Technology changing urban living
The way we interact with our cities hasn’t changed all that much since the introduction of the automobile, but the way we live in 21st-century Dublin is likely to be transformed by a range of new technologies. And instead of being shaped by large four-wheel vehicles, this change is being shaped by small computers that fit in our pockets.
The rise of the smartphone in the past five years has brought with it a vast array of possibilities for improving and changing our urban lives – the combination of ubiquity, geo-location and cameras means that smartphones are perfect for recording, tagging, mapping and interacting with our cities.
Most obviously, mapping and transport apps make things such as catching the next bus easier, while location-based social networks will help us catch up with our friends, and meet new ones. But in some ways that’s just scratching the surface.
Both IBM and Intel operate urban research projects in the capital, dreaming up ways of combining all the processes that a city relies on, tapping into all the data that cities generate, and ensuring that urban environments run smoother, smarter and more sustainably into the future.
“In general, the problems we’re trying to solve are related to the growth of Dublin, so basically we’re about optimising the use of resources,” says Siobhan Clarke, a professor of computer science in Trinity College Dublin.
In October, the Sustainable Connected Cities initiative was announced, an interdisciplinary collaboration between Intel, Trinity and Dublin City Council. “We’re looking at putting sensors in the city, offering a whole range of new data points about the city,” explains Clarke.
“What we’re looking to do is to get citizens engaged in monitoring what’s happening in an area in order to provide realtime information to decision-makers.”
Engaging citizens was a key theme of Hack the City, the flagship exhibition at the Science Gallery last summer. As curator Teresa Dillon points out, the role of the city’s users is key to the success of these technologies.
“They are about unpacking and unlocking the resources of the city. And building on that, of course, is what do you do with those consistent streams of data. How as citizens do we see ourselves in this mass soup of data?”
Increasingly, citizens are interconnected with one another and with their space via their smartphones, and it is through that device that we will experience most of these changes.
“The ubiquity of smartphones and future technologies allows us to take parts of a city’s history and personality and vibrancy, and make it visible,” says Mads Haahr, a computer scientist in Trinity who has developed an augmented reality ghost story game for smartphones called Haunted Planet – a recent game saw Bram Stoker and his vampires brought to virtual life on the streets of Dublin. It’s a playful use of smartphones and geo-location, certainly, but one that hints at the technology’s potential.
“The way I think about the city, it’s very much like a living organism,” says Haahr, “but so much about that life is really hidden; there’s so much we don’t see. The historical past is one of the things you don’t see, but there are so many other things that change on a daily basis – from things like traffic data on. You can imagine it as the blood-flow of the city.”
“The interesting thing is that the city has its life as an organism and people are doing the things that they always do, but now you can look through a lens, and suddenly there’s a layer of revelation going on.”
It’s impossible to say where that revelation might take us, but our relationship with the city will change for the better as a result of it.
Appy city: Essential kit
1 DublinbikesEssential app for anybody who makes use of the scheme. Find your nearest docking station, and how many bikes are at it.
2 Dublin BusThe transit system becomes useful. Real-time information on all 5,000 bus stops in the city.
3 Entertainment.ie Movie? Gig? Exhibition? This app is one of the best ways to find out what’s going on. GPS lets you know what’s on nearby.
4 Visit DublinOff-line maps, guides, audio tours of points of interest and augmented reality features.
5 HailoThe taxi app wars are coming, but Hailo is one of the originals, and best. Book taxis, find your nearest driver and monitor how much you’re paying.