This project proposes an adjustment to our relationship with connected technology, into a dialogue between urban humans and non-biological citizens, whose behaviour, and our interpretation of it, can aid our understanding of the city. We challenge the notion of passive, connected street furniture, to reframe smart devices as machine organisms who live autonomously in the same spaces that we do. More similar to an urban fox than your iPhone. Revealing the subterranean and centralised infrastructure in our cities fragments data exchange into various woven nodes that provide the freedom for citizens to engage and observe more regularly and with a greater sense of tactility, readability and intuition. As if watching sitting cows in a field to tell if it will rain. Pollution is an ecological problem for city dwellers globally. People rightfully demand clean air in their neighbourhoods. Governments try to keep track of the issue as best they can, often using closed loops and black box technology. We have visualised an example of our concept with a working prototype of a machine we call “The Forager”. It changes colour based on PH sensitive markers placed around the city that detect air pollution. It sits within a broader network of connected nodes that scale from a community to national level.
A process booklet for this project is available here.
"The Forager", constructed from an acrylic skeleton coated in polyester.
During the early stages of the project we experimented with diverse ways of navigating and experiencing the city. The Colour Navigator app displays a solid colour which is the average of all the colour data from each video frame of the phone camera. When worn in a headset this reduces your vision to an aggregate view of your environment.
This video shows what the wearer would see when using the headset.
Technology sees other technology and everything around it in a limited way. We began to embrace this ambiguity and simplification of connected technology. Here an algorithm detects London busses based on the hue of the image.
Network map displaying interaction points between machines inside of the air pollution loop. In our network efficiency is less important than readability and tactility. By breaking apart basic data communication, organisms are given many more opportunities to gather information.
We sketched designs for machines that felt more organic and at home in residential environments. These appear more like blimps than drones.
We built the ability to see and "absorb" colour into the "The Forager" model by equipping it with a colour sensor and RGB LEDs. This actively illustrates the idea that this particular machine would navigate its environment using colour, including responses to the PH markers around the city that illustrate air quality.
The individual units would have docking stations where they could be maintained and "halos" placed in public locations that would aggregate data from local units, serving as a more permanent way for the public to read the information that the system monitors.
Establishing community projects where citizens are invited to join the information system represents a small token of care given in exchange for contact with the machines, to read the information they hold, and to improve their usefulness by contributing to the input of the system.