Artificial intelligence that can monitor roadway conditions, urban services that can function seamlessly in smart cities, and high-altitude balloons that can create real-time imagery are among the projects being developed by the newest startups at URBAN-X.

There are nine companies participating in Cohort 03, which is what URBAN-X calls the third round of participants chosen to work with MINI’s engineers. The startups have spent five months designing products and services that are human-centric and that use technologies such as machine vision, artificial intelligence, data-training and advanced manufacturing.

The goal of URBAN-X is to act as a tech accelerator to work with companies addressing societal challenges and to make cities more efficient, functional, and liveable. MINI, which is part of the BMW Group, founded URBAN-X in 2016 to create more ideas for urban living and to focus on engineering the city as a service.

SEE: IT leader’s guide to the rise of smart cities, volume 2 (Tech Pro Research download)

The first round of startups was introduced in 2016 and presented their ideas at a special BMW event in Santa Monica. The second round of startups was introduced last year, at URBAN-X’s new headquarters in Brooklyn, NY.

There’s a need for innovation in cities because of the population growth in urban areas. As of July 2014, 54% of the world’s population lives in cities, up from 34% in 1960. The World Health Organization predicts that by 2050, 75% of the people on the planet will be urban dwellers. Because of this urban population explosion, there’s a greater need to minimize automobile traffic and find ways to reduce global emissions.

“MINI is focused on the significance of the city as a whole, aiming to understand not just what’s most relevant to people’s lives today, but what will matter to them in the future,” said Esther Bahne, head of MINI brand strategy and business innovation. “Having our team work so closely and intensely with the startups at URBAN-X allows us to help take them to the next level while continuously widening our own focus.”

Each startup that participates in an URBAN-X cohort receives $100,000 in initial investment from the program, and five months of assistance in design and engineering resources from MINI. URBAN-X works with startups to learn about everything from customer discovery to fundraising.

“Each of the teams has made dramatic progress in developing and delivering solutions that will improve city living. We look forward to working with them closely as they grow their teams and serve their customers,” said URBAN-X Managing Director Micah Kotch.

The startups of cohort 03 include:

Blueprint Power

Blueprint Power connects buildings to energy markets. The company is convening a large portfolio of buildings across cities that produce excess energy from onsite energy assets. Blueprint Power uses machine learning to decide where and when to sell this excess energy, as well as to recommend upgrades to buildings that want to generate more.


Lunewave is developing a sensor system for fully autonomous vehicles and it has written agreements from several automotive companies for beta product to be released this year. The team is actively negotiating with additional key players across OEMs, Tier 1 suppliers and ride hail companies within the AV ecosystem.


RoadBotics monitors and manages roadways through AI technology that identifies and rates road features and conditions, including cracks, potholes, signage, vegetation, debris and other characteristics. RoadBotics currently assesses roadways in more than 20 cities, towns and counties across eight states and two countries.


Qucit has created a platform based on a proprietary machine learning algorithm that works with thousands of data sources to understand how to make cities better. The software can optimize bike share rebalancing while also analyzing people’s emotions to give real estate developers and city planners the necessary information to create happier spaces. It is currently used by 15 customers in nine cities and five countries, including Keolis, Transdev, Egis, and Smoove.


Swiftera is using high-altitude balloons to produce high-resolution live maps. In December, the company conducted test flights in Philadelphia and Scranton, PA, Greensboro, NC and Zaragoza, Spain. The real-time maps provide a data source for gathering insights about dynamic environments such as cities for urban planners, construction companies, real estate developers, and anyone who needs location data.


Upshift intends to make accessing a car easier than owning one for people who live in cities but don’t drive every day. Currently operating in San Francisco, Upshift delivers a new, clean Prius to members’ doorsteps, with a full tank of gas and valet parking and refueling at the end of each trip. Upshift recently launched pre-paid and subscription plans.

Versatile Natures

Versatile Natures’ AI and IoT platform supports construction managers with real-time, actionable insights and predictions on status and safety. The company expects to scale to over 30 construction sites in 2018. The company is also partnering with Autodesk on the new BIM306 platform.

Good Goods

Good Goods is changing retail for shared urban spaces. It launched a prototype store in the fall of 2017 in New York City as a space-as-a-service model for brands. Coupled with shared retail space, Good Goods also launched its beta technology platform for brands to gather insights and feed usage data to property owners.

Hosta Labs

Hosta Labs is developing 3D models created from regular pictures for design and renovation. The company will start a private pilot in the first quarter of 2018 with potential customers and plans to expand its channel partnerships.

The public launch of the next cohort program is May 10, 2018.

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