3D-Printing Affordable Housing

Katie Sheehan (kes2221)

Problem: Population Growth and Lack of Affordable Housing

Urban communities around the world face a coming reality of population growth that outpaces the supply of safe, affordable housing, with many cities having already reached that point given the presence of large slum neighborhoods with “structures” made of tin, dirt, tarps, and other non-permanent materials. To be able to grant everyone the right to safe shelter, communities need an inexpensive and more permanent way to house low- or no-income residents.

Solution: 3D-Printed Houses (ICON)

ICON is a building company that uses a proprietary printing system called Vulcan that can print concrete structures up to 10.5 feet in height. In a recent collaboration with the U.S. non-profit New Story, the Vulcan created the world’s first 3D-printed community for homeless citizens in Tabasco, Mexico. The structures were printed with a floor plan of two bedrooms, a living room, kitchen and bathroom and each were printed within 24 hours – local workers were used at the end of the project to install plumbing, wire electric service, and install windows/doors. The structures can withstand earthquakes and other natural disasters, with the goal of having “generational impact” for low-income residents.

Beyond building completely new communities in areas such as Texas and Mexico, ICON has also piloted a 347 sq. ft. home that has potential to be built as an ADU (Accessory Dwelling Unit), making communities more affordable for both new and existing residents where extra space is available.


The two primary groups of stakeholders in these types of projects/communities are municipalities and low-/no-income residents and/or homeless population. Both groups benefit from an inexpensive, more permanent housing structure that has the opportunity to raise health/social outcomes for these populations – by providing a safe, permanent structure with the potential for running water and electricity, residents can fulfill one major component of the base level of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and focus on improving other needs such as food, water, employment, health, and education.


The successful construction of these new communities open the door for opportunities elsewhere around the world, in both developed and developing countries. ICON could continue to partner either with NGOs or municipal governments to locate, fund, and construct suitable sites in order to create additional housing. Implementation would be fairly quick given the short printing time of a Vulcan structure (24-48 hours), though the front-end logistics would be more involved given the size of the equipment (shipping concerns) and the amount of community planning required.


Optimizing Vehicle Usage with Fleetonomy

Katie Sheehan (kes2221)

Sustainability Problem : Transportation

Transportation accounts for about 30% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions (EPA, 2019), and America has the highest density of car ownership in the world (821 cars per 1,000 people as of 2015). Transportation in the coming decades needs to shift away from individual ICE (internal combustion engine) vehicles and towards more sustainable solutions such as public transportation, EVs, and ride- or car-sharing platforms.

Solution: Fleetonomy

As city populations increase and ride-sharing usage increases in popularity, vehicle fleet owners (both private companies and municipalities) can benefit from more efficient deployment of resources and fleet size reductions, while offering customers more flexible vehicle use options that can further accelerate the sharing economy. Fleetonomy is a mobility software that can be used by vehicle fleet owners to launch/control ride-sharing platforms, control a car-subscription service, or use a more standard car rental platform, while providing resources and benefits such as fleet simulation, optimizing scheduling and vehicle dispatch, and customization for clients.

Service Visualization

Fleetonomy allows users to fully simulate their current or proposed service, allowing for geo-, asset-, and service-specific parameters such as the need to keep EVs charged, service type, and location constraints into account in order to find efficiencies, right-size level of service, and measure performance against specified KPIs.

Scheduling & Dispatch

The Fleetonomy software allows users to enhance operational efficiency through driver/car roster management, dynamic routing, and real-time monitoring, to get resources where they need to go from a managerial and current demand perspective.


Fleetonomy’s data insights allow for optimized asset allocations through visibility on customer preferences and trends in different locations, for a variety of service types that can also account for accessibility and other special need constraints.


Using software platforms like Fleetonomy will benefit vehicle fleet owners, ride-sharing drivers, and individual consumers looking for alternatives to individual car ownership in urban and suburban locations. Vehicle fleet owners/ride-sharing companies will be able to improve resource efficiency and deployment, allowing for increased response to real-time consumer demand while also predicting future business needs. Using increased real-time and predictive analytics will ensure ride-sharing drivers are dispatched more efficiently and right-size driver fleets which could increase individual earnings and avoid localized emissions from having drivers ride around for blocks and/or idle in city centers waiting for rides to be requested. Finally, by increasing insights on the fleet owner/ride-sharing side, companies will be able to visualize and respond to customer trends and market conditions, allowing for increased options for ride- and car-sharing service offerings for individual consumers, further removing barriers to the transportation sharing economy.


Fleetonomy was recently acquired by the ride-sharing and “transitech” Via (Oct 2020), which plans to use the platform to “apply Fleetonomy’s technology and expertise in demand prediction and fleet utilization to advance its digitally-powered logistics solutions”. The immediate-term focus seems to be on public transportation and delivery logistics planning, but Via’s ride-sharing service would also benefit from this platform, and the acquired company could continue to build on its partnerships with car companies and owners of physical car fleets to plan for adjacent solutions in the rental car/car-sharing space.



Using Pebble to Make Parking Smarter

Katie Sheehan – kes2221

Problem (Transportation):

Parking in urban areas is truly the tale of two cities – in one neighborhood there could be vast surface lots that sit empty, and in another there could be a line of running cars circling the same block to try and find a spot. Cities are planned using antiquated zoning rules which often nowadays have too many parking requirements, while at the same time in cities like New York drivers can spend a long time trying to find parking without real-time data on spot availability – as we don’t currently have an EV-dominated vehicle market adding traffic and idling cars to city streets increases localized emissions which can worsen health outcomes in communities nearby.

Solution: Easy-to-Install Parking Sensors (Pebble)

Sidewalk Labs has just released yet another smart city tech solution, a self-adhesive parking sensor that is placed directly onto any parking surface called Pebble. Pebble is a low-power, long-lasting sensor and nearby solar-powered cellular network gateway that can help parking operators monitor real-time parking availability, and inform trend-based decisions such as parking pricing in order to reduce congestion and idling. If interfaced with an app it could allow individual drivers to get to available spots in the area more efficiently, or provide real-time or forecasted data prior to departure so users may forego driving or carpool. It can also be useful to city planners when determining new zoning parking requirements in certain neighborhoods, allowing for optimized land use. While parking sensors are not new, they are typically installed as an entire system within parking garages – this can be expensive and would not be used in curbside city parking, for example. Pebble can be scaled up or down on the number of sensors/system size, allowing for easy installation and customization – add a parking spot, stick a new sensor on the pavement on top of it.


Parking Owners – Cities and Private Operators

Parking owners such as private lot holders and even municipalities could use this scalable technology in their lots or on a street’s curbside parking, allowing for monitoring of real-time parking usage data, as well as trended or forecasted future usage. This can let spot owners develop more informed price yielding strategies based on cycles of demand, and have more up to-date management of their lots.


If Pebble’s real-time and forecasting data can be interfaced with an app such as Google Maps (Sidewalk Labs is a subsidiary of Alphabet), drivers would be able to find available spots more quickly – thus reducing idling time and street congestion. They could even use real-time and forecasted parking trends to plan their trips ahead of time, potentially forgoing the use of an individual car and opting for public transportation options instead if available parking is scarce or too expensive.

City Planning Departments:

City planners could use data trends to inform city-wide pricing strategies, the addition or subtraction of available spaces (either temporarily as in NYC’s Open Streets or permanently through the addition of bus/bike lanes, for example), and even zoning parking requirements in residential neighborhoods.


Pebble has already been piloted with parking operators and within individual neighborhoods, but in order to get those key benefits for drivers and city planning departments Sidewalk Labs should partner with a city to test pilot a larger “smart parking zone” using Pebble, and create a pilot app for drivers to use Pebble in real time (or integrate the localized data with Google Maps). This would give the partnered city the opportunity to evaluate its current parking more holistically, while also being able to measure reductions in “parking traffic” and idling which impacts localized emissions.



Using AI to Design our Cities

Katie Sheehan (kes2221)

Sustainability Problem: Urban Population Growth and Land Use

Over 50% of the world’s population currently lives in cities, and that percentage is expected to grow to almost 70% by 2050 (IPCC). Cities are the heart of our economic activity, and urban areas from small metropolitans to “megacities” will likely need to host more and more people and business activity within their borders. For cities to be able to handle this excess capacity, as well as accomplish other sustainability goals such as reducing their sprawl to surrounding suburban/rural land; providing safe, clean and affordable housing for citizens; increasing energy and water efficiency; and limiting localized emissions from high-carbon transportation traffic; real estate developers and/or city planners will need to take more and more factors and stakeholders into account as they plan development for increasingly popular “neighborhood campuses”.

Solution: Incorporating AI into Planning and Development (Delve)

Delve is an AI tool from Sidewalk Labs that aims to help urban planners and developers alike make smarter, more informed decisions into neighborhood design. One of the biggest issues for developments of a multi-building scope is that there are a myriad of design, financial, and social decisions to make in the development of neighborhoods, and there is much time spent in the development process determining how best to consider, prioritize, and incorporate these decisions for a multitude of stakeholders. Delve hopes to use machine learning to generate the best design using the prioritized inputs from users, planning inputs, and site constraints – which can be updated in minutes based on new feedback from stakeholders. A report is generated with each option that shows performance against each identified metric, and the tool can help developers find, for example, space for more dwelling units, and increase site daylight access.


Urban planning and real estate development affects a wide variety of city stakeholders, and using Delve would impact anyone from the neighborhood citizen to city as an entity.

Real Estate Developers:

In most cities, real estate owners/investors drive new urban development by building new residential, commercial, and mixed-used projects. While they are primarily motivated by financial return, developers are constricted in many ways by the planning approval process as well as local zoning constraints. Depending on where the land they purchased is located, developers are limited by what they can build and how much, as well as a planning process that usually involves some public/public entity input and approval for the development and its design. Using Delve could more easily incorporate any and all site constraints and stakeholder inputs, as well as model financial outcomes into the design.

Cities: Citizens of the Present and Future

Current and future municipal residents and commuters would also be affected by the use of this tool in building new neighborhoods and developments. The ability of cities to handle future population and economic growth is dependent on the amount of quality dwelling units and/or other commercial space available to occupy at the right price. Nearby community members would benefit by allowing more of their inputs to be incorporated into the design process, and the city as a whole would benefit from smarter density and community development decisions being used as its population grows and desires to attract the best businesses and talent.


Delve can be used by municipalities and private developers alike, and can also be used for projects currently underway as well as those yet to be imagined beyond the plot of land. The product has already been piloted in the real world in a mixed-use development near London, and was able to find space for more residential units without sacrificing access to daylight and open space. City planning departments should work with developers to use tools like Delve in order to add density, quality of life benefits, and incorporate local citizen input more effectively to optimize neighborhood design and allow them to serve the present and future community.



Reducing Energy Usage with Mesa

kes2221 – Katie Sheehan

Sustainability Problem: Energy

According to the IPCC, buildings are responsible for over 1/3 of global energy consumption, which currently includes an incredible amount of fossil fuels. In order to stay on the projected 1.5°C pathway, the global in-place building stock will need to have 80-90% lower emissions levels than 2010 levels. While many countries, states, and cities have plans to decarbonize their grids in the coming decades, there are quite a few municipalities that have strict emissions laws that will cap and fine excess emissions in commercial buildings by 2030 (ex. Local Law 97 in NYC). In order to reduce building emissions and energy usage in the near-term (without spending millions on multi-year retrofit projects), building owners will need to reduce energy usage, including a good portion of which is currently controlled and paid for by individual tenants.


Mesa is a customizable kit created by Sidewalk Labs that uses an array of devices such as motion detectors, temperature/humidity sensors, proximity sensors, smart plugs, and digital thermostats that connect into Mesa’s software and cloud to provide automated energy decisions, visibility into real-time data and trends, and remote device management to commercial real estate buildings. 

The system can also work at the tenant space-level to adapt to occupant real-time comfort, changing business hours, and returning to a post-COVID office and new concerns surrounding indoor air quality. Mesa also has a mobile app to display the data that is it collecting in order to show cumulative energy and emissions savings, provide a mobile action button for individuals to assess thermal comfort, and review a log of actions taken by the system such as turning off devices and adjusting indoor air temperature.


Building Owners: Building owners/investors are currently the ultimate bearers of the consequences of any municipal or other legislation aimed at capping or significantly curbing emissions in the built environment. This kit allows for more niche adjustments/reductions in energy usage to be made where building-wide energy management systems and “human-based” decisions in tenant spaces cannot reach. By allowing for greater (automated) energy control, owners/operators will most likely see increased alignment in reducing overall energy usage and carbon emissions with their tenants.

Building Occupants: Beyond aligning building owners and tenants along the lines of energy efficiency and cost savings as well as any sustainability goals and commitments, this technology can also allow individuals within tenant spaces to interact with and provide more real-time feedback to their indoor environments – providing greater thermal and air quality comfort which will most likely increase productivity and happiness.


Due to its high degree of customizability, Mesa has an opportunity to play in the small to large commercial asset space, and also connect with both building owners as well as occupants in order to garner interest in this technology. The kit is designed by the Mesa team in order to best suit the needs of the space and the degree of control either the owner/operator or tenant has over the mechanical/electrical systems and devices that govern the space’s energy usage. Additionally, the kit is meant to be a low-cost and easily-installed alternative to replacing entire building systems and equipment, which can be cost-prohibitive to owners that may not achieve utility bill savings to the scale needed to offset the heavy upfront capital costs. Further, this technology has the opportunity to increase tenant awareness of energy consumption and carbon emissions within their individual spaces, where building owners may not have any direct control but still be subject to local emissions caps set for the entire building. And finally, for office and retail tenants this technology can be used to recognize company emissions that must be monitored or reduced through any corporate net-zero commitments made.

Mesa has already announced a collaboration with Hudson Square Properties/Hines to deploy the technology within the 12-building portfolio located in the Hudson Square neighborhood of lower Manhattan. Hines is one of the world’s largest global real estate investment firms, and the Hudson Square portfolio represents about 6 million square feet of commercial space in NYC.