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Smart Cities: exhibition and conference

By news editor, on 24 April 2012

Last Friday (April 20th), more than 350 members of the public attended the ‘Smart Cities: Bridging Physical and Digital’ open day, hosted by the Bartlett’s Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis (CASA).

The full day of talks, accompanied by the ‘Smart Cities’ exhibition, was aimed at opening a discussion on the meaning behind the Smart City and, perhaps more importantly, how to make it a reality.

Four articles covering the day’s highlights and research announcements appeared in Wired with a further two in New Scientist and finally a mention in the Independent, helping to make the event one of the most successful in the history of CASA.

The conference began with a short talk given by Mike Batty on the history of ‘Smart Cities’ as a research agenda, with reference to the exponential growth of data and information production moving into the 21st century.

He discussed how technological developments in some of the key urban transport services (bike hire, oyster cards) could be used to gain insight into the dynamics and flow of the urban population, as well as introducing some of the data sources and topics that would follow throughout the day.

Making sense of the city
Mike’s talk was followed by the keynote speaker, Carlo Ratti, who had come from MIT’s Senseable City Lab to talk about some of the projects that they had undertaken over the past few years.

These projects were all multidisciplinary efforts, often involving architecture, art, computer science and design, and every project had a distinct theme of linking digital and physical worlds through the ubiquity of sensing platforms (‘atoms as sensors’, ‘people as sensors’).

Next up was Jon Reades, introducing his work with Joan Serras on the utilisation of public transport network data. He demonstrated how the availability of quantitative transport data was allowing them to explore the dynamics of these systems, and indicated that a predictive model of disruptions, demand and load was now starting to become a real possibility.

A pigeon’s eye view
At this point, there was a break, which allowed the attendees to get a first look at the exhibition space adjacent to the main hall. This was a chance to experience some of the visualisations and interfaces that CASA have been creating to work with urban data, including the (very popular) Pigeon Sim that allowed you to fly around London by flapping your arms around in front of a Kinect system. Other exhibits included the London Data Table and an interactive riot model, both of which would be explained later in the proceedings.

Back in the conference hall, James Cheshire began his talk about the other prominent transport data resource – bike hire schemes.

This was not limited to just looking at London bikes; in fact, much of the research involved comparing bike hire patterns from different cities. Interestingly, China has some of the largest bike hire schemes, with London, Paris, Barcelona and New York (planned) filling out the rest of the top 10 spots. This work could also link in with MIT’s Senseable Lab, which used bike-mounted air quality monitors to create a fleet of sensing platforms that covered the city.

Such characterisations of the city were discussed by James and further explored by Martin Zaltz Austwick, who demonstrated some of the exploratory visualisation work that was being done to identify the communities and patterns hidden in the datasets.

Riots as viruses
The next talk, from Sir Alan Wilson, described the construction and findings from a computational model of last year’s London riots. The work, which was presented on behalf of CASA’s ENFOLDing group, looked at real data collected during the event and noted that the spread of rioting was very similar to that of a virus.

With that in mind, they used contagion modelling principles to create a riot model that could be used to identify areas of high risk and predict the outcome of police response.

While still in an experimental stage, this kind of work could be used to help plan for future events, hopefully preventing the extensive and prolonged rioting situation that developed last summer.

On a lighter note, George MacKerron took to the stage next to discuss his Mappiness project. Mappiness is an ongoing effort to characterise the happiness of a population, specifically relating to the urban environment around them.

Rather than using a traditional paper survey or focus group, George developed a mobile application for iOS systems that instigated a short survey at random times throughout the day to voluntary users of the system.

The popularity of the application gave George a huge dataset to work with, and while it is still being explored, early findings show quantitatively that the urban environment can play a significant role in our happiness.

Telling tales
The penultimate talk from Andy Hudson-Smith discussed the Tales of Things project, a system that allows stories and metadata to be digitally linked with real objects.

A partnership with Oxfam was a perfect application of such technology, adding both sentimental and monetary value to second-hand objects via RFID tags and QR codes.

Finally, Duncan Smith and Oliver O’Brien presented their work on the CityDashboard project, a webpage that brings together live datafeeds from a range of sources to give an overview of cities across the UK.

Written by Jack Harrison, MRes Advanced Spatial Analysis & Visualisation student at CASA.

Watch a Flickr slideshow from the event:

Image (top): Riot simulator (Credit: CASA)

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