system. That is, until you get below Houston or pop into another borough. New York is known as a walkable city, but many of the walkers quickly lose their bearings in its concrete jungle. In fact, 10% of New Yorkers are lost at any given time.

We spoke about New York's walkability with Michael Bierut, a partner at NYC-based design firm Pentagram who's been working with New York's Department of Transportation for two years. The DOT wants to improve urban mobility, and it partnered with Pentagram for the LOOK! campaign and to create the city's new signage that displays parking information in a much clearer, hierarchical way. The design consultancy's current DOT project is WalkNYC, a pedestrian wayfinding system. The project was inspired by London's wayfinding system, and it required the collaboration of several firms — Pentagram teamed up with Read more...

More about New York City, Features, Navigation, Global Innovation Series, and Apps Software

September 25 2013

5 Ways Cities Are Using Big Data

New York City released more than 200 high-value data sets to the public on Monday — a way, in part, to provide more content for open-sourced mapping projects like OpenStreetMap.

It's one of the many releases since the Local Law 11 of 2012 passed in February, which calls for more transparency of the city government's collected data.

But it's not just New York: Cities across the world, large and small, are utilizing big data sets — like traffic statistics, energy consumption rates and GPS mapping — to launch projects to help their respective communities. Read more...

More about Lists, Features, Mapping, Big Data, and Global Innovation Series

August 14 2013

For Bike Lanes, Design Makes All The Difference

When we think of design, we think of the products featured on Fab — functional and beautiful. "Art doesn’t just belong on your walls," boasts the product description of a simple but colorful rug. There's also the products on Kickstarter and Indiegogo that defy expectations — a bag is a bag is a bag, until it starts charging your electronics.

But if you've ever had extended contact with a real-life designer, no matter her or his specialty — you will find that design principles extend beyond just gadget features and colors. "Why is the handle here, when it should be here," this designer friend might say. Once someone has power to inspire the design of one thing, they begin seeing bits and pieces everywhere that could benefit from better design Read more...

More about Transportation, Global Innovation Series, Tech, World, and Bikes

July 03 2013

Can Gondolas Fix Urban Transportation Woes?

Most well known for their prevalence in alpine regions, urban gondolas — so-called ski lifts on the slopes — could be part of the next wave of technology that helps alleviate urban traffic.

Urban gondolas, says Gondola Project’s Steven Dale, are one of the fastest growing transportation methods in the world, though they’ve been widely used in industrial work — including mining and milling — since the 19th century.

So, what’s new or innovative about cable-drawn, electricity-powered gondolas in the sky? Most of the appeal comes in the technology’s low-cost deployment, environmental friendliness and ability to utilize air space rather than much-needed ground space. Read more...

More about Features, Transportation, Global Innovation Series, Us World, and Social Good

June 19 2013

Metaio Wants to Bring Augmented Reality Everywhere

From Google Glass to car dashboards to shopping, Augmented Reality (AR) is one of the most talked-about trends in technology

At its core, the idea behind AR is to bring additional context to the "real" world. With the advent of smartphones and tablets, the potential for AR to add context in real-life tasks including finding your way around or fixing a car becomes an actual possibility.

Although AR gained more mainstream recognition over the last few years, most AR projects are confined to designated proof-of-concepts or specific experiences wrapped around a specific app. German company Metaio wants to change that, and its goal is to bring augmented reality everywhere Read more...

More about Ar, Augmented Reality, Global Innovation Series, Tech, and Gadgets

May 15 2013

16 Apps to Help You Get Around Your City

Whether you're exploring a new city or trying to find the fastest route to a new restaurant in your neighborhood, there are many apps to help you navigate. Depending on whether you'd prefer to arrive by bike, foot or car, you might prefer one app over another. Waze will help you navigate traffic via crowdsourcing, while Google Maps usually offers a few options on public transit, just in case you're not completely sure of your time of departure. Many apps plug in to services such as Yelp to help you find a place to eat or get gas

Below, we've rounded up 16 of our favorites. What's your go-to app for getting around? Tell us in the comments Read more...

More about Apps, Iphone, Android, Maps, and Global Innovation Series

August 29 2012

5 Student Projects That Just Might Transform City Life

The children are our future, and while they enjoy their fair share of Angry Birds sessions and Twilight marathons, they're a pretty innovative and impressive bunch. Below, we've outlined five projects that show the young'uns are in control and will use technology to make the world a better place.

"Showing young people how technology is a tool, and fostering an entrepreneurial spirit toward problem solving, can be incredibly empowering," explains Terry Howerton, chairman of the Chicago Tech Academy and founder of the incubator TechNexus. By starting students on a tech track at a young age, we're preparing the next generation to think outside the box and create innovative solutions to the w…
Continue reading...

More About: Global Innovation Series, education, features, innovation, mashable, students

August 22 2012

Get There Faster With These 4 Traffic Apps

Sitting in traffic may seem like a necessary evil, but several app developers are devoted to making driving suck less. Commuting was once a lonely experience with drivers victimized by conditions outside their control. But what if cars on the road could move in harmony rather than like a tidal wave?

Mobile phone technology makes it possible to communicate with the people around you -- passively and indirectly -- therefore allowing everyone to move efficiently together. In addition to helping drivers avoid roadblocks, traffic apps are discovering interesting data around driving and commuting that can in turn inspire cities to create better infrastructures. Here, we've rounded up four a…
Continue reading...

More About: Global Innovation Series, Mobile, features, mashable, mobile apps, navigation, traffic

August 08 2012

The Smart Grid Will Transform the Way Your City Works

Rio Operations CenterUrban populations grow larger every day. Researchers predict that nearly 75% of the world's population will live in cities by the year 2050. As a result of this continued growth, there's a need -- and a demand -- for cities to build smarter infrastructures to ensure reliable operations and provide consistent, sustainable energy.

In the digital age, cities are finding technology can help solve problems more quickly.

One of the biggest advancements in this area is smart grid technology. In simple terms, the smart grid is an advanced type of power grid, which is the system used to distribute electrical power throughout a certain region. A smart grid is different, however, in that it actu…
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More About: Global Innovation Series, Tech, Weather, cities, features, infrastructure, mashable, smart grid

August 01 2012

Need a Driver ASAP? There’s an App for That

One benefit of living in an urban environment is that it's pretty easy to walk from point A to point B. If it's a far distance (or if the weather is inclement), you can hop on the bus or subway. And if you really deserve a treat (or you're just in a rush), you can hail a cab for a private chauffeur.

But, at the risk of channeling #FirstWorldProblems, finding a cab can be kind of a nuisance. Some neighborhoods don't get good taxi traffic, and certain times of day are notoriously hard for cab-seekers to score a ride.

The taxi industry -- $31 billion a year in the U.S. and Europe -- is ripe for innovation, especially as cities become more densely populated, and these services need to tr…
Continue reading...

More About: Global Innovation Series, features, gettaxi, mashable, transportation, uber

October 19 2011

How Twitter Tracks the Spread of Disease in Real Time

The Global Innovation Series is supported by BMW i, a new concept dedicated to providing mobility solutions for the urban environment. It delivers more than purpose-built electric vehicles — it delivers smart mobility services. Visit bmw-i.com or follow @bmwi on Twitter.

When the first cases of swine flu were detected in the spring of 2009, Twitter helped to inflame the panic that spread well ahead of the disease. The idea that anything useful could be mined from the flood of tweets reacting to the nascent threat was widely dismissed.

“Unlike basic Internet search … Twitter seems to have introduced too much noise into the process: As opposed to search requests, which are generally motivated only by a desire to learn more about a given subject, too many Twitter conversations about swine flu seem to be motivated by desires to fit in, do what one’s friends do (i.e. tweet about it) or simply gain more popularity,” explained one NPR article.

Researchers from Google and Yahoo had already found that certain search terms were good indicators of flu activity. Google had even launched Google Flu Trends, which provides public estimations for flu activity. But Twitter, it seemed, was only distracting us from reality — not helping us understand it.

The buzz surrounding H1N1 was at its highest when the number of cases were at its lowest, according to a study from the computational epidemiology research group at the University of Iowa. The researchers were able to cut through the hype to make accurate real-time estimates of flu activity in specific geographic locations.

Yet a multi-disciplinary team of researchers at the University of Iowa had hope that Twitter could not only track the reaction to H1N1, but also track the disease itself by using contextual information in tweets that isn’t available in search terms.

“We had no idea that we would actually be able to do the second part when we started it,” explains Dr. Philip Polgreen, one member of that team. And so, it seems, Twitter could become an innovative scientific tool for epidemiologists.

As the number of actual cases of flu increased to a point where estimates could be compared to reality, the team found a way to execute their plans for real-time disease tracking through Twitter. They created a program that analyzed how the Twitter stream changed as the number of actual cases reported through the Centers for Disease Control fluctuated. No human was needed to decide which terms were relevant — it was all done on the web. The program located Twitter terms that fluctuated in relation to actual cases, which were often related to aspects of disease such as fever temperature and doctor visits.

It then used those terms to spot signs of the flu in other geographic areas before cases were reported. The accuracy of the results demonstrated that it was possible to cut through Twitter’s noise and locate indicators for the flu. At the time, the real-time estimations in the study were one to two weeks faster than that of traditional flu tracking mechanisms — a time difference that matters greatly in making disease estimates useful.

“If you want to allocate resources in an effective manner,” Polgreen says, “you really want to be able to anticipate demand … there are huge implications on staffing and supplies. ”

In a paper about the study published in April, the research team describes its results as “promising” for assessing not just disease activity, but also ancillary issues like treatment side effects or potential medication shortages. At the same time, they’re also realistic about Twitter’s limitations for tracking disease. Not everybody uses Twitter, and there are some places where the social media tool has very few users. Twitter activity is also not constant throughout the week, and the demographic of Twitter users is not representative of the general population.

“I don’t think this will replace traditional surveillance at all,” Polgreen says. “In fact, there’s no way to validate these lines of investigation without traditional surveillance information. But I think, and I like to hope, that it provides another stream of information.”

The green line shows the CDC's measurement of flu-like disease in one region between October 2009 and May 2010. The red line shows the output of the research team's estimator program.

Image courtesy of iStockphoto, Olena_T

Series Supported by BMW i


The Global Innovation Series is supported by BMW i, a new concept dedicated to providing mobility solutions for the urban environment. It delivers more than purpose-built electric vehicles; it delivers smart mobility services within and beyond the car. Visit bmw-i.com or follow @bmwi on Twitter.

Are you an innovative entrepreneur? Submit your pitch to BMW i Ventures, a mobility and tech venture capital company.

More About: Global Innovation Series, H1N1, mashable, medicine, Social Media, Twitter

For more Social Media coverage:

October 12 2011

5 Tech Innovations That Could Change the Developing World

The Global Innovation Series is supported by BMW i, a new concept dedicated to providing mobility solutions for the urban environment. It delivers more than purpose-built electric vehicles — it delivers smart mobility services. Visit bmw-i.com or follow @bmwi on Twitter.

one laptop per childAcross the developing world, new technologies are helping to distribute resources for education, connectivity and health far and wide. Innovators are finding ways to make technology cheaper and therefore accessible to millions previously excluded by high costs.

Affordability is often the greatest hurdle to overcome in products from sanitation devices to tablet computers, mobile phones to solar panels.

Take a look at these five tech breakthroughs and how they are helping to level the playing field in developing countries.

1. Inexpensive Tablets

One week after Amazon released the Kindle Fire, the first tablet computer to present a serious threat to Apple‘s iPad, another historic tablet was released. On the other side of the world on October 5, India launched the world’s cheapest tablet, Aakash, priced at just $35 for students with government subsidies or $60 in stores, which the government hopes will reduce the digital divide between rich and poor.

If that price — roughly one-tenth the cost of the cheapest iPad — doesn’t sound accessible enough, the Indian government is distributing the first 100,000 units of the Android-powered tablet to college students for free, Reuters reports. “The rich have access to the digital world, the poor and ordinary have been excluded. Aakash will end that digital divide,” said Kapil Sibal, India’s minister of communications and information technology.

The tablet was developed by DataWind, a small British company, with researchers from the Indian Institute of Technology. In addition to fitting the price to the budget of middle class Indians, the device was tested playing two hours of video at 118 degrees Fahrenheit to replicate the oppressive heat of northern India’s summers.

2. Inexpensive Laptops

One Laptop Per Child‘s XO and Intel’s Classmate PC share a common mission: Bringing children access to education through computer ownership. Both programs distribute rugged, affordable laptops to schoolchildren across the developing world.

Intel developed a suite of educational software to accompany the little blue laptop, which costs between $400 and $500 each to distribute. These programs enable teachers to communicate with their students through web-based applications. The computer features a swivel screen, essentially converting the laptop into a touch-tablet. Its durability was tested by baking it in an oven and placing it in a freezer.

Similarly, One Laptop Per Child donates rugged, low-cost laptops that don’t even require an electric outlet. The $200 computers are distributed to students between ages 6-12, so that they are integrated into their early education. Take a look at the video above to learn more about the non-profit’s work.

3. Inexpensive Mobile Phones

vodafone 150

As mobile phone ownership rapidly spreads across the developing world, many have tried to create the world’s cheapest cellphone — even Venezuela’s president Hugo Chavez.

Today, Vodafone 150 can claim that title, selling a mobile phone for just under $15. While the phone is not feature-rich, it offers voice calling, text messaging and mobile payments, and it will have an enormous impact on those who have never before connected by mobile. A slightly more expensive Vodafone 250 model is available with an FM radio and color screen.

The phone was launched in 2010 in India, Turkey and eight African nations. Of course, entering into these new markets meant a lot of work to extend the mobile coverage area by the provider.

4. Alternative Energy

SunSaluter, winner of the Startups for Good challenge, aims to bring solar panels to villages in the developing world that have never had access to electricity. While solar energy is a hot topic across the world, its expense has prevented deeper penetration. Eden Full, a mechanical engineering undergraduate at Princeton University, developed solar panels that optimize energy collection as they rotate to face the sun for as much time as possible each day. The system costs just $10 and uses 40% fewer panels than typical solar energy thanks to its rotations.

5. Improved Sanitation

Bill Gates emphasized the importance of sanitation improvements when he pledged to reinvent the toilet for the developing world.

The computer innovator has a point. According to water.org, one billion people don’t have access to clean water, and 2.5 billion people don’t have improved sanitation. So it should come as no surprise that improving sanitation is key to the progress of developing countries.

While cheap laptops and tablets are certainly exciting, some of the life improving technologies in the developing world don’t even require electricity. Last year, India’s Tata Chemicals released the Tata Swach (the Hindi word for clean), an affordable water filter (priced at around $21) that uses nanotechnology, requires no electricity and meets the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency‘s sanitation standards.

The filter is made of rice husk ash (the natural byproduct of making polished rice) and fine nano-silver particles to prohibit bacteria growth. Using the filter prevents against waterborne bacteria and viruses. When Swach was released, Tata said only 6% of urban households and 1% of rural households in India were using water purification devices.

Series Supported by BMW i


The Global Innovation Series is supported by BMW i, a new concept dedicated to providing mobility solutions for the urban environment. It delivers more than purpose-built electric vehicles; it delivers smart mobility services within and beyond the car. Visit bmw-i.com or follow @bmwi on Twitter.

Are you an innovative entrepreneur? Submit your pitch to BMW i Ventures, a mobility and tech venture capital company.

More About: computers, developing countries, features, Global Innovation Series, mashable, tablets

September 07 2011

Beyond BAC: How the Breathalyzer Is Poised to Revolutionize Medical Diagnostics

The Global Innovation Series is supported by BMW i, a new concept dedicated to providing mobility solutions for the urban environment. It delivers more than purpose-built electric vehicles — it delivers smart mobility services. Visit bmw-i.com or follow @bmwi on Twitter.

We all know about the Breathalyzer, a handheld device used by police officers to determine one’s blood alcohol level on the spot. But recent research has discovered some other interesting applications for the digital tool.

Breath alcohol testing devices were first developed in the 1940s, and in 1954, Dr. Robert Borkenstein of the Indiana State Police invented the patented Breathalyzer.

Since then, researchers have advanced the science behind breathalyzers to make the tool even more useful — it can indicate the presence of disease, according to Professor Perena Gouma, director of Stony Brook University’s Center for Nanomaterials and Sensor Development. Gouma and several other research teams around the world are making great strides in breath analysis and have high hopes for the application of the technology, since you can “monitor breath content for disease or metabolic malfunction.”

“I think breath analysis is the new frontier and the future of medical testing,” says Dr. Raed Dweik, professor of medicine and director of the breath analysis program at the Cleveland Clinic. Gouma concurs, citing it as a “disruptive technology” that could change the way people think about diagnostics.

Medical Testing

We breathe in oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide — but there’s much more in our breath than that. Science has advanced, and Dweik says we can detect byproducts of lots of things in one breath — our own metabolism, metabolisms of diseases that we have, and gases that entered us from the outside environment. “There’s a rich matrix of compounds that can tell a lot about the state of our health and what diseases we’re suffering from,” he says.

Breathalyzers are able to measure these gases and compounds even in very low concentrations — in the parts per million or even billion. Since all of our blood circulates through our lungs and the air we exhale comes from the lungs, one single breath contains a lot of information about what’s going on in our blood and in our bodies, helping doctors diagnose and monitor certain conditions.

Dr. Gouma’s team’s nanosensors utilize resistive semiconducting technology — they make for a scientific yet economic tool (roughly $20 per breathalyzer) that allow her to test for particular chemicals. “We have over 300 different gases in our breath, and we know some of them to be markers of disease,” says Gouma. For example, acetone is a marker that indicates blood sugar levels, so you can monitor diabetes with an exhale and avoid having to draw blood, and still know whether you should take medication. The possibility of exhaling instead of having to prick oneself to take blood samples every day could lead to improved compliance for blood sugar monitoring, and lead to an overall improvement in a diabetic patient’s quality of life.

The advantage of breath analysis is two-fold: It’s non-invasive and non-intrusive. A blood test and even urine tests are somewhat intrusive, but a breath test can be conducted almost anywhere, anytime. It can also be done repeatedly without adverse effects, unlike X-rays, which can lead to damage from radiation exposure.

The key to identifying disease is to develop a sensor for a gas that is only present in the breath of those who are infected. Once researchers can detect more gases and determine that a certain gas is exclusive to a disease, breath analysis will have even more applications for other ailments.


In addition to testing for the presence and levels of certain gases, there’s also breathprint analysis — examining the big picture of the thousands of gases in the breath and seeing how one’s breathprint is different from another’s. This could be useful to compare the breath of someone with the flu and someone without it, and the same goes for kidney or liver disease and eventually, many other diseases.

Dweik’s research has shown that breathprints can be quite different between lung cancer patients. Dweik uses an “electronic nose” with 32 sensors — each sensor reacts differently to different compounds in your breath. “When you breathe over these sensors, they change in different ways and create a smellprint that is quite distinct between people who have cancer and people who do not, with 85% accuracy.” Of course, medicine isn’t perfect, and the drawback to the electronic nose is that Dweik’s team doesn’t yet know what compounds in breath give that smell signature — they could say if there is lung cancer or not, but can’t currently indicate why or which gas indicates cancer. Dweik admits that the smellprint shows proof of concept, but is lacking the link to the biology of the cancer. It’s a promising field, and smellprints and breathalyzer sensors will need to be used symbiotically to help doctors develop the technology even further. Breathprints should help doctors figure out what gases and compounds are indicative of what diseases, and then attune sensors to detect those compounds.

For now, the lung cancer smellprint is a big step. Lung cancer typically presents itself late — a patient might cough up blood, then have a biopsy done, but by that point, the cancer has advanced. Unlike breast cancer, which can be detected and treated early with annual mammograms, there isn’t a screening test for lung cancer, which means that this breath analysis technology could go a long way toward saving lives.

Implications for the Future

“This is going to change medical diagnosis work,” says Gouma. An inexpensive, portable handheld breathalyzer can empower individuals to take care of their health. “And that means a lot of better health and welfare, for employers, for insurance, for physicians … I think it’s going to have a great impact, and very soon.”

Dweik says the diagnosis and monitoring of diabetes, lung cancer, and kidney and liver disease are the “low-hanging fruit” in this field, and that researchers are looking to get more sensitive sensors to broaden the scope of what a Breathalyzer can detect, including asthma, heart failure and hypertension. “Now the search is on for the next molecule — we’re in the process of discovery, trying to sift through and see which of those compounds are useful and which can be used in medical tests.”

“Almost any disease could be detected 40 years down the line,” Dweik says. “This is really a whole new field that has huge potential to revolutionize the way we do medical testing and monitoring.” And it has profound potential for global health.

Series Supported by BMW i

The Global Innovation Series is supported by BMW i, a new concept dedicated to providing mobility solutions for the urban environment. It delivers more than purpose-built electric vehicles; it delivers smart mobility services within and beyond the car. Visit bmw-i.com or follow @bmwi on Twitter.

Are you an innovative entrepreneur? Submit your pitch to BMW i Ventures, a mobility and tech venture capital company.

Image courtesy of iStockphoto, powerofforever

More About: gadgets, Global Innovation Series, health, medicine, Tech

For more Tech & Gadgets coverage:

July 13 2011

How 4 Cities Are Deploying High-Tech Bike Sharing Programs

The Global Innovation Series is supported by BMW i, a new concept dedicated to providing mobility solutions for the urban environment. It delivers more than purpose-built electric vehicles — it delivers smart mobility services. Visit bmw-i.com or follow @bmwi on Twitter.

Cities around the world are at various stages of bike sharing initiatives, offering membership-based systems for short-term rentals of bikes to get around urban areas. From San Francisco to Toronto and London to Melbourne, these programs incorporate high-tech features to manage and monitor thousands of bikes.

Most of the bike programs operate in similar ways:

  • Stations are placed in strategic locations and consist of a kiosk with docks — the kiosk contains software running the system. Each dock holds a single bike. Each station can hold one or several docks, depending on space restraints and demand.
  • Users subscribe to service plans in varying increments of time to gain access to bikes in the system. Each city offers independent plans and fees.

Here’s a closer look at some of the programs and technology bringing more efficiency to the massive undertaking of monitoring and managing bikes amongst thousands of city residents.

Denver — B-cycle program

The Denver B-cycle program launched in April 2010 and claims dibs as the first large-scale municipal bike sharing system in the United States. The key organization involved in the launch of Denver B-cycle is Denver Bike Sharing, a non-profit owner and operator of the bike sharing system. Denver Bike Sharing works closely with multiple city departments and agencies to ensure the success of the program, and multiple private businesses have become sponsors of Denver B-cycle.

The pilot for the current bike program was initiated during the Democratic National Convention as Denver’s “Freewheelin’” program — 1,000 bikes were distributed to visitors and residents for use during the convention. Afterward, the Denver 2008 Convention Host Committee contributed $1 million to Denver Bike Sharing from the convention’s surplus money to benefit the city’s residents and visitors.

The B-cycle program now runs with 500 bikes, and members can access more than 350 miles of bike paths and trails in addition to traversing the city. To obtain a bike, users walk directly to the B-cycle they want to ride, press a button and tap their B-cycle card — a bike is released within 3 to 8 seconds. Access to the system starts at $5 for 24 hours, $20 for 7 days, and $30 for 30 days; annual membership is $65. If a biker picks up and returns their bicycle to any station within 30 minutes, no additional usage fees apply since short trips are largely the intention for the program.

Denver’s program incorporates technology and renewable energy with:

  • 21 solar-powered stations
  • RFID chips embedded in every B-card
  • Wireless technology for communication between the stations and a central server
  • GPS in the bikes
  • An iPhone app called “Bcycle” created by Amadeus Consulting, which lets users check real-time B-station status, including the number of bikes and open docks at nearby stations

According to Ben Turner of Denver Bike Sharing, the program has been successful. Annual memberships rose from 1,807 members in 2010 to more than 2000 so far in 2011. Short-term memberships went from 32,922 in 2010 to 15,351 to date putting them on track to at least matching, if not surpassing, last year’s numbers. In 2010, there were 102,981 B-cycle rides. Just over halfway into 2011, there have been 73,863 rides.

Montreal & Toronto — BIXI Bike Programs

Montreal’s Bixi bike sharing system launched in May 2009 with more than 1,000 bikes — it claims to be North America’s first large-scale bike-share program. The program has expanded to 5,050 bicycles at more than 400 bike stations, most recently adding the city of Westmount to their coverage area. More than 40,000 Montrealers are members, and since the start of the program, they’ve logged 5 million trips, 1.5 million of which have taken place since April 15, 2011. The Montreal program includes stations both downtown and in more residential areas reaching commuters.

The company behind the program’s bikes, stations and technology is Montreal-based Public Bike System Company (PBSC) using the brand name Bixi (“bike” plus “taxi”). PBSC also runs similar programs in Toronto, Melbourne, London, Washington D.C., Minneapolis, Ottawa, and on the Washington State University campus for students. A program in Boston is launching soon. Initially, the quick assembly and mobility of the stations was critical for Montreal to facilitate removal of the stations during heavy winter snows, but cities deploying the system today benefit from easy installation with no need for construction.

The Toronto Bixi Bike Program launched on May 3, 2011, with 1,000 bikes, 80 BIXI stations and 1,500 docking points. PBCS has worked closely with the city’s transportation agency since being awarded the contract to install the system into the city’s downtown core. In the short time since the program’s launch, it has garnered more than 2,000 members and logged 100,000 trips.

The Bixi systems are modular and portable, running off solar power and battery. When a system isn’t being used for an extended period of time, it goes into sleep mode until the next user touches the screen to wake up the station. This feature ensures there is enough energy to power each station throughout the day, and there is also a power management system monitoring each station’s power.

Because PBCS has opened some of their data for public use, other companies have developed mobile apps to help users find Bixi bike stations and check bike availability in any of the cities where they’re located. One of the more popular apps is SpotCycle for Android and iPhone.

Users can purchase a subscription plan, set up their accounts on their respective city-specific Bixi website, connect their credit card securely to their account, and monitor their usage at any time. All trips 30 minutes and under are included in their subscription. Additional fees are applied to trips over 30 minutes. Members are mailed a plastic “key” with an RFID chip that is read by inserting the key into a slot on any Bixi station.

San Francisco — Bay Area Regional Bicycle Sharing Pilot Program

One bike-sharing program that has been a long time coming is in the Bay Area. The Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD) is planning for a pilot bike-sharing program that will run along the San Francisco Peninsula, which includes the cities of San Jose, Mountain View, Palo Alto, Redwood City and San Francisco County. The service will be focused on the Caltrain corridor (Caltrain is the commuter rail for the San Francisco Peninsula). A request for proposals will go out this summer, and the plan is to award a contract to a vendor in the Fall of 2011. The initial goal is to deploy 1,000 shared-use bicycles at up to 100 kiosks by spring 2012 — 500 of those are to be in San Francisco proper.

Heath Maddox, senior planner for the Livable Streets Subdivision of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA), says the defining characteristics of the service they’ve outlined in an RFP draft is that the bike system be solar-powered with no need for external AC power and no requirement for excavation that would turn the installation process into a construction project. The portability of stations and docks vastly simplifies environmental review based on the California Environmental Quality Act, Maddox explains.

“As a planner, one of the interesting things about this project is that there will be a lot of data about how bikes are being used,” says Maddox, referring to not just the retrieving of and returning of bikes, but also where the bikes actually are being ridden. “It would tell us where the high demand corridors are, and we could plan network improvements accordingly, not just for users of the bicycle program but for anybody riding a bike in the area.”

In San Francisco, the stations will be concentrated within a roughly two-mile square area in the city’s core where the Caltrain line, Transbay bus terminal, BART stations and ferries converge. Along the Caltrain line outside San Francisco, the places suitable for bike sharing are limited due to much smaller downtown areas with a focus on local Caltrain stations. Maddox anticipates many more people using the bikes independent of transit in San Francisco, while use in other downtown areas may be limited to people living or working close to the Caltrain stations.

Maddox, who first experienced bike-sharing programs in Europe more than 10 years ago, says the technology then was much simpler. Copenhagen, an early leader in bike sharing, employed nominal deposit locks where a user inserted coins to unlock a bike and could only retrieve their coins once the bike was properly returned to a docking station. Today’s ultra-modern systems integrate RFID and cellular communications, solar power, GPS and mobile apps, taking bike sharing to a whole new level.

Series Supported by BMW i

The Global Innovation Series is supported by BMW i, a new concept dedicated to providing mobility solutions for the urban environment. It delivers more than purpose-built electric vehicles; it delivers smart mobility services within and beyond the car. Visit bmw-i.com or follow @bmwi on Twitter.

Are you an innovative entrepreneur? Submit your pitch to BMW i Ventures, a mobility and tech venture capital company.

Image courtesy of Flickr, Denver B-cycle

More About: bicycle, bike sharing, bixi, Global Innovation Series, public bike share, rfid

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July 06 2011

How the Private Space Race Has Taken Off

The Global Innovation Series is supported by BMW i, a new concept dedicated to providing mobility solutions for the urban environment. It delivers more than purpose-built electric vehicles — it delivers smart mobility services. Visit bmw-i.com or follow @bmwi on Twitter.

“We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.”

Those famous words, uttered by President John F. Kennedy at Rice University in 1962, kicked off a decade of innovation and scientific progress that culminated with the Apollo 11 moon landing in 1969, a moment that has since defined humanity’s tenacity for science and exploration.

The last manned mission to the moon was in 1972, though. No man or woman has set foot on the moon for 39 years. Not only that, but NASA is retiring the Space Shuttle fleet. Space Shuttle Endeavour has flown its last mission and Space Shuttle Atlantis will fly the last Space Shuttle mission (STS-135) next month.

If you fear that innovation in space aviation is coming to grinding a halt though, think again. While the government is taking a break from manned space flight, the private sector is gearing up for a new kind of space race — one that made SpaceShipOne, the first manned commercial spaceflight. That’s only the beginning, though — companies across the world are working on everything from space tourism to commercial space stations.

Private manned spaceflight is set to revolutionize aerospace and give future generations the ability to visit the stars on the cheap. Here’s some background on what has been accomplished so far and what space technologies humanity can expect to come to fruition in the near future.

The First Private Manned Spaceflight & the Ansari X Prize

Space flight and commercial launches have been the domain of world governments for decades, particularly NASA and the U.S. government. It wasn’t until 1984 that commercial satellites could be launched with private expendable vehicles, thanks to the Commercial Space Launch Act.

In 1995, entrepreneur Dr. Peter Diamandis founded the X Prize Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to the creation of “radical breakthroughs for the benefit of humanity.” Here’s how Diamandis explained the original X Prize during the foundation’s first press conference:

“We’re announcing something called the X Prize, a $10 million contest to privately build a spaceship that’s able to carry three individuals, fly to 100 kilometers in altitude and do that twice within two weeks.”

Diamandis was inspired by the 1919 Orteig Prize, a $25,000 award for completing the first nonstop flight from New York City to Paris. It was eventually won by Charles Lindbergh with The Spirit of St. Louis. More importantly, the prize sparked a wave of innovation in aviation that Diamandis wanted to emulate in space travel.

The prize, eventually renamed the Ansari X Prize after donors Amir and Anousheh Ansari, was won finally won in 2004 by SpaceShipOne, a ship designed by aerospace engineer Burt Rutan and funded by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen.

By the time SpaceShipOne made its victory lap, more than two dozen teams had competed for the original X Prize. According to the foundation, these teams spent more than $100 million towards the pursuit of private spaceflight, sparking the beginning of a new era in space travel.

Virgin Galactic

Just a month before SpaceShipOne made its historic flight, Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group signed a deal with Paul Allen and Burt Rutan’s joint venture (Mojave Aerospace Ventures) for the rights to create a fleet of ships based on SpaceShipOne’s original design.

Eventually a joint venture was created by Burt Rutan’s Scaled Composites and Branson’s Virgin Galactic: The Spaceship Company. The joint venture would create SpaceShipTwo, a ship designed to carry six passengers and two pilots. Virgin Galactic would use the fleet of ships to create the world’s first private spaceliner, giving its customers the chance to make the trip into space and experience “zero G” from 110 kilometers above the earth.

The first SpaceShipTwo was unveiled in 2009 and has since made several test flights from Spaceport America, the world’s first commercial spaceport, based out of New Mexico. The joint venture is creating a fleet of five ships, with the first two already named (VSS Enterprise and VSS Voyager).

The first public flights are expected to take off by the end of this year or early 2012. More than 400 people have booked flights with Virgin Galactic for the not-so-small sum of $200,000 per ticket.

The Private Space Race

While Branson’s Virgin Galactic may be the best-known company in the private space race, it faces competition from a small group of companies trying to get their own spaceships into the air and above the earth. Still, the tremendous effort of getting anything into orbit, especially people, has proven to be a challenge of the highest order.

The only other commercial company to actually get a reusable spacecraft out of the Earth’s atmosphere is SpaceX, a private aerospace company founded by PayPal and Tesla Motors cofounder Elon Musk. The company achieved this with Dragon, a craft designed to carry seven people.

Dragon made its first flight in December 2010 and was successfully recovered, making it the first orbital flight by a private company (SpaceShipOne was a sub-orbital ship). Dragon has yet to make a manned spaceflight, but intends to make several in the next two to three years.

Dragon, along with the Falcon 1 and Falcon 9 rocket, form the core of SpaceX’s commercial spaceflight business.

While the company focuses on space transport (it has several lucrative contracts with NASA and others), Musk has made it clear that he wants to put a man on Mars. In the meantime, with the end of the NASA Space Shuttle fleet approaching, it will be up to companies like SpaceX to provide crew and cargo to resupply the International Space Station (ISS).

Other companies, such as Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Bigelow Aerospace, are also in the private space race. Bigelow in particular plans to create two space stations in the next five to seven years.

What’s on the Horizon?

While we may not be living on the moon or going on interstellar adventures with Captain Jean Luc Picard, countless milestones have been achieved in private spaceflight during the last decade. And while a flight on Virgin Galactic will only be available to the rich and famous at first, the barriers to manned spaceflight will continue to drop as more companies innovate in the space (pun intended).

Concepts like the space elevator may seem far-fetched now, but so was the idea that traveling into space was even possible. And we doubt that the human race, known for its penchant for exploration, will be fazed by the challenges of reaching the final frontier.

The private space race is on.

Series Supported by BMW i

The Global Innovation Series is supported by BMW i, a new concept dedicated to providing mobility solutions for the urban environment. It delivers more than purpose-built electric vehicles; it delivers smart mobility services within and beyond the car. Visit bmw-i.com or follow @bmwi on Twitter.

Are you an innovative entrepreneur? Submit your pitch to BMW i Ventures, a mobility and tech venture capital company.

Lead image courtesy of Flickr, densaer

More About: Ansari X Prize, Dragon, elon musk, Global Innovation Series, Google, innovation series, NASA, Paul Allen, space, SpaceX, Virgin Galactic, x-prize

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June 29 2011

3 Simple Ways Tech Can Grow Greener Cities

The Global Innovation Series is supported by BMW i, a new concept dedicated to providing mobility solutions for the urban environment. It delivers more than purpose-built electric vehicles — it delivers smart mobility services. Visit bmw-i.com or follow @bmwi on Twitter.

In the annals of urban design, Peter Calthorpe is a living legend. He is the man who made Portland, Oregon the bustling eco-friendly metropolis it is today by insisting on light rail links rather than the prior plans for a pointless (but symmetrical) ring road around the city. Here is a man who is helping to build China, three cities at a time (literally — that’s his current roster) while still advising the state of California on its future urban growth. He is a thought-leader and author, most recently, of Urbanism In the Age of Climate Change.

When it comes to technology, however, Calthorpe is a professional cynic. He chides city bosses for relying on technology to fix their environmental ills — providing cosmetic offerings like electric vehicle charging stations, for example, or iPhone apps that identify parking spots — rather than making greater, greener tweaks to the urban organism itself. “You can’t put the cart before the horse,” he says, “and the horse is the city. You’re never going to take away this social animal stuff. Proximity is more important to us than ever. Technology matters, but I don’t think it’s a substitute for fundamental urban design.”

That doesn’t mean a city has to make itself into Manhattan — though Calthorpe is well aware that such dense environments are the most eco-friendly human habitations, pound for pound. We don’t need to go that far to make our cities much more energy-efficient. Instead, Calthorpe points to a suburb of Oakland called Rockridge as his prime example: dense, leafy streets with plenty of shops, nice houses, mass transit and a high walk score. If we all lived that closely, he says, we’d make a massive dent in the causes of climate change — and we’d be happier, more social and more creative creatures to boot. “Even the high-tech, Internet-connected world wants to be in the same place,” Calthorpe says. “They’re not interested in living on a mountaintop. They want to crowd into places that are all about exchanges of ideas.”

How to Make It Happen

Having sampled the delights of Rockridge — and similar dense walkable suburbs, such as Cobble Hill in Brooklyn — we can’t help but agree with Calthorpe and his goals. But we do think there are a few areas where cutting-edge technology can help him reach them. Indeed, Calthorpe admits that as a 60-something, he is not as familiar with the tech world as he could be. So here are a few ideas:

1. Offer Wi-Fi on public transit. Calthorpe knows good public transit is essential to the kind of neighborhoods he wants (Rockridge was built as a “streetcar suburb” and still “has streetcar DNA,” he says), and he points to higher ridership rates in cities with high walk scores, like San Francisco. But anyone who spends time riding the MUNI in the Bay Area knows that it is an experience in dire need of improvement, and it isn’t attracting all the riders it possibly could. Meanwhile, tech companies like Google and Apple are running dozens of Wi-Fi-enabled shuttles from the city to the Valley every day so employees can noodle on laptops or stream movies on tablets as they ride.

So why not implement a bus-based Wi-Fi system? That’s the major advantage transit has always had over driving — you can do other stuff while you’re on it. And in today’s hectic work world, extra time online during the day is like gold dust. It wouldn’t even have to be free. Cities could provide it to riders at cost for a monthly fee, or get companies to sponsor it. They’d reap the rewards in massively increased white-collar ridership and provide an elusive sense that riding the bus is actually something to aspire to.

2. Encourage checkins. So you want to increase your city’s walk score? Then give people more reasons to walk around, using the tools they already have in their pockets. Indeed, get them addicted to it. That dovetails nicely with the purpose of location-based checkin services like Foursquare and Gowalla. Merchants could get a small tax break for being active participants on these services, especially if their checkins came with information on where you can walk next. Cities could dot the landscape with checkin posts that offer information on the neighborhood or track and reward you for being on foot. While you’re at it, these posts could offer transit details on nearby buses, and inform you how much money you’ll save getting to your destination on transit versus using gas, much as Google Maps does now.

3. Install more parking sensors. Yes, parking sensors have primarily been used for those iPhone apps that tell you where to park. But they could just as easily be used to change driving behavior. Calthorpe intentionally reduces parking spots in the cities he designs in order to reduce the number of cars on the road. You could get the same effect by upping the price at peak times and limiting the amount of time you’re allowed to park in a given spot before you get a ticket, forcing drivers to use their cars for crucial, timely trips only — and take transit the rest of the time. What’s more, parking sensor activity would be your best guide to where new transit services are needed.

How else could new technology help bring about Peter Calthorpe’s vision of tight, friendly, walkable suburbs? Let us know your ideas in the comments.

Image courtesy of iStockphoto, andipantz

Series Supported by BMW i

The Global Innovation Series is supported by BMW i, a new concept dedicated to providing mobility solutions for the urban environment. It delivers more than purpose-built electric vehicles; it delivers smart mobility services within and beyond the car. Visit bmw-i.com or follow @bmwi on Twitter.

Are you an innovative entrepreneur? Submit your pitch to BMW i Ventures, a mobility and tech venture capital company.

More About: city planning, environment, foursquare, Global Innovation Series, gowalla, location-based networking, peter calthorpe, public transportation, technology, wi-fi

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June 15 2011

5 Innovative Ways to Teach Your Skills Online

The Global Innovation Series is supported by BMW i, a new concept dedicated to providing mobility solutions for the urban environment. It delivers more than purpose-built electric vehicles — it delivers smart mobility services. Visit bmw-i.com or follow @bmwi on Twitter.

classThrough projects like Khan Academy, MIT OpenCourseWare and University of the People, the Internet has made it easier for anyone to be a student. Now it’s also making it easier for anyone to become a teacher.

Several platforms have launched within the last two years that democratize teaching. It’s now possible for anyone to teach anything — whether it’s how to play the Irish whistle or master investing basics — without a teaching contract, special software or a brick-and-mortar classroom.

Here are five ways to get started.

1. Skillshare

Skillshare is an online marketplace that sells tickets to offline classes. Anyone who knows something others would be interested in learning about can sell tickets to a class on the site.

Skillshare takes a 15% cut of the tickets sold. Right now most classes on the just-launched platform take place in New York City, but it is open everywhere.

2. Sophia

Sophia helps experts curate the social web in a way that reliably explains a topic. Anybody can compile a free “lesson packet” on the platform using slideshows, videos, audio clips and text that they either upload or pull in from sources like YouTube. When it’s published, they’re encouraged to engage with those who view it through an attached Q&A board.

Lessons can be voted “academically sound” by subject experts (users who hold a degree in that field or teach a course on it), which helps sort out good material from the noise of an open platform.

3. Learnable

Learnable asks its teachers to put together an entire online course rather than a single lesson packet, but it also gives them the opportunity to make money from it. The site was spun off from Sitepoint.com, a resource for web developers that hosts forums, blogs, and, yes, courses on web topics.

Anybody can create a course on Learnable by bundling articles, documents and videos into consecutive lessons that students work through at their own pace. A Q&A section attached to each course becomes its forum, and users can see who else is enrolled in the course.

Most lessons are priced around $20, and Learnable collects 50% of each student’s fee.

4. Udemy

Udemy is similar to Learnable. Teachers use the site’s platform to easily build courses by combining video, PowerPoint presentations, PDFs, audio files and zip files. On Udemy, they can also host live classes.

Some classes on Udemy are free. Paid courses typically range from $5 to $250, and Udemy keeps 20% of the ticket price.

5. Tildee

If you’re looking to explain something relatively simple, Tildee works great. Type a title, add an explanation, paste links to the necessary Google maps, videos or images and boom — you have a tutorial.

The platform doesn’t leave much room for detail or consecutive lessons, but if people ask you over and over again how to make your famous cookies or how to get to your offices, it’s nice to have a shareable link to refer them to.

Series Supported by BMW i

The Global Innovation Series is supported by BMW i, a new concept dedicated to providing mobility solutions for the urban environment. It delivers more than purpose-built electric vehicles; it delivers smart mobility services within and beyond the car. Visit bmw-i.com or follow @bmwi on Twitter.

Are you an innovative entrepreneur? Submit your pitch to BMW i Ventures, a mobility and tech venture capital company.

More About: education, Global Innovation Series, Learnable, skillshare, Sophia, teaching, Tildee, udemy

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