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Talking jumpers and tweeting bus stops

Clare S Ryan14 September 2011

What if the room you’re sitting in right now could talk? Or your pen could tweet? Today at the British Science Festival UCL academic Dr Andy Hudson-Smith (UCL Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis) presented his intriguing tales of things project which aims to create a social network of things and, ultimately, the geography of everything.

In a press conference to some (slightly confused) national science journalists Dr Hudson-Smith introduced us to a world where the things around us have their own online presence, where their movements are mapped and they can even talk. The tales of things project uses QR code technology to allow people to add information about things to an online profile. I’ve written up a press release for more information.

A nice example from the press conference was a stripey jumper in an Oxfam shop which, when scanned with the average smart phone, starts playing an audio file from its previous owner who describes how she wore the jumper the first time she met her ex-boyfriend.  There are also a series of bus stops in Norway, which have been tagged with the technology and can tweet the next bus times, and allow people to add their own information – for example a video about somebody losing their gloves!

Is this materialism gone mad (as one journalist called out in exasperation)? No, says Dr Hudson-Smith: “This project means that we can value things in a completely different way.  Imagine going into a charity shop and being able to find out who owned the suit that you bought.  People like provenance, in fact we’ve shown that they will even pay more for it.”

Dr Hudson-Smith describes it as like a mash-up between Facebook, the Antiques Roadshow and eBay.  And, of course, it’s another great example of innovative university research.

Image: Dr Andy Hudson-Smith brought Annie Lennox’s dress to the British Science Festival to help explain the tales of things project.

Is there liquid water on Mars?

Clare S Ryan13 September 2011

Since astronomers first glimpsed the surface of Mars through telescopes in the late 1900s, scientists have been fascinated by the idea that water – and along with it, the possibility of life – exists there. Dr Peter Grindrod (UCL Earth Sciences) gave this year’s Halstead Lecture at the British Science Festival to take the scientifically inclined on a whistle stop tour, complete with stunning images, of how our understanding of water on this mysterious planet has developed in the past 150 years.

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