Urban innovation and smile tech

I was covering a conference the other week in Montreal for the New Cities Foundation Summit 2016 which offered an illuminating tour of the latest trends in urban technology and visions of cities in the future. The New Cities Foundation is a non-profit organization established in 2010, focused on bringing people together around the central theme of urban technology and innovations that are shaping cities around the world as we enter an increasingly urban age.  It is estimated that by 2050, 6.5 billion people will live in cities, up from 4 billion today. Sustainable solutions to our transport, energy, waste management and housing needs are essential and core to living healthier, safer lives on a healthy planet. It was a real pleasure to be in attendance, and have the upfront opportunities to experience some of the inspirational speakers and provocative presentations at the conference — one of the perks of being a conference photographer.

Some of the highlights for me were the series of presentations from Global Urban Innovators (GUIs), a group of international startups building companies around urban innovations to address the needs of people today and into the future:

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Chummy Agarwal, Co-Founder and Chief Technology Officer presented his company Jugnoo, an on-demand auto-rickshaw app based in India.

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Niamh Kirwin, Marketing and Communications Manager, shared her exciting startup, Foodcloud, that focuses on reducing food waste in cities by bringing surplus food to those who need it.

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Steven Ramage, Strategy Director, What3Words, really blew my mind explaining how his company has developed a new address system for the world given every 3 square meters on the planet a three-word name such as “Banana Car Giraffe” to give everyone everywhere a usable address.

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Raphaël Gindrat, CEO and Co-Fuonder, Bestmile, taking a truly forward looking view is building an ecosystem to manage autonomous vehicle fleets: a fleet management software, a smartphone application, a system for traveler information and solutions for the control of smart infrastructure, creating a platform that works like a “brain”,  enabling the control of many autonomous vehicles at the same time.

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Geert Houben, Founder and CEO, Cubigo, addressing the problem of an ageing population, social isolation and loneliness, has developed “one app to rule them all” that integrates a suite of apps that helps older people with restricted access and mobility live more independent lives.

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Chris Gourlay, Founder and CEO, Spacehive, talked about the platform he and his team have developed to help engaged citizens access funding for their civic projects so they can transform unused urban spaces (anything from parking lots to empty mall space)

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Aaron Lander, Co-Founder and CEO, Popupsters, shared his passion for the platform he and his team are building to connect artisans, vendors and makers with events.

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Arielle Guedes, Founder & CEO, Urban3D is aiming to do nothing less than radically transform the construction industry, creating a new process of building and developing new materials using 3D printers to create natural materials, that do not require metal reinforcement or cement.

CK4A2910.jpgChong-Wey Lin, Founder, OurCityLove, a Taiwanese based social enterprise seeking to increase and improve accessibility in the urban environment for mobility challenged people.

“I use technology to help bring more smiles into the world.”

While later mingling with the audience as they were engaged in networking and exchanging ideas and business cards, I was approached by one of the attendees who asked me to send through some of the photos I had taken of her with her fellow attendees. I am often asked by guests for access to their photos and I try to accommodate people who ask me as best I can, with my clients consent. Part of what I love about my job are these opportunities to meet interesting people from around the world. In this case, when I asked what she did I was told that she works for an organization that uses technology to help bring more peace to the world. That’s a pretty awesome thing to be involved with and when I was asked about my work, I responded, “I use technology to help bring more smiles into the world.”

It was a quick and playful response, of course, but on reflection, it is actually an accurate description of what it means to be a photographer of people. Photographers at events can be seen as a nuisance, or an interruption but in my many years experience what I’ve learned is that we also provide a very valuable service beyond mere documentation and the images we deliver to our clients. When I see a group of people talking slightly awkwardly together in that business networking conference attendee way before the second cocktail round, I approach and ask them to stand together and smile. It only takes a few seconds, and I usually proffer some kind of light banter to make them laugh a bit. It works beautifully for getting a nice photograph, but I’ve notice the effect lingers and the smiling usually persists after I’ve buzzed away. It’s just human nature to feel more open and accepting of another person who is smiling at you and though I don’t take much credit for it, I do believe that the thousands of such small interactions I’ve instigated have, over time, produced many more smiles than might otherwise have happened.

Call it the butterfly shutterfly effect, a photographer’s contribution to making the world a better place.

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