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Tech Forum #1: Drones, Urban Planning, and Smart cities

February 26, 2021 14:00-16:00 (Central European time) on Zoom.

Talk 1: Thinking with the Drone: Visual Lessons in Aerial and Volumetric Thinking

Professor Ole B. Jensen, Center for Mobilities and Urban Studies (C-MUS), Aalborg University, Denmark

This talk set out to do three things: First, it proposes that a given technology (here drones) may prompt scholarly reflections around key ontological dimensions of the world. The advent of drones thus invite urban theorist to ‘think with the drone’ and reflect upon if our primarily two-dimensional conceptualization of cities and spaces need revision. Answering this in the affirmative leads to a need for so-called ‘volumetric thinking’ as the second task of the paper. The emergence of drones necessitates us to comprehend the ‘space between the buildings’ and the vertical dimension as key dimension of urban space (which for many still are confined to a simple two dimensional ‘flat world’ view). This touches upon the third ambition of the paper. By adding a new ‘point of view’ in a literal sense drones also prompt us to think about aerial visions of the city. How can volumetric thinking be coupled with the new aerial vision in such a way that it enhances our critical understanding of the spatial conditions of cities? The position of this paper is that we need the volumetric ‘corrective’ not just to counter old habits of ‘flat cartographies’, but also to prevent the new aerial views opened up by drone technologies to simply become an extension of the ‘old two-dimensional view’. 

Ole B. Jensen is Professor of Urban Theory at the Department of Architecture, Design and Media Technology, Aalborg University (Denmark). He is deputy director and co-founder of the Centre for Mobilities and Urban Studies (C-MUS). He is the author of Staging Mobilities, Routledge, 2013, and Designing Mobilities, 2014, Aalborg University Press, the Editor of the four-volume collection Mobilities, Routledge, 2015, and author (with Ditte Bendix Lanng) of Mobilities Design. Urban Designs for Mobile Situations, 2017, Routledge, co-editor of the Routledge Handbook of Urban Mobilities, 2020 (with Claus Lassen, Ida S.G. Larsen, Malene Freudendal-Pedersen and Vincent Kaufman). In relation to drones he has published: Jensen, O. B. (in press) Thinking with the Drone – Visual Lessons in Aerial and Volumetric Thinking, Visual Studies, Jensen, O.B. (2016) New ‘Foucaultdian Boomerangs’: Drones and Urban Surveillance. Surveillance & Society 14(1): 20-33, Jensen, O. B. (2016) Drone City – power, design and aerial mobility in the age of the ‘smart city’, Geographica Helvetica+, vol. 71, no. 2, pp. 67-75, doi:10.5194/gh-71-67-2016.


Talk 2: Drone Futuring: A Critical Investigation of Speculative Frameworks

Paul Cureton, Senior Lecturer in Design at Lancaster University, UK

Aerial ontologies are unique to the built environment having a large impact on the planning of space. This is evident in the role of aerial observation for Le Corbusier and many others. In particular, Drones (Unmanned Aircraft Systems) provide a variety of insights in that they operate in a ‘hover space’ between human levels of observation and light aircraft. This operative airspace as an infrastructure for drones is fundamentally entwined through the technological ‘stacking’ and ‘fusing’ of design and aerospace engineering, computational tools and methodologies. For drone capability particular benefits of imaging, sensing and mapping space have an emergent ubiquity and near future.  Thus, drones offer a new resolution on the world and a ‘machinic’ eye in a period of climatic breakdown. Drones are not passive agents in this new hover space, potentials for urban analytics via computer vision and machine learning combined with construction management means that they are actively contributing to the design and shaping of space, albeit in a cost-effective and arguably democratic manner. Yet modes of futuring are critical to understanding these developments and wider discussion of the socio-cultural benefits that drones purportedly provide is critical. A variety of speculative frameworks and methodologies will be discussed and investigated to understand the dynamics of our drone futures.

Paul Cureton is a Senior Lecturer in Design at Imagination Lancaster, member of the Data Science Institute, and Security Lancaster, Lancaster University, UK. His research interest revolves around the agency and expression of futures and methods in landscape and architecture in the built environment. This research interest has manifested itself in the exploration of the power of urban visions and speculative futures, the history and future of vertical urbanism through drones and the use of 3D mapping, geo-design and digital twins for urban design and planning. His recent publications include the monograph Strategies for Landscape Representation: Digital and Analogue Techniques (2016) and Drone Futures: UAS in Landscape & Urban Design (2020). He is co-author, with Nick Dunn, of Future Cities: A Visual Guide (2020).