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Future Technologies: How can architects identify which disruptive technologies will advance our cities’ evolution and which will fall by the wayside?
Marcus Morrell & Tom Armour, Arup. Image shows Pro-Teq's Starpath

The following commentary is part of a wider discussion regarding the role of future technologies in the AEC industry. Please click here to view the associated editorial and herefor a short video.

Marcus Morrell, Senior Analyst in Arup’s Foresight + Research + Innovation team

It is difficult to predict which technologies might take hold for a long time and which might be overtaken by more advanced and disruptive technologies. The challenge is exacerbated by the fact that the pace of technological change is increasing over time. However, by looking at current innovations, we can get an idea of the direction in which the future may be heading.

The smartphone of 20 years ago didn’t take off as it was missing some vital technological components that were only solved years later, but this doesn’t mean the idea was forgotten. The technology and models were just vastly improved over the next 20 years, having a major impact on society as well as mobility.

Arup is currently working on wireless inductive charging for buses in Milton Keynes where the


buses receive a wireless booster charge from plates set into the road at the start and end of the busy bus route. The 10-minute top-ups allow the bus to complete its entire 17-hour working day on battery power alone. Due to the fact that most vehicle power in the future is likely to be electrified to some extent, this is a technology that could have all sorts of applications in the future.

The safety, accessibility and efficiency benefits that driverless vehicles are likely to provide will propel autonomous technology to the forefront of automotive design. Arup is also working on a futuristic autonomous pod system for the city of Milton Keynes, where pods would run automatically to chosen destinations allowing passengers to check emails, read or relax while travelling.

Other technologies, like 3D printing, have the potential to be hugely disruptive by allowing the shape and form of vehicles and other objects to be much more flexible, as well as stronger and lighter. The Internet of Things and big data will enable intelligent vehicles that can self-monitor and communicate with other vehicles and the wider environment. The rise of connectivity will also allow new technologies and services to multiply and scale up.

Architects and engineers need to be aware of the leading edge in terms of new technologies. They must constantly think about how these and other drivers might affect urban environments and mobility in future. There will be high impact events and trends that can’t be predicted now. However, the early signs of directional change should be continuously evaluated before embarking on any urban mobility project. At Arup we apply strategic foresight to many of our projects in order to assess the risks and opportunities provided by emerging technologies.

Tom Armour, Global Landscape Architecture Leader at Arup

A company called Pro-Teq surfacing has developed a product called ‘Starpath’ which is a sprayable coating of light absorbent


particles that can harvest ultraviolet rays from the sun during the day and then illuminate at night. Because it is in spray form it can be applied to nearly any solid surface from timber to cement. To aid urban mobility Starpath has the potential to reduce the need for complex lighting installations in parks and alleyways and could help bring safety and security to city areas whilst saving energy costs Another benefit is that since it is non-reflective and low intensity light it doesn't add to light pollution. Starpath is currently being trialled in the UK - recently at Christ’s Pieces, a well-known park in the east side of the centre of Cambridge by Cambridge City Council.



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