Culture, play, and an emphasis on fair use will help smart cities take root.
The compelling thing about the emerging Internet of Things, says technologist Tom Armitage, is that you don’t need to reinvent the wheel — or the water and sewage systems, or the electrical and transportation grids. To a large degree, you can create massive connectivity by simple (well, relatively simple) augmentation.
“By overlaying existing infrastructure with intelligent software and sensors, you can turn it into something else and connect it to a larger system,” says Armitage. “Yes, you could simply design and construct an entirely new system, but that’s incredibly expensive, it would take a lot time, and you may lose some things (of cultural or architectural value) that you may want to save. It’s better to adapt existing systems to your goals if you have the technology to do it — and we have it.”
Armitage speaks from direct experience. He was the co-creator of Hello Lamp Post, a 2013 Bristol, England, project aimed at engaging people on a deep and intimate level with the urban landscape. In conjunction with PAN Studio and media artist Gyorgyi Galik, Armitage designed software interfaces for Bristol’s “street furniture” — the eponymous lamp posts, of course, but also manholes, post boxes, telephone poles, traffic bollards, and trash cans.
Using smart phones, pedestrians could “wake up” the objects by accessing codes generally used by the city to identify street items that required repair. Each bit of infrastructure would make some kind of declamatory statement — sometimes gracious and welcoming, sometimes didactic, sometimes peevish. The “interlocutor” would then respond, and a brief exchange would ensue. The object would then invite the passerby to return for more conversation.