Net-Zero Energy Home Takes on Southern California Challenges

Elements from the California poppy will drive a sustainable future that feels like home

For the 2015 U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon competition, over 15 collegiate teams competed to design energy-efficient, solar-powered houses.Team Orange County, an undergraduate coalition of four universities, took inspiration from nature and created a model home in the midst of a dry-spell and affordable housing crisis.

Called Casa Del Sol, the home embraces a passive solar design as well as the “resilient and diurnal characteristics of the California poppy.” This means that the home follows the patterns of the sun, adjusting to winter and summer months to facilitate more sunlight or create shade. It also includes a veranda equipped with a retractable sun roof and a brise soleil to automatically shield from windy seasons.

In addition to functioning like the flower, the home draws inspiration from other regional factors. Engineering student and project manager Alex McDonald tells PSFK, “The California Poppy is orange, the state flower, and thrives in SoCal. Being a team representing Orange County and the larger swath of SoCal, the Poppy worked in color, scale, and regional significance. Beyond that, the flower opens and closes to the sun and is drought-resistant; two design principals we embraced as our home makes best use of the sun path and associated cool ocean breezes to passively maintain resident comfort and minimize water consumption. And thus, Casa Del Sol, was born.”

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High-Fiving Karma Bot Spreads the Love At SXSW

A robotic creature that transforms social media posts into physical interaction

Love is in the air, and now it’s in robots. GIMI-5 by advertising agency RPA is a karma bot at SXSW Interactive that receives likes and mentions online and then turns that digital love into real-life high fives.

Everything about RPA’s bot is supposed to be happy, from the friendly hand slaps to the cuddly design, inspired by the likes of BB8, R2D2 and Eve from Wall-E. That ‘fuzzy feeling’ we experience after having one of our photos or posts liked online: GIMI-5 is just that, in physical form.

GIMI-5 was created to spread positivity at SXSW, a launching pad for many ideas and movements. People at the event can post a photo and share it on social media, and anybody online can like or share GIMI-5’s Facebook page to generate a high five. One post, like, or share = one high five.

Others have experimented with similar ideas: Coke’s ReTweets of Love campaign turned fans’ online posts about Diet Coke into works of art. And in general, the idea of evoking emotional connections with customers is proving to drive brand loyalty and differentiation.

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Mobile Chargers Are Bringing Electric Scooters to Your City Faster Than Expected

PSFK spoke with Gogoro's VP of Communications about the company's OPEN Initiative and its global expansion

Last year at CES, Gogoro explained to onlookers how battery swapping could eliminate the challenges of EV adoption. Since launching in Taipei in August, the electric scooter maker and energy company has sold over 4,000 EV scooters and built over 125 battery swapping charging stations in the region. Now Gogoro will be making its way to Amsterdam this summer, and hit the U.S. market in late 2016.

But at this year’s convention, Gogoro unveiled two developments that will scale up adoption and even introduce sustainable transport into other smaller, progressive communities. The GoCharger can be used at home or in businesses, and the OPEN Initiative lets people nominate themselves or their communities to adopt the technology, even if GoStations aren’t yet available.

PSFK was able to speak with Jason Gordon, Gogoro’s VP of Communications, to learn more about the new GoCharger and how the OPEN Initiative will get consumers involved in the rollout process.

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Retail and Food Halls are Revamping Southern California Communities

How retail is revamping SoCal's cultural and entrepreneurial scene

In the midst of Los Angeles’ urban resurgence, the city’s suburbs are seeing their own makeovers. An hour south of downtown, Huntington Beach is celebrating the opening of Pacific City, a retail hub and food hall that houses local vendors, a Equinox fitness facility, and social gathering spots—all right across from the beach. While the new complex, developed by DJM Capital Partners, breathes new life into the beach town, it’s just another example of a larger culture and entrepreneurial growth in the Orange County region.

With almost 60 new stores and restaurants, the complex hosts a mix of anchor tenants such as H&M and Tommy Bahama, as well as indie shops, boutiques, and cafes. Pacific City also offers free amenities, with designated hangout spots, with foosball tables, fire pits, and a movie screening section for after a long day at the beach.

While Huntington Beach may be known by locals for its surf, and known to tourists for its weather and proximity to Disneyland, the city’s culture runs deeper than the sand and the big name brands. Pacific City strikes at the heart of the community, embodying “the best of what SoCal culture has come to represent—freedom, creativity, entrepreneurship.”

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Architects and Nonprofits Rebuild the Nepal Education System from Ground Up

Since a devastating earthquake, the country's schools have been in desperate shape, but the future is looking brighter with schools that adapt to destruction

In April of this year, Nepal’s 7.8 magnitude earthquake killed over 8,000 people and destroyed more than 25,000 classrooms in about 8,000 schools. In an effort to rebuild the country’s most devastated regions, SHoP Architects is partnering with two nonprofits to rebuild 50 public schools and lift Nepal education standards to new heights. While the government plays some role in the overall process, this venture displays how private organizations can help initiate progressive change in communities.

In May, all schools in the Kathmandu region were closed due to aftershocks. Since then, temporary schools have been rebuilt using materials such as bamboo, wood, and tarpaulin. Kids of Kathmandu is leveraging its relationship with Nepal’s Ministry of Education and working with SHoP and Asian Friendship Network to build flexible and easily constructed schools that benefit both students and local communities.

The newly rebuilt schools will be constructed with readily available parts, including concrete foundations, steel roofs, and earth brick, and various amenities will enhance the education experience and offer services for locals. These amenities include wireless Internet, solar electricity and a water purification system—all of which will help power new kitchens and donated computers and provide a safe haven in case of future disasters.

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Smart Cities are Beginning to Adopt Electric Scooters as the Future of Transport

As cities expand and demand for electric scooters and vehicles grows, Gogoro is trying to bring a new urban energy infrastructure to market

By 2025 the number of smart cities around the world is predicted to quadruple from 2013, from 21 to 88. Gogoro is an electric scooter and energy company that is helping to lead this transformation by making megacities more connected, sustainable, and smart. Already in Amsterdam and Taipei, Gogoro is seeking out new metropolitan regions. But what cities are fitting for this mobility technology, and what will be the long-term impact?

To get a better sense of Gogoro, it seems fair to say that it’s like Tesla, but with scooters. The company has created the “world’s first high-performance, zero emissions two-wheeled electric vehicle”, as well as an urban battery infrastructure for quick charging.

The scooter also gathers, analyzes, and shares rider data to help riders understand best practices for reducing energy consumption and optimizing performance. Vending machines called GoStations allow riders to swap out dead batteries with new ones, and are spread throughout the city for easy access.

Cities naturally seem like good locations for the Gogoro system, but other geographical, social, and political forces also help determine suitable regions for adoption. Gogoro’s VP of communications Jason Gordon gave PSFK three practical reasons as to why Taipei made sense:

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Congested Cities, Meet the Autonomous Tricycle for Adults

The compact, off-the-grid Persuasive Electric Vehicle encourages physical activity, less traffic, and healthier cities

The Persuasive Electric Vehicle, or PEV (pictured on the right above), is an autonomous electric tricycle that’s designed to get people to change their mobility patterns in cities. It’s self-driving, environmental friendly, and sharable but there’s a catch: you have to pedal to keep it moving.

The PEV concept would use NFC technologies to accurately navigate streets, driving autonomously as it ships packages around town and finding potential riders for ride sharing programs.The tricycle only gets up to 12mph, but it’s meant for bike lanes only.

As for the persuasive element, studies show that those using ride sharing programs were already walking or riding their bikes more than others. Since the PEV is meant to expand the market for sustainable transportation, its focus is to give automobile drivers a reason to switch over—which is, a little exercise. By pedaling, riders generate energy that is stored up and used when needed by the motor. Passengers could choose to take care of their bodies, cities, and environment at the same time.

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Step Into a Near Future Where Londoners Withdraw From Reality

Why gawk at Big Ben, take a stroll in Kensington Gardens, or ride the underground if you can get more from a screen?

With VR headsets set to roll out to markets in the next few months, the gaming experience is on the verge of a revolution. What more, the way we experience our surroundings is also transforming, and new technologies mark a period of increasing social isolation. In Away from Reality, two artists and a photographer comment on the changing nature of our society by envisioning a future London where the virtual eclipses reality.

The project was led by London based artists Tayfun Sarier and Guus ter Beek along with Instagram influencer Mr. Whisper, and depicts people engulfed in their own virtual worlds. Cut off from the surrounding environment, Londoners are blind to the historical landmarks, cultural experiences, and urban greenery that make up the city’s vibrant and emotional character.

Described by the creative team as our “modern day phenomenon,” Away from Reality (AFR) isn’t so much different from what’s already taking place in cities today. We might find ourselves absorbed in our phones or blindly obsessing over the perfect selfie, and it becomes easy for us to lose sight of the physical beauty and subtle intricacies of our surroundings. And while immediate information and entertainment is gratifying, people still seem to walk away unfulfilled.

\Rather than mock the future of technology, the pictures seem to act as a paradoxical PSA, urging us to take caution in how we let new technology into our lives. VR is unlocking new imaginative worlds but strapping on a headset is isolating in nature. And no matter how realistic or social the VR experience gets, we’ll face obstacles in making these digital experiences meaningful, and satisfying for our physical and spiritual selves.

Whatever deeper meaning or artistic intention we may take from the images, the project clearly plays off modern technologies and urban experiences. Our society is increasingly becoming divided by digital and physical realities, and its ultimately up to us how we decide to balance this dynamic in every aspect of our lives.

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Research and Design House is Decoding How Phones Impact Our Humanity

With a vision for human-oriented solutions, Vinaya explores human connectivity through philosophical inquiry and smart product design

Technology makes us more efficient, expands our social networks and feeds us more information, but at what cost? This November, a team of scientists, designers and engineers will begin working together to answer this question.Vinaya is a research lab and design studio that explores the relationship between humans and technology, and seeks out the balance that will lead us to happiness.

Along the way, Vinaya is pioneering a human-centric approach in product development. In a three-story building in Shoreditch, East London, a team of philosophers, anthropologists and neuroscientists will conduct extensive research on the human condition.

Their research on human connectivity, stress, tranquility, and creativity will be compiled and used in the design process, where designers and researchers will work on creating mindful consumer technology for the public.

Founder and CEO Kate Unsworth has already ventured in the world of mindful technologies with Kovert Designs, but the new Vinaya brand will develop an ecosystem around an existing and evolving set of products with the support of a recent $3M in seed funding from an impressive list of all-female investors—most notably, Carmen Busquets, the well-known major investor in Net-A-Porter.

Already, Altruis—Vinaya’s line of designer wearable tech—reduces our dependency on smartphones by silencing unnecessary notifications. The rings, bracelets, and necklaces pair seamlessly with your device to let you know when you really should look at your phone. With the launch of Vinaya, a software-based application and a new men’s line are expected to start rolling out in the next two years.

In an interview with PSFK, Unsworth also explained that the lab will publish a quarterly journal on their research as well as conceptual product ideas. While research is typically done on the back end, Vinaya will make their scientific findings available to the public, partnering with universities and academics to create articles and blog posts that are both scholarly and easy to access for the typical reader.

In a fashion similar to the socratic discussions of Ancient Greece, the building’s top floor will be home to a weekly lecture series and public experiments. Here, researchers, product developers, and consumers will come together to exchange ideas and learn from each other. It’s an innovation district on a micro-scale, a cross-functional space where face-to-face interaction will fuse theoretical and practical knowledge.

Vinaya’s operations will run on the basis that the right technology, paired with a theory of happiness, can help users explore and achieve a state of ‘ataraxia.’ Coined by ancient greek philosophers, this “lucid state of robust tranquility” is surely a condition to strive for. But thanks to our phones and the distractions they can bring, it’s a feeling that often eludes us.

For this reason, Vinaya will focus particularly on how our relationship with our smartphone negatively impacts our ability to be human. But rather than dismiss technology and the obvious benefits that it brings, the lab hopes to use it for a new purpose. That is, to reach a philosophically sound, yet technologically enhanced, state that will facilitate meaningful human experiences.

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Industrial Design is Leading the Future of Los Angeles

Speakers at the Core77 Conference explained how collaboration with local manufacturers can fuel the design process

With the largest manufacturing base in the United States and a growing population of designers, Los Angeles is proving to be fertile ground for creatives and fabricators alike. This past weekend designers, artists and business people gathered at the Core77 Conference in downtown Los Angeles to discuss the future of design, but the future of the city was a persistent theme.

A talk by Brendan Ravenhill, founder of Brendan Ravenhill Studio, demonstrated how the economic city dynamic helped create one of his most successful products. While looking for a way to shape his new grain spun-aluminum pendant lamp, a local manufacturer warned him that the tools would leave a wooden imprint on the metal shade.

Ravenhill turned this warning into an opportunity—he worked with the manufacturer to actually enhance the imprint, and create a modern lampshade with clearly visible, natural wooden grooves.

Successful collaborations such as this one may be coincidence, but data indicates that there may be something more to this intermingling of industries.The Bureau of Labor Statistics tells us that the Los Angeles region has over 500,000 manufacturing workers, which is more than any other region in the country. Coupled with L.A.’s growing industrial and fashion design scene, the stage is set for creative and manufacturing partnerships.

Meanwhile, China’s economic boom is beginning to slow down and consumer demand for locally sourced products is drawing manufacturing jobs back into the United States. The service economy is increasingly dominating U.S. business and fueling urban gentrification, but a steady base of manufacturing jobs may help maintain cultural and economic integrity in our cities, and support demand for local production.

Experiences like the one shared by Ravenhill give hope that Los Angeles will continue to integrate the best of both worlds into design and manufacturing processes. Overall, the conference made clear that design thinking is not an industry specific idea, but rather a strategic way of driving a fully integrated business.

Also at the event, project leaders from Google and Levi’s discussed what will be a new ‘smart fabric.’ PSFK has been able to speak with Paul Dillinger, Levi’s Head of Innovation about Project Jacquard, but the partnership reinforces the idea of a strong designer and manufacturer collaboration throughout the entire production process.

The day after the conference, attendees were led on a downtown walking tour by journalist and urbanista Alissa Walker. Newly opened shops and museums and swaths of construction indicate an evolving lifestyle district. But there is plenty of reason to believe that Los Angeles will not merely turn into a city of takers, but rather revive its legacy as a community of makers.

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