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Twill #16: Creative algorithms, walking with satellites, flat-pack robots and the link between the space shuttle and a horse's rear end.

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This week: Creative algorithms, walking with satellites, flat-pack robots and the link between the sp
 

Twill by yiibu

June 20 · Issue #16 · View online
A weekly dispatch on our evolving relationship with technology. Topics: Near-future design, autonomous everything, design ethics, machine learning and the human impact of embedding technology into everyday life.

This week: Creative algorithms, walking with satellites, flat-pack robots and the link between the space shuttle and a horse’s rear end.

yiibu news
We’re delighted to announce that Steph will present a plenary talk and workshop at Next in Hamburg on September 22-23.
Steph is also in London next Monday for just a few days, and with a pretty full schedule but may be able to fit in a short chat if anyone’s interested. Ping us on Twitter if you’d fancy meeting up!
Links and tidbits
0.0 The most fun things we’ve seen all week:
Queen Elizabeth wore a green screen and the internet went wild. Also these giant Japanese cat heads which are particularly unnerving when unexpectedly caught on video
I can totally see kids in 2025 trading green-screen AR filters.
1.0 Walking with satellites. A brief history of GPS technologies and their place in our lives as part of Einar Sneve Martinussen, Jørn Knutsen and Timo Arial’s wonderful Immaterials project
“Alongside the internet, the GPS system is perhaps one of our most ambitious contemporary technological projects…it is almost completely ubiquitous, as it covers most of the outdoor world, including places where there is no electricity, internet or mobile phone coverage.”
2.0 A big global study by IKEA on what home means to us, and what we expect of it. See also the full report (PDF). 
“The world is changing and so are our lives at home. More and more people move to cities and live in smaller spaces with fewer rooms. New household structures have an impact too…More of us live alone, lodge or live together with roommates and many children live in single-parent homes. We also travel abroad more than ever…Still, for many, the longest journey is the one to the local market. The living room is still dedicated for special occasions only, and the phone is just a tool to make a phone call
3.0 Pretty impressive! A machine learning algorithm that transforms hand drawn sketches into photorealistic images. 
4.0 Equally impressive…and a bit hard to explain (the videos are well worth it). This algorithm evaluates human sketches from a purely stylistic perspective, then applies the aggregate style to a completely new object.
5.0 The traditional design workflow is changing thanks to generative design processes such as genetic algorithms. 
“With a genetic algorithm, instead of imagining a design solution, the designer develops a fitness criteria and coaxes the algorithm towards a final design”. 
6.0 Terrapattern is a visual search engine for satellite imagery that lets you query geographic patterns and features within a given area. Lots of creative ways to use something like this, including ad-hoc surveys of building types, number of green spaces, number of solar panels etc. that you can then use to extrapolate other types of data. (See Facebook’s initiative to create population maps by counting buildings and extrapolating probable number of residents).
All the cul de sacs in Pittsburgh :)
7.0 Google explains the neural network behind Allo, its new chat based assistant, and Facebook explains DeepText, its text understanding engine. 
8.0 Airbnb is working with Japanese designers to explore “How a house can be designed to be shared, and to facilitate the relationship between the host and the visitor” To this end, they plan to build “a hybrid community center-apartment on land donated by a town…[where] the benefits could be distributed as they see fit, hopefully recharging the local economy”.
9.0 The U.S. office of Homeland Security is looking for companies to design canine wearables. The goal is to improve the health and/or performance of their Border Protection dogs. 
10.0 In an attempt to squeeze the maximum allowable amount of future tech into one vehicle, Washington DC is launching Olli, a 3D printed, self-driving shuttle bus
This week in robots
1.0 A video of a medical robot peeling and stitching a grape (and making origami :) 
2.0 Walmart is experimenting with a robotic shopping cart that would help you find things in shop and save you the hassle of pushing a cart around. (If thing will now follow us around, our vote is for this robotic rolly suitcase).
3.0 A very retro-looking Russian robot ran away, caused traffic mayhem, but then turned out to be a promotional stunt.
4.0 Meet Dtto, a transformable snake-like robot designed to be flexible and self-reconfigurable. (The videos are quite impressive!)
5.0 Advice for robot startups: A study suggests that, even if you can sell your robot pre-assembled, users will love it more if they play some role in assembling or configuring it.
Thing from the past. Thing from the future
From the past: From last week’s Decentralised Web Summit, a wonderful story about the relationship between ancient Roman roads, a horse’s back-end, and the space shuttle. 
“When we see a Space Shuttle sitting on the launch pad, there are two big booster rockets attached to the sides of the main fuel tank. These are the solid rocket boosters, or SRBs. The SRBs are made by Thiokol at a factory in Utah. The engineers who designed the SRBs might have preferred to make them a bit fatter, but the SRBs had to be shipped by train from the factory to the launch site.
The railroad from the factory runs through a tunnel in the mountains. The SRBs had to fit through that tunnel. The tunnel is slightly wider than a railroad track, and the railroad track is about as wide as two horses’ behinds.
So a major design feature of what is arguably the world’s most advanced transportation system was originally determined by the width of a horse’s ass.” 
Full story here or listen to the story in context of Cory Doctorow’s excellent keynote.
From the future: NASA is working on an electric airplane (for some reason, electric cars seem completely normal, but this sounds totally creepy) and a Canadian company is thinking of reviving dirigibles for the far north where some communities are now far harder to reach due to melting ice roads. 
“…dirigibles do not need an airport to unload. One lighter-than-air model in development by LTA Aérostructures of Montreal would lower up to 70 tonnes of cargo to the ground, requiring only a mooring mast.”
That is all
Our best wishes for a productive week.
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