Nature-Inspired Engineering, Black Holes and More: A Roundup of What has Us Excited at DG Cities


Here at DG Cities we’re in the fortunate position of having a remit that includes staying abreast of the latest developments in new technology. That said, when you are immersed in this field, it admittedly is quite easy to become a little bit desensitised to it all. This is in part because there are just so many exciting developments and products constantly emerging in the world of technology and innovation - so to stand out from the crowd a new idea has to be pretty transformational. But there’s also an element of marketing hype that contributes to this desensitisation; I now find myself regularly rolling my eyes at the TV when I hear yet another advert for a telly / phone / fridge that has artificial intelligence and machine learning capabilities!

But recently I’ve been attending a number of industry events and have been hearing about some truly exciting ideas and initiatives. One of these came about two weeks ago when I was speaking at the Greenwich is Open event at Greenwich University. There I was lucky enough to meet Monike Dunkel, who told me that she’s heading up a new Nature Inspired Solutions Special Interest Group at the Knowledge Transfer Network (KTN). They are in the early days of a two-year programme which will initially focus on the application of Nature Inspired Solutions (NIS) across transport, infrastructure and energy. They are inspired by the famous quote from none other than Albert Einstein:

Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.

In some ways this is nothing new. More than 500 years ago, another great man of science, Leonardo da Vinci, was fascinated by the flight of birds and used them as his inspiration in designing a flying machine. But the fact that the KTN are now exploring this is an exciting new direction for the UK Innovation industry. After meeting Monike I was immediately intrigued, so following the event I did a bit of reading about what they’re up to. Some of the thinking to date has been about understanding how insects keep track of their surroundings, and considering whether new types of vehicles could adopt some of those same principles.

And there are already commercial organisations that are looking to capitalise on this area of work. As Alex Cope from Opteran Technologies eloquently writes – “The idea is to fund existing solutions that are found in nature and reproduce them in technological form. Nature, through the course of evolution, has developed incredibly robust and efficient solutions to many of the problems we want to solve for autonomy and data processing.” I find this to be a fascinating area and I look forward to hearing more about the Group’s work. And I hope that at some point in the future we will welcome some of these organisations to the Smart Mobility Living Lab:London – our testbed for the development and testing of connected and autonomous vehicles (CAVs) and new mobility solutions.

Closer to home, and in the realm of building innovation, there has been exciting progress on our own Sharing Cities project. The team have recently kicked off the Greenwich Energy Hero app: a 12-month pilot to help residents use electricity more efficiently, and to understand whether residents can help balance out the supply and demand of electricity on the National Grid. Sharing Cities is an EU funded Smart Cities and Communities programme, so the aim of the funding is to understand how the demonstrator projects in Greenwich, Lisbon and Milan can help other cities to learn and adopt new smart city approaches. As our work continues, we are looking forward to sharing the results and learning from that pilot in due course.

And finally, with two physicists in the team, how could we not be excited about the recent publication of the first direct visual evidence of a black hole? We were equally amazed by the backstory of Katie Bourman, the computer scientist who developed the algorithm which led to the breakthrough, whilst still a graduate scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology!

So hurrah for new technology and the people who make it happen for the excitement and benefit of others! These three developments alone have probably brought about enough excitement to the DG Cities team to see us through to 2020!