Since Ronnie Brown and his collaborators have come up with a general proof of the higher Van Kampen theorems, what impediments are there to using these to compute the unstable homotopy groups of spheres?

Here are some answers on the HHSvKT  I have been persuaded by a referee that we ought also to honour Seifert. These theorems are about homotopy invariants of structured spaces, more particularly filtered spaces or ncubes of spaces. For example the first theorem of this type Brown, R. and Higgins, P.~J. On the connection between the second relative homotopy groups of some related spaces. Proc. London Math. Soc. (3) \textbf{36}~(2) (1978) 193212. said that the fundamental crossed module functor from pairs of pointed spaces to crossed modules preserves certain colimits. This allows some calculations of homotopy 2types and then you need further work to compute the 1st and 2nd homotopy group; of course these two homotopy groups are pale shadows of the 2type. As example calculations I mention R. Brown ``Coproducts of crossed $P$modules: applications to second homotopy groups and to the homology of groups'', {\em Topology} 23 (1984) 337345. (with C.D.WENSLEY), `Computation and homotopical applications of induced crossed modules', J. Symbolic Computation 35 (2003) 5972. In the second paper some computational group theory is used to compute the 2type and so 2nd homotopy groups of some mapping cones of maps $ Bf: BG \to BH$ where $f:G \to H$ is a morphism of groups. For applications of the work with Loday I refer you for example to the bibliography on the nonabelian tensor product www.bangor.ac.uk/r.brown/nonabtens.html which has 130 items (Jan, 2014), since the topic has been taken up by group theorists, and also Ellis, G.~J. and Mikhailov, R. A colimit of classifying spaces. {Advances in Math.} (2010) arXiv: [math.GR] 0804.3581v1 116. So in the tensor product work, we determine $\pi_3 S(K(G,1))$ as the kernel of a morphism $\kappa: G \otimes G \to G$ (the commutator morphism!). Edit: In fact we compute the 3type of $SK(G,1)$ so you can work out the Whitehead product $\pi_2 \times \pi_2 \to \pi_3$ and composition with the Hopf map $\pi_2 \to \pi_3$. These theorems have connectivity conditions which means they are restricted in their applications, and don not solve all problems! There is still some interest in computing homotopy types of some complexes which cannot otherwise be computed. It is also of interest that the calculations are generally nonabelian ones. So the aim is to make some aspects of higher homotopy theory more like the theory of the fundamental group(oid), which is why I coined the term `higher dimensional group theory' as indicating new structures underlying homotopy theory. Even the 2dimensional theorem on crossed modules seems little known or referred to! The proof is not so hard, but requires the notion of the homotopy double groupoid of a pair of pointed spaces. See also some recent presentations available on my preprint page. Further comment: 11:12 24 Sept. The HHSvKT's have two roles. One is to allow some calculations and understanding not previously possible. People concentrate on the homotopy groups of spheres but what about the homotopy types of more general complexes? One aim is to give another weapon in the armoury of algebraic topology. The crossed complex work applies nicely to filtered spaces. The new book (pdf downloadable) gives an account of algebraic topology on the border between homotopy and homology without using singular or simplicial homology, and allows for some calculations for example of homotopy classes of maps in the non simply connected case. It gets some homotopy groups as modules over the fundamental group. I like the fact that the Relative Hurewicz Theorem is a consequence of a HHSvKT, and this suggested a triadic Hurewicz Theorem which is one consequence of the work with Loday. Another is determination of the critical group in the BarrattWhitehead nad connectivity theorem  to get the result needs the apparatus of cat^ngroups and crossed ncubes of groups (Ellis/Steiner). The hope (expectation?) is also that these techniques will allow new developments in related fields  see for example work of Faria Martins and Picken in diff geom. Developments in algebraic topology have had over the decades wide implications, eventually in algebraic number theory. People could start by trying to understand and apply the 2dim HHSvKT! Edit Jan 11, 2014 Further to my last point, consider my answer on excision for relative $\pi_2$: http://math.stackexchange.com/questions/617018/failureofexcisionforpi2/621723#621723 See also the relevance to the BlakersMassey Theorem on this nlab link. 


I think it is important to remember that the BrownLoday theorem concerns colimits of catn groups obtained from an n stage filtration of the underlying space. Moreover, catn groups can only provide information on the ntype. So, if you wanted to compute pi_200 of the two sphere, you would need a cat200 group (at least). And if you wanted to apply the Brown_Loday VK theorem you would need a 200 stage topological filtration of the two sphere. Any thoughts ? or do I have this wrong? 


Ronnie and collaborators' HHvK theorems are essentially all for crossed complexes and similar. These are, as I'm sure you're aware, partially linearised homotopy types. In particular, for a simply connected space, they are just chain complexes. So for $S^k, k>1$ it's not more useful than the homology. 

