Connected experiences of intelligent city things

Smart cities, smart citizens, Fab Cities, internet of things (IoT). The first three have some overlap in concepts, the last is often a component of these visions or projects. Things that are connected to the internet and between themselves. Street lighting, traffic lights, smart electricity meters, parking, etc. The Cities of Things lab in Delft, Netherlands, is studying how we “live together with intelligent things, and relate to intelligent systems.” Their research has “a focus on the design of these new relationships and interactions.”

In this fascinating post Iskander Smit provides an overview of an assignment produced by eight teams of bachelor students of IDE (Industrial Design Engineering). Here was the context setting for their projects:

As a starting point for your connected ecosystem, select an everyday object in the city that already has connected capabilities, or that you know to already be intelligent to some degree. If you prefer, you could also start with an object that doesn’t yet have any of these features, but that you wish it had. Design: the behaviour or the thing in specific situations.

Through a sequence of quick “lean cycle” iterations, the teams developed projects addressing the brief and showed their visions through surprisingly polished videos. Smit presents each project, some feedback, and outlines three notable impressions: the value of an ecosystem of objects, iterations of design and testing are key, and intentional behaviour delivers more value. Although the assignments weren’t framed this way, they can also be seen as similar to design fictions.

Design fiction is a design practice aiming at exploring and criticizing possible futures by creating speculative, and often provocative, scenarios narrated through designed artifacts.

I’m mentioning this similarity because, like design fictions, these projects are imperfect and meant to be starting points, questions, hypotheses to be expanded on. The first project listed for example, although excellent, could easily raise some privacy issues with some of its options. But the point is to offer a quite solid glimpse at possibilities, so discussions can grow from there.

Another important factor in the assignment was the inclusion of predictive knowledge, acts or recommendations the things could use to enhance the services they offer. Think of something like recommendations on e-commerce sites, but taken further and into the real world.

A good way to discover how our interactions with connected things are influenced by the integration of predictive knowledge, is to simply make designs for it. Through the design you make in this assignment, you provide more insights and knowledge about how we will use such products and what we think of them.

It’s also interesting to note that all the projects relate in some way to ideas worth exploring in the context of the Fab City. Community and togetherness with Benchat (above), community gardens, security and a kid-friendly city with Playlix, discovery and an information layer with Qimmy and Moov, and community services as well as meal sharing with Hero I and Kliek uit de Muur.

Overall, a very timely exercise addressing many of the challenges around smart things in cities, and great ideas by the various teams.