Receeding Space for Children's Mobility

Posted: December 24th, 2007 | No Comments »

Thinking about how innovation and urban infrastructure affects people mobility, the Daily Mail’s How children lost the right to roam in four generations provides an example of the declining mobility of children in cities and suburbs. It Includes is a map of the wondering space of children over three generations. Its gone down from about 6 miles in the early 1900s to about 300 meters today.

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Courtey of the Daily Mail.
via the Future of Cities

Relation to my thesis: Example of the innovation impacting mobility and the perception of space. Connectivity (quality, opt-in/out) have lead to similar changes (see Rethinking the Role of Space in a Networked World), location-based services might also affect our relation with space.

Instant City by Archigram

Posted: December 24th, 2007 | 1 Comment »

Watching some of the presentations made at the Villes 2.0 workshops on the 4 big challenges for a Ville 2.0, I was intrigued by Thierry Marcou‘s mention of Archigram. According to Wikipedia, Archigram is:

Archigram was an avant-garde architectural group formed in the 1960s – based at the Architectural Association, London – that was futurist, anti-heroic and pro-consumerist, drawing inspiration from technology in order to create a new reality that was solely expressed through hypothetical projects.

One of the members, David Greene wrote in the first issue of Archigram magazine:

A new generation of architecture must arise with forms and spaces which seems to reject the precepts of ‘Modern’ yet in fact retains those precepts. We have chosen to by pass the decaying Bauhaus image which is an insult to functionalism. You can roll out steel – any length. You can blow up a balloon – any size. You can mould plastic – any shape. Blokes that built the Forth Bridge – they didn’t worry.”

One of the Archigram project, Instant City, is a mobile technological event that drifts into underdeveloped, drab towns via air (balloons) with provisional structures (performance spaces) in tow. The effect is a deliberate overstimulation to produce mass culture, with an embrace of advertising aesthetics. The whole endeavor is intended to eventually move on leaving behind advanced technology hook-ups.

The french newspaper Le Monde has a very nice audio and visual description of Instant City.
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One of the collage revealing Instant City and its scenarios © Ron Herron, Archigram Courtesy Ron Herron Archive

Relation to my thesis: Of course, Instant City is a stunning example of a vision of architecture made of atoms… and bits, it is not hard to imagine the balloons acting has the current Internet clouds of connectivity.

Catching up with the pile of media I was not able to swallow the past couple of months. The Fing work on the city (Ville 2.0) and Hubert Guillaud’s recent articles on traces and “hyperlocalité” are excellent source of inspiration:
- Comment protéger notre vie privée dans un monde où la traçabilité explose ?
- Personnalisation sans identification
- Hyperlocal : nos réseaux dans la rue, nos rues dans l’écran
- Révéler l’hyperlocal
- Vers la ville personnelle


Posted: December 24th, 2007 | No Comments »

People at the Chronos Group digged up the term “chronotope” from the 90s. According to Wikipedia, chronotope can be literally translated as “time-space”. In the context of urbanism, it highlights the temporal features of the city (see Une interprétation chronotopique by Alain Guez). The increasing availability of digital traces allows new perspectives of chronotopic analysis of urban spaces. The chronotopic visualizations (and tools) developed in WikiCity and Tracing the Visitor’s Eye most definitively go in the direction of revealing the “mobilities” not only in space but also over time (history and real time).

Events, Seminars, Workshops on the City, Space and Socio-Technical Systems

Posted: December 23rd, 2007 | No Comments »

A few events I would love to attend in early 2008, but I unfortunately won’t be able to…

The Mobile City conference
Is it still useful or even possible to talk about the city as being only physical? Or about the digital world as purely ‘virtual’ (in the sense of ‘not real’ oimmaterial)? The physical city and the spaces of digital technologies merge into a new “hybrid space”. Hybrid spaces are shaped by the social processes that concurrently take place in digital and physical spaces. What is the influence of these developments on the ideas we have of time, space and place, citizenship and identity?

4th and 5th seminars in the ESRC Research Seminar Series: Rethinking the Urban Experience: the Sensory Production of Place
Seminar on the sensory awareness of urban infrastructure. This seminar will ask questions about the infrastructure that supports urban society. Topics may include sensory experiences of public transport networks, olfactory responses to waste and its disposal, public toilet provision in urban areas. Additionally, the role of hidden infrastructures such as CCTV and underground infrastructures such as utilities networks will be considered in this seminar.

EPFL Choros group “Penser l’espace” seminar with a focus on the “critique de la raison cartographique” and the multiple perspectives to think about space.
Quelles habitudes de pensée sont charriées lorsqu’on cartographie ? Quelles sont les implications de la réduction cartographique de la complexité de l’espace ? De quelle façon peut-on contrôler le passage des données à la carte ou le passage de la pensée à la carte ? Comment cartographier de l’espace contemporain – ce « space of flows » et hyperurbanisé – où la mobilité et la digitalité sont les caractéristiques fondamentales ? Quelles sont les implications du passage de la carte sur papier à la carte sur écran ? Le GPS et Google Earth transforment-ils notre rapport à la carte, et, partant, notre rapport à l’espace ?

Pervasive Persuasive Technology and Environmental Sustainability workshop at Pervasive 2008
The key theme of this workshop around environmental sustainability will be addressed threefold: 1. Providing people with environmental data and educational information, 2. Pervasiveness can easily turn invasive. It has already caused negative consequences in biological settings. 3. digital divide between humans and the environment (e.g. Can the process of ‘blogging sensor data’ ( assist us in becoming more aware of the needs of nature? How can we avoid the downsides?

Inaugural Research Institute for the Science of Socio-Technical Systems
A science of socio-technical systems is emerging from research in the fields of HCI, social computing, social informatics, CSCW, sociology of computing, and other domains. The Consortium for the Science of Socio-Technical Systems (CSST) is a new organization devoted to advancing research on socio-technical systems. A primary goal of the institute is to build a new cohort of faculty and graduate students who are interested in research on the design and interplay of technology and humans at the level of individuals, groups, organizations, and larger communities.

ifgi Spring School 2008
Two weeks of short block courses with innovative topics in GI such as: geospatio-temporal information: issues in representation and reasoning, usability and user-centred systems, location-aware systems, information visualization & presentation, and research methods

Adeu BCN!

Posted: December 18th, 2007 | 5 Comments »

After 2 years in the relaxingly dynamic Barcelona, I am now moving to the climaticaly-challenged US East Coast. I will spend 2008 as a visiting scholar at the MIT SENSEable City Lab in Boston. Looking back in my plans when I started my PhD, it seems that have reached many milestones and I keep on a good track. I defended (with success) a DEA thesis, contributed and participated to some of the major conferences in my research field including Ubicomp (’06, ’07), Pervasive, CHI, LBS, got some words out on my work in publications IEEE Pervasive Computing, e-minds, space time and play in non-academic events such as Lift, Picnic, Mobile Monday and Immotic-Domotic. Time now has come to cut a bit on the talking and focus more on the thinking/doing in the studies I lead co-evolution of taxi drivers and their satellite navigation systems, tracing the visitor’s eye and projects I (will) contribute to like WikiCity and the Wireless City. Instead of attending conference (only Lift and the AAG meeting are on my schedule), I plan to thrive on lab visits and face-to-face discussions.

My move to the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning indicates a wish to enrich my professional profile with theoretical knowledge in city design and development. Quoting the IEEE Pervasive Computing issue on Urban Computing: “Urban settings frame social behaviors. They encompass architectural forms and features that might not be harmonious with given technologies, and they’re variably permeated by wireless networks and fixed and mobile devices” it is clear that the urban space will need researchers with mixed competences in engineering, HCI (call it user experience or interaction design) and urban planning. The recent Urban Computing and its Discontents by Adam Greenfield and Mark Shepard comforts me in that vision.

Relation to my thesis: the major challenge of 2008 will be to make my different studies and projects fit into a coherent PhD thesis.

Taxi Driver Study: Field Notes

Posted: December 15th, 2007 | No Comments »

I have been on the field collecting more observations and interviews on the adoption of GPS by taxi drivers in Barcelona. On one hand I am interested in the co-evolution process and the modifications of the practices, on the other hand I focus on the context of use of the technology (other artifacts/tools, influence of landmarks, type of location information used (how, where, when, granularity). Here are a few notes that will need to be interpreted further. I collected data from a unbalance population of either find very experienced (15+ years: seniors) taxi drivers or novice in the practice (2- years: juniors). It has been harder to anybody in between. At least, it revealed dissimulates in the appropriation of the technology between the “seniors” and “juniors”.

field study

Uniformity in the wild
First of all, there is a concenus that GPS an unbeatable tool when it come to reaching a specific destination in a village and leaving it (link to previous post). It is a strong reason to acquire a sat-nav system. But it is not really to be more productive and hence earn more, rather than feeling more serene (i.e. tranquility was the word). Some mention that it does not only tranquilize them but also their clients (“they know I cannot cheat them with it”, “it reassures them that I go to the proper destination”). When it comes to seniors, they now know that they have a “companion” (some refereed to their car with an affectionate “she” and their sat-nav with a “he”) can take them anywhere and avoid these moment when they had to search endlessly browsing the street directories of the suburbs of Barcelona, asking their colleagues via radio or mobile phone. One mentioned me that “the fear of getting lost with a client I felt in my stomach now disappeared”. Another was relieved that he did not have to use his radio to ask colleagues about particular location informations and wayfinding (even though many taxi drivers are extreme social animals). Currently the radio is uniquely used to get dispatching orders and professional questions (e.g. asking on special rates for some destinations). To get out of the unfamiliar environment, the driver would be either very cautious in the path taken to enter the area (“I am a very good observer”) or use their GPS with destination Barcelona. In their exit strategy, their reach their bookmark of saved destinations are hit “home”, “Barcelona, any street”, or “Barcelona center”.

Disparities in the urban space
However, when it comes to the context of the city, practices differ and the “Guia” comes into play. The “Guia” is a dense book of all the streets and POI in Barcelona. Experienced drivers have been using it all their professional lives and have partially learned the city with it. Another big part of the knowledge drivers acquire come from the clients themselves. They know all the tricks and secrets official books and commercial systems can’t tell. As the experience drivers contain most of the knowledge of the city in memory they rarely return to the Guia. In fact, they prefer using their sat-nav and hit the Guia only as fail-over (e.g. when the system does not contain a street number or lacks of information). Even after 20 years of experience, one drivers still perceived accessing the Guia as a demanding task. Compare to that, hitting the screen of his Tom-Tom was a pure pleasure. This process of accessing correct information is executed differently by the juniors I interviewed. First, they had mixed feelings about their experience with their GPS (“It is like my mobile phone, sometimes it does not work well”, “it is a potential problem”) in terms of quality of services and precision of the information. They very early reached the limits of the systems and the inaccuracy (erroneous information) of the system directly impacted the quality of their service (mostly because they had to deeply rely on it in the beginning). In consequence, they embraced the use of the “Guia” which is “more accurate and complete” (particularly when it comes to POI). In the city, they learned not to completely rely on their sat-nav (because it is hard for them to judge if the information is erroneous or not) and first open the “Guia” prior to enter an address. One told me that he learned to interpret the system and its errors. When a conflict emerges between his sat-nav and his “knowledge” he starts to “improvise” (in his own terms). Depending on the circumstances he would either switch it off or ignore it for a while.

The confirmation of the funnel
Confirming what I mentioned previously, the wayfinding practice takes place in 2 main stages. There is a separation difference between “ir” (to go) and “llegar” (to arrive) and the location information are different in each phase. First the driver has the knowledge of the area where to go or checks in the Guia to get a rough awareness of destination (one driver told me he would directly enter the address in his navigation system). This is done at any occasion at a traffic light or in dense traffic (if the driver knows he will have to go on the highway directly, he/she will check prior to leaving). It is only at the entrance of the area (e.g. a neighborood – it would be interesting to define it better) that the active mode of the sat-nav system starts by entering the full address (once again taking advantages of traffic lights and busy traffic).
Mobile phone
The mobile phone often available is seen as a social link to family and friends, and is very rarely used as a tool to support their work. One driver told me that he used it a few times to check if a table was available at a restaurant for clients (particularly foreigners). This is a service he gives as added value, but he “normally should not do it”.

Passive mode
As mentioned in a paper by Nick Forbes,there is a clear tendency to keep the system in passive mode at any time. It is done so mainly to keep track of the radars (seems to be more a priority for experienced drivers) and (for juniors) to keep an awareness of where they are (keep track of the proximate streets) and it was also very valuable to learn the city. On this point, an experienced driver explained me that younger drivers who use a navigation system do not gain knowledge of the city, because they follow the recommendations and “stop to think”. My contact with the younger generation proved somehow the opposite. They are eager to learn the city and the imperfection of their systems forced them to get knowledge from the “Guia” and from the clients.

Relation to my thesis: Working on The co-evolution of taxi drivers and their in-car navigation systems, I stereotyped a bit the practices based on my notes to reveal the main patterns. I keep 3 main tracks that are worth investigate more in details:
- different appropriation of the location-aware system depending on the overall knowledge and experience of the space. The shortcoming of GPS forced the younger generation to rely on the Guia, while the older generation has little use of the Guia now. This goes in the direction of understanding and supporting “mobilities” instead of mobility.
- a tool not to make more money, nor to improve the efficacy, but to tranquilize (“I can go everywhere”) and relax (e.g. passive mode to have a continuous awareness)
- funnel-type of access to location information (I will model the process, this is part of the understanding of granularity) with multiple sources (kwnoledge, sat-nav and Guia)

Talk at the Salon ImmoTICs DomoTICc Agora

Posted: December 9th, 2007 | No Comments »

Last Friday, at the Salon ImmoTICs DomoTICs Agora in Sophia Antipolis, France, I was very fortunate to present some of my work in a slot between the french “paleanthropologist” Pascal Picq and the italian architect David Fisher and later the economist/thinker Michel Godet. My talk (in french) entitled “Révéler le pouls de la ville” was a duplicate of what I presented at Mobile Monday Barcelona, with a stronger emphasis on the implications of the use of “digital footprints” by urban planners, local authorities and designer of urban digital infrastructures such as location-based services. The slide are available online: Révéler le pouls de la ville.

Thanks to Dominique Thibault for the kind invitation.

Urbatics Talk Cover

Relation to my thesis: testing my ideas + practicing public speaking (it is definitively either in my mother tongue) + getting in touch with french academics who do not always communicate outside of the boundaries of the “hexagone”.

Talk at Mobile Monday Barcelona

Posted: December 4th, 2007 | No Comments »

Last night, I participated to the Mobile Monday Barcelona event on Location-Based Services. My talk entitled “Mapping of City Dynamics” covered some innovative ways to use mobile and wireless technologies to sense the city and reveal its pulse (i.e. its activity in space and time). I also discussed their underlying concepts (real-time, history, feedback loop, implicit and explicit acts, experience of the city, consequences of our activities) and their implications in relation to the design of location-based services that raise. Finally, I exemplified these ideas by introducing the ongoing project lead at the SENSEable City lab, named WikiCity, that aims at offering an instrument for city inhabitants to base their actions and decisions upon in a better informed manner.

Thanks to Rudy and Carles for the invitation! (Flickr set of the event)

The slides with my notes are available: Mapping of city dynamics

Girardin Momo Lbs

Relation to my thesis: Pushing the ideas on urban computing and the design of LBS (granularity, areas of influence/relevance, uncertainty) and getting good contacts to understand the partitioners perspectives. and past experiences. I will do a similar talk on Friday at the ImmoTICs DomoTICs Agora event in Sophia Antipolis.