developing countries

Big Stories from 2011

I jotted down a quick list of new stories of the past year, at least from my perspective here in the U.S., and I noticed that several of them are very relevant to our efforts here at Living Labs Global. #1: The death of Steve Jobs

The leader of the Apple empire is responsible not only for the little package of super technology many of us carry around in our pockets, but also for creating a platform on which small businesses could flourish. The very existence of products like the Apple iPhone and iPad also spurred advancements by other companies, like Google and the Android system. The result has been greater access to information, and more interaction among the people.

#2: The Occupy Movement

A movement that started similarly to social movements in history – a physical gathering of people who share an idea – spread across the U.S. and the world much faster than did efforts in the past. Occupiers used mobile phones to capture stunning videos of police brutality – so stunning, in fact, that the inequitable distribution of wealth issue was almost entirely eclipsed in the media.

#3: The Arab Spring

Some think the Occupy Movement got its inspiration from the Arab Spring revolutions abroad, which have reportedly relied on social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter to organize citizens. These sites also allowed the messages of Egyptians, Tunisians, Libyans, and others to spread across the world. Never before have the citizens of one country been so intimately aware of the struggles faced by citizens of another, thousands and thousands of miles away.

These three major news stories of 2011 highlight mobile phones’ ability to empower individuals and whole societies. In 2012, I hope to report more on their use within developing countries.

-          Terra Curtis

Big Stories from 2011

I jotted down a quick list of new stories of the past year, at least from my perspective here in the U.S., and I noticed that several of them are very relevant to our efforts here at Living Labs Global. #1: The death of Steve Jobs

The leader of the Apple empire is responsible not only for the little package of super technology many of us carry around in our pockets, but also for creating a platform on which small businesses could flourish. The very existence of products like the Apple iPhone and iPad also spurred advancements by other companies, like Google and the Android system. The result has been greater access to information, and more interaction among the people.

#2: The Occupy Movement

A movement that started similarly to social movements in history – a physical gathering of people who share an idea – spread across the U.S. and the world much faster than did efforts in the past. Occupiers used mobile phones to capture stunning videos of police brutality – so stunning, in fact, that the inequitable distribution of wealth issue was almost entirely eclipsed in the media.

#3: The Arab Spring

Some think the Occupy Movement got its inspiration from the Arab Spring revolutions abroad, which have reportedly relied on social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter to organize citizens. These sites also allowed the messages of Egyptians, Tunisians, Libyans, and others to spread across the world. Never before have the citizens of one country been so intimately aware of the struggles faced by citizens of another, thousands and thousands of miles away.

These three major news stories of 2011 highlight mobile phones’ ability to empower individuals and whole societies. In 2012, I hope to report more on their use within developing countries.

-          Terra Curtis

Mega-city, Mega-challenge

Lagos, one of the world’s 10 most populated cities and one of the top 3 fastest growing, faces a great challenge in providing housing for all its residents at prices they can afford. In the United States, homeownership is a basic component of the American Dream. Everyone has a right to shelter, and most everyone wants to own it. In Europe, housing policy reflects the same right to shelter, but cultural norms don’t require ownership of one’s home. Now, as developing countries grow and continue to urbanize at unprecedented rates, cities like Lagos have to find ways to provide this basic human right as well. Here, there is both a challenge and an opportunity – to learn from those mistakes made by industrialized countries.

It is encouraging to see that Lagos has recognized this opportunity – they are looking for solutions to their 5 million unit gap in housing supply not only through increasing units, but by treating those units as building blocks in its city service system. They envision housing as a dissemination point for energy, water, health, security, mobility, business services, and education. Together, this network can reduce costs to individuals and society through cross-subsidization of services.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i4TvesXV_Yg&w=440&h=253] Sustainable, affordable, and innovative housing solutions on the scale needed in Lagos remain elusive. Nonetheless, a couple of small-scale innovative housing examples may be of interest. Another article from Japan for Sustainability notes a new “hybrid house” design, which will be powered with three power systems: photovoltaics, fuel cells, and secondary batteries. The designers estimate that homeowners could have zero utilities costs under this system, which creates enough power for such appliances as LCD televisions, refrigerators, and lighting – systems that could be pooled in Lagos’ case to achieve further economies of scale.

decathlon

A second project is the result of a “solar decathlon” – a US Department of Energy-sponsored event to gather ideas from students across the world. While most of the prototype homes portray designs applicable in the US or developed country context, seeing them all together on the National Mall (see photo above) allows one to envision the great potential for dense, sustainable, solar-powered homes. Perhaps in future competitions, the judges could add “fits in the context of a dense, rapidly urbanizing city” to its criteria. For, due to these cities’ stage of development, these locations offer opportunities for the greatest environmental and sustainability gains.

-          Terra Curtis

Mega-city, Mega-challenge

Lagos, one of the world’s 10 most populated cities and one of the top 3 fastest growing, faces a great challenge in providing housing for all its residents at prices they can afford. In the United States, homeownership is a basic component of the American Dream. Everyone has a right to shelter, and most everyone wants to own it. In Europe, housing policy reflects the same right to shelter, but cultural norms don’t require ownership of one’s home. Now, as developing countries grow and continue to urbanize at unprecedented rates, cities like Lagos have to find ways to provide this basic human right as well. Here, there is both a challenge and an opportunity – to learn from those mistakes made by industrialized countries.

It is encouraging to see that Lagos has recognized this opportunity – they are looking for solutions to their 5 million unit gap in housing supply not only through increasing units, but by treating those units as building blocks in its city service system. They envision housing as a dissemination point for energy, water, health, security, mobility, business services, and education. Together, this network can reduce costs to individuals and society through cross-subsidization of services.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i4TvesXV_Yg&w=440&h=253] Sustainable, affordable, and innovative housing solutions on the scale needed in Lagos remain elusive. Nonetheless, a couple of small-scale innovative housing examples may be of interest. Another article from Japan for Sustainability notes a new “hybrid house” design, which will be powered with three power systems: photovoltaics, fuel cells, and secondary batteries. The designers estimate that homeowners could have zero utilities costs under this system, which creates enough power for such appliances as LCD televisions, refrigerators, and lighting – systems that could be pooled in Lagos’ case to achieve further economies of scale.

decathlon

A second project is the result of a “solar decathlon” – a US Department of Energy-sponsored event to gather ideas from students across the world. While most of the prototype homes portray designs applicable in the US or developed country context, seeing them all together on the National Mall (see photo above) allows one to envision the great potential for dense, sustainable, solar-powered homes. Perhaps in future competitions, the judges could add “fits in the context of a dense, rapidly urbanizing city” to its criteria. For, due to these cities’ stage of development, these locations offer opportunities for the greatest environmental and sustainability gains.

-          Terra Curtis

Developing Countries Developing Solutions

[vimeo http://www.vimeo.com/30485000 w=400&h=225]

Introducing mo from LUNAR Europe on Vimeo.

At least three of our partner cities in this round of the Living Labs Global Awards are seeking solutions related to transportation. Lavasa, México City, and Guadalajara, each within a developing country, want to find ways to boost alternative transportation and keep infrastructure maintenance ahead of deterioration.

According to the Institute for Transportation & Development Policy (ITDP), by 2030 almost three quarters of the world’s population with reside in cities, with most of that urbanization taking place in developing countries. In order to maintain health and achieve sustainability in the long term, these cities must stay ahead of the game in developing the transportation infrastructure, policies, incentives, and solutions that encourage limited use of fossil fuels. Several recent concepts are relevant to the challenges faced by these cities. BitCity, a conference on Transportation, data, and technology in cities was held November 4th in New York City. The conference, which will be ongoing, is meant to highlight innovation and expose the barriers currently preventing cities from implementing that innovation. Recorded sessions can be viewed online here.

A second transportation-related tid-bit to come across the radar screen is Mo (short for mobility), which uses smartphone technology with a “bike tag” to link travel data and different modal systems. The idea is to provide users with more choices about how to get around and incentives for making responsible travel decisions. (See the video above.)

Two other mobile apps stood out in a recent scan – Avego’s instant carpool app, Shout and Reroute.it, a mobile web app (works on any smartphone) that compares the cost, travel time, calories burned, and CO2 emitted for several different modes of transportation (e.g. walk, bike, transit, car, or taxi).

Shout is a free mobile app that helps you arrange carpool rides with friends, family, and coworkers in real time. Current “Shout Hotspots” – locations where a critical mass of users has been reached – include Orlando, Florida; Seattle, Washington; Houston, Texas; Bergen, Norway; and Kinsale, Ireland.

Reroute.it was developed by fellows in the Code for America program this summer. It is meant to provide users with full information, and in theory they will use that information to make sustainable, responsible transportation choices. Because it relies on several open data sources, its full features are not available in all locations yet, but it will work everywhere. Seattle and San Francisco are fully featured, with Philadelphia soon to follow.

While some of these solutions may not be appropriate for developing countries’ cities currently, these locations are rapidly adopting mobile technology and present models for how to stay ahead of the curve.

-          Terra Curtis

Google's Next Steps

Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google, recently wrote a brief article indicating his company’s role in the “mobile revolution.”  As we have highlighted in our book Connected Cities, mobile technologies already have been responsible for and continue to offer further opportunity in market creation (to the tune of 256 billion euros).  The technology has only hit the tip of the iceberg, and Schmidt notes the next three places he intends to take it.

First, Google will focus on the underlying fast networks; second, on the development of mobile money; and third, on the availability of inexpensive smartphones in developing countries.  Of note in the second two categories are a few companies from our Showcase.  It appears that Google’s initial intents in regards to mobile money are for consumers in more developed regions; it’s near field communication, or NFC, technology enables smartphone users to pay for groceries, clothing, or other consumables simply by waving their phone near an in-store device. As far as I can tell, this technology would also be useful for things like mobile parking or public transit passes.  Park-line’s current model involves paying for parking by using your mobile phone to make a call to a processing center; NFC would make these calls unnecessary.  Similarly, Transport for London could move away from necessitating a physical “Oyster card” by enabling NFC.

The use of mobile technologies in developing countries is already well known.  We documented Mission 4636, which used mobile technology to facilitate the first responders to the Haiti earthquake.  Of course, their reach could have been much broader had the local population had access to more mobile phones.  Somewhat surprisingly, 90 percent of the world’s population already does have access to mobile networks, though this does not mean they actually own a mobile device, nor does it mean they have access to smartphone technology that significantly improves access to information.

The brevity of Schmidt’s article has attracted a fair amount of attention.  We’ll keep our eyes out for updates.

-Terra Curtis

Nokia Pedal-Powered Cell Phone Charger

When I first read about Nokia’s new Bicycle Charger Kit, I thought of how perfect it would be for long bike tours.  Upon further consideration, though, I see the new device’s real value is achieved in developing countries. Big mobile technology companies have their sights set on these areas, recognizing big market opportunities in countries that have completely skipped wired-technologies and gone straight to wireless and mobile phones (who needs a watch, stereo, or television when it’s all available in one device).  But, how do they expect users to be able to use these battery-powered devices in areas where electricity sources are scarce and unreliable?  In these emerging markets, travel by bicycle is a way of life, so Nokia’s recent innovation seems a natural application.

The Bicycle Charger will work with any 2mm charger jack, and users completing a 10 minute journey at 6mph (10 km/h) will have produced enough power for a 28 minute phone conversation or 37 hours of standby time.  The kit also includes a holster to attach the phone to the bike while riding.

In developing countries, the kit is set to cost approximately 15 euros.  In western markets where cycling is more recreational, the price will be higher to account for lower demand.