I saw a first the other day at the local Safeway.

No, not the self-service scanner technology.  It’s been in place for several years and was recently expanded.  But for the first time, I saw a line-up to use the machines while, at the same, the clerk at the express line was waiting for customers.
Now, maybe people didn’t realize she was free.  But maybe, more and more, people prefer to use the machines and scan for themselves.  Maybe we’re being that well trained.

Read more »
September 28, 2017

This is interesting for several reasons:

Ever seen a sanitation department use language like that?
It’s a pro-active approach to problem-solving.
And it presumes that since mobile phones and apps are the primary way we connect, there is the technology in place to do so.

Read more »

Scott Gilmore writes in Macleans about companies returning manufacturing operations to North America (“re-shoring”). And bringing their robots with them.
He discusses jobs, and then moves on to larger topics about employment itself.

Automation has been changing human labour ever since the huge migration of farm workers to cities following the introduction of the tractors, combines and harvesters that replaced farm labour.
Historically, new types of demand and related new job types have emerged, with successful transitions going to those who become life-long-learners.
But automation marches on, faster and faster, with little end in sight, and no regard for the colour of your collar. Mr. Gilmore discusses truck drivers’ fragile future. It is becoming clear that certain semi-professional jobs are under siege, such as writing routine media stories (e.g. market and sports reports), legal research and preparation of simple legal documents. Even some professional fields such as diagnosing ailments will (at least) change with the introduction of automated assistants.
It seems that job market disruptions will only spread and increase, leaving problems for educators and policy-makers.    And when the factories come home, not many jobs will come with them.

Says Mr. Gilmore:
But the real driver behind re-shoring is automation. A robot in Mississauga, Ont., costs just as much as a robot in Shenzhen. And that is the bad news. Manufacturers are moving robotic jobs, not human ones, back to North American shores.
The bad news doesn’t end there. This rise in automation has only just begun and is going to change far more than the manufacturing sector. With the growth of machine learning and artificial intelligence, job losses will not be limited to assembly lines. The service industry, office administration, computer programming, and many other sectors are all on the cusp of automation.

Tesla’s Fremont Model S factory:

Read more »

Or:  there’s gold in them-thar smartphones.
Vancouver tech company “PayByPhone” has a new owner – Volkswagen Financial Services AG. Thanks to Tyler Orton at Business In Vancouver for the tip.
A 2001 startup, the company’s service is now used by approx. 2M people in Vancouver, at over 13,000 parking meters.  Worldwide, PayByPhone has 12.5M users and handles around $300M in payments per year. Paris alone uses the service on 155,000 parking spaces.

Motor vehicle operators can use it to pay tolls on the Port Mann Bridge.

From TechCrunch:   “It is important to make the distinction that it is Volkswagen Financial Services (VWFS) who acquired us, and they have a charter to focus on general mobility services,” said PayByPhone CEO Kush Parikh in an email interview. “Outside of being the largest parking payment provider, the key asset we bring to the table is the relationship we have via our flagship mobile applications with our users. The mobile relationship is a one to one relationship that can extend into a myriad of additional services.”
. . . .  The company already has a program in London where license plates are coordinated with a user account when the car arrives in a lot, and then the user is charged for her parking time when she leaves. “[This] can quite easily be extended into the autonomous vehicle movement,” Kush said.
PayByPhone’s expansion hasn’t been hindered so much by its ability to scale as by an entrenched parking industry “that continues to hold on to archaic cash and credit card based systems, which are very capital intensive,” as Kush put it. PayByPhone does expect that VWFS’s investment will help the company expand into new countries.
Kush noted that while the company will be focused on making parking payments as seamless as possible, they do have an eye on the future. “Parking is a great way to attract users where their identities can be used for a myriad of additional services, including movement around cities (aka smart cities) and distributing our service into any application, such as mapping and travel applications.”

Read more »

From The Guardian:

The automated city: do we still need humans to run public services?

From driverless buses to an AI council worker called Amelia, municipal services are becoming increasingly automated. But what does that mean for the future of our cities – and the jobs market?
Scientific advances and new technologies often enable dramatic improvements in public services and urban life, eradicating some jobs while creating new types of employment. But the next chapter of urban automation might be more profound than any previous one. In fact, it’s already begun.
“Smart cities” offer a seductive vision of a world where everything runs as smoothly as the latest iPhone. Need a parking space? An app will tell you where one’s available, and notify you (and your friendly neighbourhood parking inspector) when your time is up. It’s the kind of technology many cities are trialling, embedding sensors in streetlights, curbs and buildings to monitor parking, traffic and air pollution – even crime. …
Still, it’s easy to guess where old municipal jobs might vanish. In London, driverless buses that can run bumper-to-bumper would make the new Routemaster seem as antiquated as a Morris Minor – and potentially supplant London’s 22,500 bus drivers. …
In October 2014, Transport for London (TfL) also unveiled 250 “driverless” tube trains which should come into service from 2022.  … Initially the new trains will still have drivers, though in the longer-term they may be redeployed as “train captains”, performing a similar role to attendants on DLR trains.

A ‘world first’: driverless minibus in Lyon Jarmo Eskelinen, chief innovation and technology office at Future Cities Catapult, argues future transport networks will react faster to emergency situations. “At the moment they adapt based on the reaction speed of people, and their reaction speed is often very slow. In future this will be automated so that they respond in near real-time, stopping transport flows to the emergency zone.”
Could cities even become self-repairing? Leeds University is leading a £4.2m project to create a fleet of robot repair workers that can spot infrastructure problems before they become disruptive – including drones that perch on lampposts to change bulbs, automated machines that fix potholes without digging up half the road, and robots that live in utility pipes and patch cracks. Professor Phil Purnell, who leads the school of civil engineering research team at Leeds University, likens these machines to a city’s “white blood cells”, repairing damage before it requires a major intervention.
He says putting road workers out of work is absolutely not the objective of the exercise. “What we need is the people who are doing tasks that are fairly dull and don’t need much skill freed up to attack the real infrastructure problems, of which there are hundreds upon hundreds that we’re burying our heads in the sand about.”
If dull tasks are the target of automation, then many back-office council roles are susceptible. Spurred on by the austerity mantra of “doing more with less”, councils are beginning to apply robotic process automation, which mimics human interaction with computer systems, to repetitive tasks such as signing people up for council tax direct debit payments. In theory this should free up staff for more demanding strategic work. Machines do the boring data entry tasks, which they generally perform faster and more accurately than human beings. And human beings use their time, empathy and creativity to improve frontline services. …
Robinson says that, while artificially intelligent chatbots could have a role to play in some areas of public service delivery: “I think we overlook the value of a quality personal relationship between two people at our peril, because it’s based on life experience, which is something that technology will never have – certainly not current generations of technology, and not for many decades to come.”
But whether everyone can be “upskilled” to carry out more fulfilling work, and how many staff will actually be needed as robots take on more routine tasks, remains to be seen. Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael Osborne’s influential 2013 paper The Future of Employment: How Susceptible are Jobs to Computerisation?, estimates that 47% of US jobs are “at risk” of being automated in the next 20 years. Another report by Deloitte found that in London, 29% of admin and support services jobs, and a whopping 72% of transport and storage roles, are at “high risk” of automation. Read more »

PT is pleased to post this notice from Clark Lim, the principal of Acuere Consulting and an instructor in the SFU Next Generation Transportation certificate:

BC Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists (APEGBC) asked me to hold a seminar on transportation planning.  I’ve framed the topic across the transport vertical from governance and policy, to road user psychology, data/analytics and eventually technology.
Although it is held by the engineer association, I suggested it be open to anyone, including elected officials as technology will increasing become an impact to planning and governing.  In fact, I’m hoping software engineers come out as I believe they will increasingly be more significant than planners.

Engineers, planners, and decision makers need to understand the complex, dynamic, and industry/domain-spanning issues that will challenge urban transportation systems over the coming decades. The session will cover fundamentals across the “transportation vertical” from data and analytics to policy and governance, the latest planning methods, techniques and tools, and the increasing impact of advanced technologies to the planning status quo.

Details and registration here. Read more »