Hacking the Smart City

By Ian Philips  
(www.its.leeds.ac.uk/people/i.philips)

Over the weekend I attended Hacking the Smart City.  It was a Hackathon event designed to bring together those interested in developing and using a series of spatial information visualisation tools developed by CASA (the Centre for Advanced Spatial analysis at UCL. 

The event began with a presentation of CASA’s work in visual analytics, data sensing and extraction, crowdsourcing, digital social research and geospatial modelling.  Here’s are a couple of examples of the kind of thing CASA does:  The CityDashboard  is designed to be an at-a-glance view of eight cities around Great Britain. It combines official, observational and social media data into a single screen, the dashboard, which updates continuously as you watch it http://citydashboard.org/london/map/   

They have also been working on real time visualisation of the tube in London http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=78y2kdLUV-U.

The participants then got into groups to work on one of a series of smart city challenges.  I got involved with a group which was looking at Pigeon Sim.  http://vimeo.com/41552761.  Pigeon Sim allows you to fly through the Google Earth landscape.  It uses games console motion detectors to pick up the motion of the user.  We were working on code to try and record and map the route taken by the user.  I see many data gathering applications for this.  For example, you could ask a participant to fly their route to work whilst giving a commentary about how likely they would be to cycle each segment.  Unlike GPS traces or cycle along research this gives an opportunity to gather data from non-cycling potential cyclists in a safe way.  There seems to be all sorts of potential for using a tool like this in participatory research.

We didn’t work on this over the weekend but Pigeon Sim could also be developed to visually inspect large data sets.  Pigeon Sim’s Developers have projected data into the sky above points of interest.  This offers exciting possibilities for explaining findings. For example if a researcher were trying to communicate a complex transport network model to a planner or policy maker a Pigeon Sim fly through, with summary data superimposed over the GoogleEarth map, could show them where things are happening making a model more accessible.  (CASA Maptube is another visualisation tool – shape files can be overlain over Googlemaps and accessed through the web e.g. http://www.maptube.org/home.aspx).

Also during the event I followed a tutorial by Steven Gray http://www.stevenjamesgray.com/blog/2013/10/28/data-hacking-and-the-city-workshop-ucl-casa-conference-2013/  one of the CASA staff which allowed me to set up a twitter listener and then display the location of the Tweets on a Google map  Another group also worked on displaying results in real time.  I made a quick example to see if I could pick up any reference to SMIDSY incidents (http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/SMIDSY.)  The disruption project https://twitter.com/Disruptionproj has collected Twitter data, there appears to be lots of scope for collecting visualising and sharing data on a range of transport issues.     

More information on the event and details of all the challenges available here http://www.geotalisman.org/hacking-the-smart-city-7-to-9-nov-2013/

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