Excerpt from: Digital Cities: 'sense-able' urban design
By Carlo Ratti
Wired, October 2nd, 2009
The digital revolution did not end up killing our cities, but neither did it leave them unaffected. A layer of networked digital elements has blanketed our environment, blending bits and atoms together in a seamless way. Sensors, cameras and microcontrollers are used ever more extensively to manage city infrastructure, optimise transportation, monitor the environment and run security applications. Advances in microelectronics now make it possible to spread "smart dust" networks of tiny, wireless, microelectromechanical system (MEMS) sensors, robots or devices.
Most noticeable is the explosion in mobile-phone use around the globe. More than four billion mobile phones were in use worldwide by early 2009. Across socioeconomic classes and five continents, mobile phones are ubiquitous: they allow us not only to communicate with each other in unprecedented ways, but to create a pervasive sensing network that covers the whole globe.
One consequence of this process is particularly important: cities can start to work as real-time control systems, regulated by a number of feedback loops. In past decades, real-time control systems have been developed in a variety of engineering applications. In so doing, they have dramatically increased the efficiency of systems through energy savings, regulation of dynamics, increased robustness and disturbance tolerance. Now: can you have a city that performs as a real-time control system?
The city already contains actuators such as traffic lights, remotely updated street signage, etc. More profound actuation is relatively problematic: for instance, we cannot double the size of a street in real time if we detect traffic congestion. However, unlike other real-time control systems, cities have a special feature: citizens. By receiving real-time information, appropriately visualised and disseminated, citizens themselves can become distributed intelligent actuators, who pursue their individual interests in co-operation and competition with others, and thus become prime actors on the urban scene. Processing urban information captured in real time and making it publicly accessible can enable people to make better decisions about the use of urban resources, mobility and social interaction.
This feedback loop of digital sensing and processing can begin to influence various complex and dynamic aspects of the city, improving the economic, social and environmental sustainability of the places we inhabit.
Excerpt from: Digital Cities: words on the street
By Adam Greenfield
Wired, September 30th, 2009
Over the last decade a great number of people on Earth have embraced the digital mediation of everyday life. Without considering the matter with any particular care, as individuals or societies, we have installed devices in our clothing, our buildings, our vehicles and our tools which register, collect and transmit extraordinary volumes of data, and which share this data with the global network in real time.
Under such circumstances, it is only natural that a great many of these systems will be used in the planning and management of cities. In the interest of managing traffic and, ostensibly, enhancing public safety, our streets are ringed with networked cameras, salted with embedded sensor grids. We traverse urban space in networked vehicles that are GPS-tracked and leased to us as hourly services like Vélib' and Bicing and City CarShare, or tap our way on to mass transit with RFID-enabled payment cards like London's Oyster.