20 years ago if you wanted to win a Formula 1 Grand Prix race, you got yourself a good car and a good driver. Today, you need a team of scores of computer scientists, engineers and mathematicians, analysing your car's computer eveyr millisecond of every lap: without this data harvesting and analysis you will not win a race.
Today's cities, says, Ratti are heading the same way, and many are getting there already. Having placed billions of data connections in our cities over the past few years, cities are beginning to talk back to us, as the artefacts in MoMa's Talk To Me Exhibition show. And it's important that we harness this. Cities currently take up:
- 2% world surface
- 50% world population
- 75% of energy communication
- 80% of CO2 emissions
Managing cities based on cell phone use
During the World Cup final Ratti's team at MIT's Senseable City Lab saw how cell phone use matched the to and fro of people around the match itself and in cafés and homes around a city. How could this data be used to provide better information to public transport, buses and taxis?
How could rainfall be better predicted, but data on that be provided to taxis on the ground to better ship people around the city - the very question solved by Ratti's team in Singapore:
We spend so much energy in our cities and corporations sourcing the goods that make our products, but we know very little about where the waste from our products ends up. Here, harnessing data from pervasive geo-location-aware tags on 3000 products, Ratti's team were able to see the extent to which our waste travels around the world and back. Using this data, could our city fathers and corporations design better waste solutions, not just better sourcing solutions?
Planning a great response to great (and pervasive) data
Analysing data reveals stories - in a telecoms example in the United Kingdom Ratti's team looked at the two connections made with every network communication. This helped redraw the map of Great Britain, with Scotland the first, most clearly marked out communicative community, but with countries like Wales split in two, north and south, and the epic-centre of the echo chamber that is London-London communication clearly marked out:
This analysis of data can therefore suggest to us several things, and reveal the communities around which we might want to build specific services, which often don't match the "official" boundaries marked out by politicians. Something for Scotland will, naturally, be very different for something based around the communication habits of someone in London or Wales. More on the analysis process can be seen in this video and the research paper:
The Copenhagen Wheel - helping individuals to help the community
And how can data be harnessed on a level much more "on the ground", by citizens? The Copenhagen Wheel was a creation from the MIT Senseable City Lab, which makes life easier for the cyclist but uses their efforts to provide information about the city that can be used to help everyone:
It transforms ordinary bicycles quickly into hybrid e-bikes that also function as mobile sensing units. The Copenhagen Wheel allows you to capture the energy dissipated while cycling and braking and save it for when you need a bit of a boost. It also maps pollution levels, traffic congestion, and road conditions in real-time.
Conclusions (and questions that remain!)
- How can we make data more useful in other contexts than it currently is?
- What is there we can do to make the collection of data from one person actually helpful to them, while beneficial to the wider community, not just the political or adminstrative élites?
- What innovations in data collection for the common good are there to be found in education? But also in parenting, transport, food and drink, energy consumption and creation?
This talk was the opening keynote at Smart City Expo in Barcelona, Spain, where I'm giving a talk on how we can harness design thinking to better involve our communities, and our children, in building better cities.