Inventing the Physical Future at Tomorrow Lab

If you want to see what the future of urban living will look like, visiting Tomorrow Lab is a pretty good place to start. The design lab in Manhattan is earnestly trying to make life a little better through good design.

I got to visit the lab this week to talk with the company’s partners about design and what’s happening at Tomorrow Lab. The company has five employees and is in the middle of expanding their office.

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A lot of Tomorrow Lab’s projects are based on bicycles and urban riding, which is how I first heard about them, but in no way are they limited to this. They’ve designed secure cell phone charging stations, a smart pill bottle that talks to the web, and a real-time wine shipment tracker that measures humidity and temperature. Just to name a few.  

The team is obsessed with making hardware and improving physical objects.

“We spend 100 percent of our time in the physical world even if we’re on a laptop or on a phone,” says Pepin Gelardi. “I kind of see ourselves in competition with software (companies). They sprang ahead in the late 90’s and 2000’s, and now it's hardware’s turn to try and catch up and create new platforms for software, and create more meaningful and useful experiences in people’s lives.”

One of their products that does this is a traffic counter called Waycount. The small metal and plastic device has a piece of surgical tubing that can be stretched across a road to measure how many cars and bikes cross. That data then gets uploaded and can be used by anyone. The hope is that crowd-sourcing more of this information will ultimately improve city planning.

 The Waycount.

The Waycount.

Then there’s the bike counter that Tomorrow Lab is currently working on and will install on the Williamsburg Bridge. Riders can think of it as a sort of a transportation scoreboard to find out how many bikes go over the bridge on a given day.

 A bike counter for the Williamsburg Bridge.

A bike counter for the Williamsburg Bridge.

“We think software has a huge role to play, preferably inside of the things we make,” says Gelardi.

In this vein, Tomorrow Lab hacked a Citibike key a few months ago to see if it could be improved. The result is a key - the 24 Share it Gold - that can be proudly worn like a metal or a piece of jewelry. “We do a lot of hacks to explore our own curiosities and interests but also it’s to strike while the iron is hot,” says Ted Ullrich.

  Industrial Designer Ted Ullrich.

Industrial Designer Ted Ullrich.

The Lab doesn’t just focus on electronics. They also helped solve a very real problem with the Buca Boot, which is basically a locking trunk for a bicycle.  

“We think that physical things (like the Buca Boot) have the largest ability to create meaningful change and useful change in people’s lives,” says Gelardi. “And thats simply because we live here and there are real problems that need to be solved.”