Chapter 11. Futurepedia – A Platform for Crowd Foresight

4. Engineering Technologies Overview

Main concept: Engineering technology advances, aided by accelerating IT and nanotech, will increasingly drive us to smarter, richer, cleaner, safer, and more green urban areas. Those cities that solve their engineering problems the fastest will gain the lions share of STEEPS productivity, both human and machine.

Leader’s challenge: Solving problems of Urbanization, growing Automation.

Summary sentence:

“Making smart, networked, virtualized, secure, productive, sustainable urban space is key to every country’s future.”

Area topics:

Smart Cities. 50% of us live in urban areas.  60% by 2025. By 2050, 70% will live in megacities (>10M).  1/3 of urbanites (850M) now live in substandard slums (“shadow cities”). 2B by 2050. Must participate in global workforce. Keep infrastructure and slums working, and crime, gridlock, pollution from growing, — the options, money and efficiencies in cities beat everything else. Major drop in violent urban crime in the US from 1990-2010 had many causes: planned parenthood, unleaded gas, urban renewal, policing upgrades, growth of digital entertainment. Sustainable, walkable, smart cities are growing. We can expect a return to the 1950’s in this regard, cities as a desirable place to live.

Dematerialization and Efficiency. We are dematerializing our economies. This is a key to sustainability. Learning how to substitute digital products and processes for physical ones (think of telepresence vs. physical travel, or all the physical products an iPhone and intelligent household robot will replace). Beyond $25K per year people consume sharply less energy per salary (World Bank, Shell). They have their house and key appliances, and they increasingly share them, use them on demand. Efficiency drives our sustainability initiatives, which get increasingly intelligent.

Greentech and Pollution. Greentech is growing, but slowly. Carbon capture tech (Skyonic, C12, Calera) will soon rescue (decarbonize) coal, which will grow from 27% today to 30% of energy in 2030. Carbon taxes will win over carbon markets. Transportation and Logistics. Robocars will save 1.2M deaths/year, $230B in lost productivity. 2% of GDP. Expect collision avoidance, autovalet, commercial first (2020?) then public robocars, giving us back 5% of work time now lost to commuting (100 of 2100 hrs/yr), HOV lanes for robocars. Internet of things will allow even smarter, just-in-time logistics. 9B people, each with ~1-5K sensors and other connected objects per person will create “smart environments” after 2020.

Manufacturing & Farm Automation and Robotics. Specialization, Trade and Automation are the top drivers of economic  growth. GWP has grown 15X from 1950-2010, $4T to $60T. Trade growth drove our 2002 switch to a steeper GWP growth rate. Hi-tech family farms are resurging. Local mfg will resurge as advanced robotics emerges, and China’s wages grow faster than US wages. Some (New Balance, etc.) are have already “reshored” factories again. Local on-demand mfg and making are growing too, but “desktop mfg” and “3D printing” are much harder than boosters claim.

Books:  Triumph of the City, Glaeser, 2011; In Praise of Hard Industries, Fingleton, 1999; Reinventing Fire, Lovins, 2011

Leadership Questions:

  1. What are your equipment and engineering research, acquisition, R&D, hiring, training, measuring, & mgmt strategies?
  2. What key disruptions or threats must you anticipate in a world of increasing urbanization and maker abilities?
  3. What problems could be addressed and opportunities taken with better engineering innovation capabilities?
  4. How can you get measurably more of the most valuable engineering capabilities, at an efficient ROI?