Future-looking research collaboration
The Microsoft Urban Futures Summer Workshop (July 28–30, 2020) was three intensive days of talks, discussion and planning for data driven urban transformation. With over 100 attendees, we built a research driven coalition of civic, academic and research leaders to envision what services could be built on top of data sets for improving the future of cities. Together we produced a series of white papers that present research and action plans for cities, academia, and industry, to conduct real world research and deployments.
Two hours each morning were devoted to research and technology talks from stakeholders representing Microsoft Research, top academic institutions, and civic leaders. The second half of each day was devoted to working groups writing the white papers focused on topics relevant to the future of cities, people, and the environment.
In addition to the white papers produced by workshop participants, several potential future-looking research collaboration ideas emerged from the workshop:
1. Clean air as a city service
Clean air is fundamental to human health and the environment and is an essential human right. Measuring Greenhouse Gases is crucial for fighting climate change. Every city should have a service that makes air quality data available to residents, policy makers, and third parties. This project uses Project Eclipse (and other) hyperlocal air quality sensors to drive development of a service that will inform the public and guide policy decisions to more efficiently lead to clean air for all.
2. Piloting urban pop-up lab
Engaging the public with environmental data will be crucial to inducing positive climate change related behavior. This project pilots the concept of a pop-up “eco-lab”: a mobile (e.g., housed in a shipping container) lab experience that can be placed in communities where MSR is deploying its environmental sensing technologies. The goal is to make the technology and data understandable, relatable, and valuable to the people in the communities that ultimately should benefit.
3. Public health mobile app development for preventing asthma
Paired with air quality data from Project Eclipse, this project launches a mobile app for people to both check local air quality and report their respiratory status. Such a platform can be used formally for public health research, and less formally to build community and raise public awareness of the conditions and locations that most trigger respiratory health issues.
4. Can deep learning match current climate science modeling techniques for identifying pollution sources?
Brief description: Current climate science models for inverse modeling (tracing pollutants back to emission sources) require extremely computationally intensive models. With this project, we will assess the accuracy of deep learning models as an Azure-compatible and more computationally efficient approach.
5. Developing a housing health index for cities
Especially given the expected climate migration, meeting housing demand will be amongst the toughest challenges facing cities in the coming decades. This project aggregates disparate data (permit data, rent and mortgage rates, building codes, etc.) to build a multidimensional housing health index for a city. In addition to helping cities understand the state of their housing, the index can also be used for intelligent planning by allowing “what if” tweaking of model inputs.
6. Urban heat islands
Cities heat and retain heat, causing negative public health and global warming impacts, resulting in a “heat island” effect that is a major concern for many urban areas. This phenomena causes heat to be unevenly distributed around cities, and thus with this project we propose the use of hyperlocal heat sensors to identify “heat islets” where cities can allocate resources for localized cooling.
7. Air quality sensors improving on volatile organic compounds (VOCs)
VOCs, including those from trees, contribute to atmospheric pollution. In this project we will combine ground level gas measurements (via Project Eclipse) with VOC measurements, at different levels of urban development, from highly urban to forested to better understand how VOCs from these varying levels of human development mix with gases to contribute to pollution.
Microsoft will continue to collaborate with our external partners and evolve these ideas and research plans with an eye toward implementing them in the next year or so.
—Scott Counts, Kristin Lauter, and Asta Roseway
Microsoft Urban Innovation Initiative