Snobal Weekly

Plan B? Helping combat climate change with AI

Starting today until the 27th thousands of students and workers across Australia and 150 other countries will part in the global School Strike for Climate inspired by Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg.

The strike is about demanding an end to the age of fossil fuels and ensuring our political leaders take real and urgent action.

There is a ticking clock to all this as we know.

The science is undeniable.

But what is also starting to become clearer is the impact technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) can play in combating climate change through more efficient building design, maintenance and monitoring not to mention using data to achieve energy efficiency.

A recently published paper called “Tackling Climate Change with Machine Learning” has brought researchers together from a host of research bodies including Harvard University, University of Pennsylvania, University of Colorado, Boulder, Universite de Montreal , MIT, Stanford University, Deep Mind, Microsoft, Google and ETH Zurich.

The paper aims to provide an overview of where machine learning (ML – a branch of AI ) can be applied with high impact in the fight against climate change.

Our key takeaways reading the paper?

  1. Enhanced understanding of data: Many areas of transportation lack data, and decision-makers often plan transport infrastructure and policy based on uncertain information. ML can provide information about mobility patterns thereby improving operational efficiency of transport methods that emit significant CO2.
  2. Alternative to meetings: Leveraging newer more immersive technologies such as virtual reality (VR) we could potentially replace passenger trips with virtual meetings and help reduce transport per se.
  3. Designing for efficiency: ML can be applied to create more efficient vehicle engines, improved aerodynamics and reducing a vehicle’s weight or tire resistance. through failure detection or material design. [This same thinking can also be applied to built asset design ensuring the design of more sustainable buildings.].
  4. Optimising buildings: Applying technologies to reduce both the cost of build of and greenhouse gas emissions . [Snobal’s XR review springs to mind here which was created with the vision of reducing rework in the construction of complex built environments].

But our key takeaway is collaboration. And all of us taking responsibility to change our behaviour. As the paper highlights:

“…technology alone is not enough – technologies that would reduce climate change have been available for years, but have largely not been adopted at scale by society. While we hope that ML will be useful in reducing the costs associated with climate action, humanity also must decide to act…”

Read:. There is no plan B.

You can read the full research report here.

You might also like:

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Want to push the frontiers of science & technology? Think small.

Punching well above our weight in terms of pushing the boundaries of virtual reality and augmented reality as applied to engineering and construction is what we do well at Snobal.

It’s what we’ve always done well.

It is literally baked into our DNA. Working in an incredibly agile way, always iteratively and collaboratively with clients and with a focus on cross collaboration across disciplines and ideas. It has enabled Snobal to produce as the article says “…markedly more disruptive work than large ones[teams]”. 

But in the world of science and technology it can mean small teams can be underestimated.

Looking at more than 65 million scientific papers, patents, and software projects from the past six decades James Evans, a sociologist at the Staša Milojević who studies the history of science, we can see some reasons why. Evans found that

small teams are far more likely to introduce fresh, disruptive ideas that take science and technology in radically new directions…small teams fuel the future, generating ideas that, if they succeed, will be the source of big-team development.

Evans isn’t alone in this finding.

As reported in this The Atlantic article Indiana University Bloomington researcher Staša Milojević analyzed the titles of 20 million scientific papers and found a similar pattern.

So why are small teams more disruptive?

It’s a question that does not have a clear cut answer.

But the key learning’s we take from the article is that firstly big does not always mean better – especially when you’re talking about groundbreaking ideas and innovation in technology and science.

And secondly, that necessity ( for e.g restricted resources and time?) can sometimes truly be the mother of bold inventions.

Read the full article here on why small teams fuel innovation.

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Snobal Weekly

Top rule when choosing a virtual reality headset for engineering & construction

At Snobal there is one question that we always get asked by clients in engineering, construction and infrastructure development.

In fact it might just be the biggest early client question asked by all enterprise clients at this moment in time.

The question?

What headset will we use?

[Of course this question is closely followed by a lot of other questions. Where do we get the headsets? Are they all tethered? Is enterprise support offered? What other hardware do we need etc etc.]

But back to the question. What headset will we use?

Our answer is nearly always the same.

It depends.

It depends on what are you using the VR environment or application for?

Is it for design collaboration and testing?

Maybe its for high consequence training and you need for workers to be able to self-serve the training experience themselves.

Or perhaps you are wanting to use VR for stakeholder or public engagement?

And of course what is your budget does rank as important with some enterprise-only headsets for eg Varjo costing $5995USD plus a yearly service fee of $995 and requiring a powerful PC and graphics card.

Regardless of what business application you are currently addressing using VR, the number one rule to remember is to work with your VR/AR technology development partner on their recommendation for the best VR headset solution for your business.

Your VR/AR technology development partner should take into account your VR application and what it needs to run effectively, your budget, business requirements, enterprise support needs, any requirement for desktop versus standalone, scale-ability requirements of the virtual environment across diverse geographical locations, geographical availability of headsets and any potential ‘hidden’ hardware costs ensuring you get a VR hardware solution that is the best fit for your business.

For those still curious

he best business VR headset 2019: top virtual reality for enterprise use

The 5 Best VR Headsets in This Reality

[Image courtesy: James DeColling]

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Today we’re taking all things XR. The origins of the term ‘XR’ to be precise.

You’ve heard of the term ‘XR” right? It seems to have risen in popularity the last year. Mid last year to be precise. But what does the term mean and stand for?

Maybe you thought ‘XR’ is shorthand for ‘extended reality’ (i.e a term meaning both virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR)).

Turns out the term ‘XR” was apparently not created asa shorthand for ‘extended reality’. Instead it can be better described as a ‘unifying’ term. A ‘placeholder’ bringing both VR and AR together:

Want to know more on the origins of the term ‘XR? Listen to this interview of Nick Whiting, Technical Director, XR at Epic Games via Silicon Valley Nick Whiting .io explaining how the term came about and why it was felt the term was needed.

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Breaking Silos

The construction industry is notorious for working in a fragmented and siloed manner.

Several organisations assemble for an infrastructure project. And within the individual organisations there’s probably even more silos – design, stakeholder engagement etc.

Silos within silos.

And silos hinder communication. Hinder progress. Silos are inefficient. Silos are costly.

Silos are bad for business.

But what is a silo?

It’s where people in the same organisation working towards the same goal (building a bridge, a road upgrade) but don’t share information the way they should. The end result? Duplication in work, duplication in effort, uneven client experience, misinterpretation of valuable information, missed opportunities, lack of progress and improvement in how things are done and on and on.

Take an infrastructure project, for example.

How do we create what is known in the“Jack Welch era” of GE as the “boundaryless organization” or in our case a “boundaryless infrastructure project”?

(BTW if you hadn’t heard of Jack Welch, he was the early 1990s CEO of GE. Think disruptive CEO. You can read more about him here.)

The GE Work-Out process as it was called was / is a method for cutting bureaucracy and solving problems quickly. How it works:

…series of structured and facilitated forums, bringing people together across levels, functions, and geographies to solve problems and make decisions in real time.

There’s lesson for infrastructure projects in this quote.

Bring people together.

Across functions.

Across locations.

To make decisions.

In real time.

New technologies like AI and XR are helping organisations across infrastructure projects right now achieve the boundaryless infrastructure project”.

Helping organisation’s engineers and designers collaborate in real time on design. Helping organisations collaborate and communicate with end users – the public – and key stakeholders.

Helping break down silos.


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BMW Guggenheim Lab, Architects' model, New York City site, Communal dinner setting, Photo: courtesy Atelier Bow-Wow (05/2011)
Snobal Weekly

Uncomfortable design?

We build the built environment for humans.

For humans to live in, to work in, to interact in, to travel through, to connect.

We do not build buildings, roads and bridges as an end in themselves.

Research shows the built environment impacts us as humans. It can affect our mood, and well being as well as areas in the brain attuned to geometry and the arrangement of spaces.

So, why then is the consideration of human psychology (behaviour and perception) what some might say the “soft sciences” (by the way we hate that term) one of the key areas that has not being focused on in depth in the design of the built environment to date?

Ruth Dalton, who studies both architecture and cognitive science at Northumbria University in Newcastle says “there are really good [evidence-based] guidelines out there…a lot of architects choose to ignore them”.

Taking a closer look a the physiological states created by the built environment could shed light on how city design affects our bodies say’s Colin Ellard, who researches the psychological impact of design at University of Waterloo in Canada. 

BMW Guggenheim Lab, Architects’ model, New York City site, Communal dinner setting, Photo: courtesy Atelier Bow-Wow (05/2011)

The BMW Guggenheim Lab urban project by Colin Ellard and New York Lab Team member Charles Montgomery believes that there are many models of human behaviour designed to explain our behaviour in cities but the issue is they all see us [people] as the same inhabiting a city as “a swarm of ants inhabits a nest”.

While architect Jan Gehl noted in a 2017 Cities Today article “it is ironic that we know more about the habitat of mountain gorillas than we do about the habitat of people…we have programmes for smart cities, green cities, healthy cities, cities of culture but people are rarely centre-stage.”

But maybe the tide is changing? A new BUS Wellbeing survey, by global engineering consulting firm Arup and wellness specialist Delos looks at addressing the issue of health and wellness in buildings by looking at the design impact on occupant wellness.

But here’s a question. City planners now have at their disposal newer technologies, such as virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR), that enables end users to collaborate with them on design of the built environment. These technologies allow the tracking and capture of the experience of the user – the person – in the environment.  But what impact will these newer technologies such as VR and AR have over time on the overall design of the built environment? Will it be the commencement of a period of true participatory design? A period for putting the end user centre stage? A period of uncomfortable design?

Time will tell.

What’s caught our attention

At SIGGRAPH, NVIDIA RTX Takes VR Experiences to Next Level
Special Interest Group on Computer GRAPHics and Interactive Techniques (SIGGRAPH) is the annual conference on computer graphics and is on in the US the end of July. One area up for discussion – the impact 5G is going to have on VR in terms of creating photo-realistic, highly immersive environments faster than ever before.

Apple in Advanced Talks to Buy Intel’s Smartphone-Modem Chip Business
Reportedly Apple is in advanced talks to buy Intel Corp.’s smartphone-modem chip business. Why? Think control over 5G.

The Shock Of The Old: Technology and Global History since 1900 
What is the significance of inventions such as sewing machines and how do we rethink the importance we place on the invention of something new? Professor David Edgerton challenges the idea that we live in an era of ever increasing change.

What Technology Is Most Likely To Become Obsolete During Your Lifetime?
Hands on buzzers. As Peter Norton, Associate Professor of Science, Technology and Society at the University of Virginia, U.S.A says “fifty years ago people at NASA were predicting manned bases on the Moon, and manned missions to Mars, by the end of the century. And no one really saw social media, Wikipedia, or dockless scooters coming until they were already here.”

We’re Snobal and we’re provoking and pioneering change in the how the built environment is planned, designed, communicated and understood. You can read more about us here.

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Snobal Midweek
Snobal Weekly

Weekly digest of news, views & reviews on emerging tech & the built environment

Welcome to Snobal MidWeek.

It’s a place where we sporadically collect, curate and share what’s been catching our attention in the world of built environments, cities and how they’re been improved, shaped and changed by emerging technologies like eXtended reality (XR) and artificial intelligence.

Thanks for reading.

Past post’s [on Medium]

Why We Need to Be Thinking About Ethics and Oversight in Smart Cities
[Feb 4 2019]

Why we need less community engagement and more co-creation in infrastructure development
[Dec 13 2018]

What we have learned helping business implement ‘exponential technologies
[Oct 4 2018]

How Artificial Intelligence boosted Virtual Reality Can Enable Human Centered Design in Infrastructure Development
[Aug 27 2018]

Using emerging technologies in smart cities to enable design with people, not for people & to make better decisions
[Jun 22 2018]

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