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Cornell Tech University’s New Course is Helping Cities to Emerge from the Challenges of COVID-19 Pandemic

Cornell Tech University’s New Course is Helping Cities to Emerge from the Challenges of COVID-19 Pandemic
Cornell Tech University students have recently proposed a host of augmented reality and virtual reality projects that would help New York City to reboot after the COVID-19 pandemic. The projects will include a platform developed using location data, sensors, and machine learning that will guide users to socially distanced seating arrangements in cafes, an AR platform providing immersive art experiences, along with many others.

Defending Density

The projects were reportedly developed in the fall 2020 course titled Urban Systems: Defending Density. It was a part of Cornell Tech’s recent two-year dual master’s degree course in urban technology at the Jacobs Technion-Cornell Institute. In this course, students developed several technologies intending to help reopen four significant areas of city life— restaurants and shops, office spaces, schools, and cultural institutions.

The primary goal of the newly opened Urban Tech Hub at the Jacobs Institute is to look for innovative ways to overcome the most pressing challenges. The Hub was opened only last year with $15 million support from Stephen M. Ross, a notable philanthropist and a real estate developer of New York City, along with his company Related Companies. Ross told that the cities are experiencing a wave of innovative solutions inspired by the unforeseen challenges over the last year and these innovations will positively transform urban life for future generations. He also stated that these intriguing ideas developed by the students will help New Yorkers to get back to school, to work, as well as will support cultural institutions and small businesses.

Empowering cities

Michael Samuelian, the director of the Urban Tech Hub and an instructor of Urban Systems: Defending Density said that the interdisciplinary program aims to leverage advanced technology to empower cities by making them fairer, stronger, and more resilient. It strives to take the definition of urban technology beyond the notion of smart cities—using data and sensors to make urban life more efficient. Following the idea, Samuelian remarked that urban tech can also be a major instrument to battle the COVID-19 aftermaths.

The very first year in which the Hub was launched, Anthony Townsend, the first urbanist-in-residence of the Hub and an expert in IT and the future of urban tech planned a series of lectures on “What’s Next for Urban Tech.” This year, Rohit Aggarwala, a senior advisor at Sidewalks Labs and the former head of NYC Mayor’s Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability, is working alongside the students to develop new plans seeking to deploy advanced digital technologies for the City Council and mayoral administration.

Technology can help cities overcome long-term hurdles such as inequity and environmental threats. In short term, it can be a powerful tool for pandemic recovery. To this end, the Cornell Tech students’ project targeted problems like reopening schools and supporting small businesses. Their projects, “Restarting the Workspace,” “Reopening Cafes”, “Reopening Cultural Institutions”, and “Education Next” use sensing and other digital technologies to cater to the cities’ needs.

Samuelian said that these ventures, combined with the increased comfort level and familiarity with the Zoom app have created new opportunities for constructive change. He remarked that greater challenges trigger innovations.

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