HP Labs

Rapid Urbanization: Q&A with Andrew Bolwell

By Srdjan Vejvoda, Managing Editor, HP Labs — November 29, 2016


Andrew Bolwell is the Global Head of Technology Vision and HP Tech Ventures.  In this role he is responsible for driving HP’s long-term innovation and technology vision for HP, as well as for HP's venture activities, working across start-up and venture capital communities to identify, source, commercialize and invest in early-stage disruptive technologies.  Liaising with HP Labs, business groups, customers and partners, Andrew is defining new market segments, products and business models that will help shape HP’s future growth.

Today, we’re sharing Part 2 of a five-part series discussing HP’s future technology vision, and how key global forces known as Megatrends are being used to shape that vision and our future. Megatrends are global socio-economic, demographic and technological forces that will have a sustained and transformative impact on businesses, societies, economies, cultures and our personal lives in unimaginable ways in the years to come.

One of the trends that will have a significant impact on our cities, infrastructure, services and environment is the growing expansion of city populations, something HP calls Rapid Urbanization. The world is now more urban than rural, and that is expected to surpass 70% by 2050.  Who will make up these city populations, how they will change our economies and what impact they will have on our environment is something businesses, governments and technologists will be challenged with for years to come.

What opportunities and challenges does Rapid Urbanization pose to HP?
As the population continues to grow and more people move to cities, our cities will get larger, and we’ll have more of them. In fact, by 2030 we will have 41 “megacities with populations of over 10 million people each –more than the current population of Sweden. Meanwhile, the area of urbanized land could triple globally from 2000 to 2030. This is equivalent to adding an area bigger than Manhattan every single day.

These megacities will require a new level of infrastructure design and architectural planning, making it easier for residents to work and live in a dense urban setting.

Smart cities will emerge powered by robust technology infrastructure: sensors, data platforms, analytics, cloud, etc.

Roads, public transit, and parking structures will start to serve multiple purposes, generating energy, and charging electric vehicles, in addition to their original function.

Space will be at a premium, forcing us to rethink how we design products to fit in smaller, shared work and living spaces.

And the world around us will become smarter—city sidewalks that suggest walking routes based on congestion, construction, pollution etc.  Even in our homes our everyday items will make city living easier by automatically ordering supplies from neighborhood consumer goods and food outlets when we are running low, delivered by drones and robots and only in quantities we have room to store.

So will Rapid Urbanization change consumer consumption and global economics?Historically, bigger cities have been correlated with major economic growth. With cities the size of small countries, megacities will become markets unto themselves. In the next ten years, urbanization will welcome an additional 1.8 billion consumers to the world economy. The majority of these new consumers will be in emerging markets, where annual consumption is forecast to reach $30 trillion in 2025.

Urbanization is not only driving economic growth, it’s also changing how we buy and consume products and services. It will drive demand for new services that will make it easier to share resources and space in a crowded, hectic and increasingly busy environment, propelling the sharing economy and convenience-based services.

Services that will save us time— virtual assistants that will reschedule our meetings or send clients inventory updates, and home appliances that will reorder coffee, shampoo and milk when we are running low.

Ease the traffic and transportation hassles—ride shares, parking valets and self-driving car services. 

And make our busy lives more enjoyable—reservations at the hottest restaurants, last minute weekend getaway house shares, wearables that alert us to nearby retail offers. Even sommelier and florist bots who will make sure we always have the right bottle of wine or flowers for that special occasion.

The service possibilities are endless.

What kind of toll will this rapid growth of cities pose to our environment and how can HP help?

Rapid Urbanization is already taking a toll on the environment. If things remain the same, in 2030 mankind will need the resources of two planets to sustain its current lifestyle. Electricity consumption is predicted to grow by 13% alone in the next 4 years. Addressing resource waste can partially offset this increasing resource demand, but we will also need to employ new technologies that can optimize resource usage. This means that sustainability will become increasingly important for both consumers and businesses.

We need to get smarter about how we manage our resources and capitalize on opportunities, new resources and new ways of doing things.

There is already great advancement being made in alternate energy sources.  In Africa a people-powered football field (a.k.a. soccer in the U.S.) is generating energy from the player’s footsteps and converting it into the energy used to light the field.

It’s just the beginning to how technology can help enable new, improved ways of creating and minimizing the use of energy, food, water etc.

How does a company like HP stay ahead of this change, to innovate, adapt, reinvent and engineer experiences for the future?

Rapid Urbanization will transform cities into markets, create a new consuming class, change business models, and increase the importance of global sustainability. And while we can’t predict exactly what the future holds, we can look to these changes, along with the other major socio-economic, demographic and technological trends occurring across the globe, to help guide us as we chart our course. At HP, there is unrelenting excitement about our future in this ever-changing world.  We are on the cusp of new possibilities and innovations that will lead to products and services that will shape our future. This is what drives us to Keep Reinventing.