Exercise 02: Initial Proposal for Urban Cybernetic Projects
Throughout the semester we have covered different techniques of collecting data about urban dynamics as well as actuating the city. In terms of sensing the city, the covered techniques include ways of recording and measuring data and creating our own customized sensor networks, as well as the possibility of tapping into the data on the user-generated content-sharing platforms utilized in crowdsourcing platforms such as Flickr and Twitter, among many others; or tapping into data collected, managed, and stored via viral sensing practices that reveal how different networks providing city services operate; or tapping into data collections made publicly available by various governmental agencies, such as:
In terms of actuating the city the covered techniques include, actuating the built environment by designing cybernetic mechanisms as embedded systems, and, designing information delivery platforms that provide citizens with access to real-time information that allows them to act based on well-informed decisions and as a result fosters positive behavioral change.
In Exercise 02, you are required to prepare the initial proposal for the design, development, and partial implementation of a project that focuses on decoding particular spatial dynamics by creating a platform that collects, analyzes, and delivers information about urban dynamics back to the intended users, or a platform that allows for actuation of the built environment towards a well specified goal. The proposal should clearly discuss the methods of towards data collection, data analysis, data presentation or visualization, platform for data delivery, as well as the process that will be used to understand this information and communicate it to a target audience, and/or, the mechanism of actuation.
How to Prepare an Urban Information/Data Visualization Project Proposal
The urban condition involves a large quantity of data that, because of its dynamic nature, changes continuously. The first step is identifying an exciting question to be answered. An Urban Cybernetic Project should offer a kind of a narrative, a story about urban dynamics that provides a clear answer to a question without extraneous details, highlighting certain patterns in large quantities of data that perpetually change, and proposing a well-defined mechanism that makes this data accessible or responds to it accordingly.
The second step is to identify the source of information and propose a clear methodology for collecting data about phenomena that will be decoded in the project. You can propose combining various data sources depending on the questions that you would like to answer. At the same time, you must be clear about how you will control the number of variables in your dataset to ensure that it does not include unnecessary details. Ideally, you need to identify the smallest amount of data that can still convey something meaningful. You should also contemplate how various methods of abstraction might convey meaningful, easy-to-grasp narratives once your initial question provides a benchmark for eliminating unnecessary details.
Since urban data is a moving target, the next step is to address the dynamic nature of the “live” data you use and provide a clear vision of how you would unravel it as it changes over time. It is strongly suggested that in terms of thinking about the interface for delivering this information, you do not limit yourself to the possibilities offered by dynamic user graphic interfaces, but take into account ways of delivering information through other senses—audition, olfaction, or thermo-ception—and think of information-delivery portals that provide haptic interfaces. An interesting viewpoint is to think of “visualizations” where the constituting pixels are not virtual pixels capable of changing colors, but physical pixels capable of changing size, shape, location, speed, form, and any other characteristics imperceptible through the faculty of vision but detectable via other sensory faculties.
In laying the groundwork for your projects, it is suggested that you revisit the initial thirteen questions provided as a framework for critically evaluating case studies in Exercise 01 and try to gauge your own proposal against them:
  1. How was the data collected?
  2. Why was the data collected?
  3. What is interesting about the data?
  4. What stories about the urban dynamics can the collected data tell?
  5. What sort of questions about urban dynamics can be answered looking at the data?
  6. Who is the target audience of the data visualization?
  7. What are the audience’s goals when approaching the visualization?
  8. What do they stand to learn?
  9. What sort of control are they offered over the interface that delivers the information?
  10. How is the question of the magnitude of the data dealt with: limiting the collected data, limiting the dimensions in the data set to be represented, or abstracting the data?
  11. How does the original question to be addressed operate as the benchmark for eliminating unnecessary details in the data visualization?
  12. How are particular patterns highlighted through visualization techniques in order of their importance?
  13. Is the data of a static or dynamic nature?
  14. If the data is of a dynamic nature, what happens when it starts to change? How does the audience interact with this “live” data? How is the data that changes over time unraveled?
Furthermore, your proposal should provide a complete view of the limited scale working prototype that you will develop by the end of the semester; the virtual and physical components of the prototype, including the possible software and hardware needed; the sensing, actuating, computing, data storage, and network connectivity functionalities of the prototype; the data structure and information-flow diagram of the sensing and information-delivery platform; the layout of the public demo of your project in an exhibition space, the timeline of implementation, and an initial budget breakdown. For further information regarding preparing a project proposal and aspects that need to be covered, please consult the document titled “Initial Thoughts on Creating a Design Brief for Urban Informatics Projects” covered during the sixth session of the seminar and available on the course wikis.
The first deliverable of the first part of Exercise 02 is a pdf file including the text of the design brief, vision statement, methodology, etc., and diagrams and sketches covering all aspects of the project as summarized above. The pdf file should be prepared based on the template that is provided for Exercise 01, also including in course wikispace. The font color and size and the page composition should follow a variation of that template so that by the end of the semester all your proposals can be integrated in a coherent publication with minimum editorial effort. Included in this part is a filled patent form where students try to create a patent description of their projects. Main parts of this document are as follows:
  1. What is the question that your project proposal tries to answer? What is the urban issue that it tries to address?
  2. What have been done before to answer this question or address this issue?
  3. What is the architectural or urban experience that your project proposes to implement?
  4. What is it that you sense from the built environment or how are you collecting information about the processes contained within the built environment?
  5. What are the technologies for sensing the environment or collecting information about it?
  6. How this information of analyzed and how the behavior of your proposed system is conditioned based on the received or registered information?
  7. How the system responds to the collected information?
  8. Is it a real-time information delivery platform that you propose or an actuated, responsive, context-aware architectural system?
  9. Be it an information delivery platform or a responsive architectural system, what is communicated with the environment or its users?
  10. What is the actuation scenario and what actuation technology is going to make it happen?
  11. If there is some level of data storage and management or wireless communication and integral part of the project, what is the information flow mechanism and what are the technologies that make it happen?
  12. What are the extreme variations of your proposed system for present, near and far future?
  13. What are the potentials and possible risks of implimentation the cybernetic mechanism that you propose?
  14. How can your proposed system scale up from a working prototype to a full-fledged urban system?
  15. What is the process of commercialization and/or technology transfer for what you propose?
  16. For the working prototype, what are the actual or virtual components? What is the estimated cost?
The second deliverable of the first part of Exercise 02 is a 5-minute narrated video proof of concept that will explain how the working prototype can be scaled up to a full-scale urban sensing/actuating mechanism, providing an extreme vision for the future of the proposed project. In creating your vision statement, you are encouraged to push the limits of technology in its current state, going beyond what is possible now to what is imaginable in a distant yet probable future. For inspiration on making your video proof of concept, please check a series of videos created by Microsoft Innovation Group and uploaded to Youtube platform.
The outcome of first part of Exercise 02 Initial Proposal for an Urban Cybernetic Project on Sensing and Actuation, constitutes 30% of the final grade.
Midterm review of the projects is scheduled for Friday, October 21, 2011.
All students that have not discussed their initial ideas about the project are required to meet with me on Thursday, October 06, 2011, or, Friday, October 07, 2011, or, Thursday, October 20, 2011 to discuss their proposals.
During the remaining weeks of the seminar, students will refine their proposals based on the feedback they receive during the formal presentations and immediately move to the second part of Exercise 02, which focuses on implementing the working prototype and preparing the final project for public demo in an exhibition setting, as well as for press-quality documentation of the project, and video documentation of the implemented working prototype that is to be added as a second component to video proof of concept.
Students must work in groups of two or three.
Final review of the projects is scheduled for Friday, December 02, 2011.
The deadline for electronic submission of all required documentations of the projects, finalized based on feedback received during the final review is Friday, December 23, 2011.
If your project has a physical computing component, here is a list of sites where you can find electronic and robotic parts as well as useful information: