Back in May 2015, the Urban Futures team completed a design research project around cycling. The team was Claire Mookerjee (Project Lead, Urbanism) with design by Anastasia Vikhornova and film by Christian Schmeer, joined by Rebecca Jones (Technologist) from the Catapult’s Lab team (and with a bit of input from me early on.) Apologies for the belated pointer here.
This short project uses film to sketch out some possibilities of contemporary technologies such as wearables and Internet-of-Things, in order to imagine new user experiences for cyclists. It’s covered in depth at Dezeen and elsewhere, so feel free to read about it over there. Below, a few background notes from me, unpicking some of the thinking (though we also do that on our research blog.)
While some of our projects involve more directed development of technologies in place—e.g. last year's Cities Unlocked, which was an end-to-end demonstration of a working system for wearable wayfinding—in this mode we're sketching. We were driven by the particular challenge of wayfinding for cyclists, given that our streets have been designed with cars and other motor vehicles in mind for the last half-century or so, and the signage with it (as good as Kinneir & Calvert’s work is, of course, stand in the street and look at what’s provided for car drivers versus pedestrians and cyclists.) Meanwhile, many pedestrians are looking down at their hands, staring a little blue dots on a map. But what might cyclists need? And what could we do once the street itself start ‘talking’ to people, to services? (In that sense, this project also picks up the threads from on our earlier collaboration with BERG, and their Pixel Track physical prototype for connected displays.)
In both of these kinds of projects—demonstrators and sketches—we're trying to make tangible the promise of otherwise abstract ideas like 'Internet of Things' (IoT) or 'smart cities'. To some extent it's an exercise in envisioning a possible future; albeit the future just around the corner. But the film attempts to locate that future in the everyday, to enable folks like transport infrastructure providers or technology companies to understand how they could work together to improve the 'user experience' of cycling. While suitably open, and non-prescriptive, it gives us a token to have those conversations with.
We're often in dialogue with major transport providers—Transport for London, Transport for Greater Manchester, Network Rail, the RTA in Dubai, the MTA in New York—to better understand their challenges, and we know that cycling has so many circular benefits for cities and citizens. And indeed many cities are spending serious money, time and attention on improving the 'hard infrastructure' of cities to make cycling safer, more convenient, more attractive. (Transport for London are due to spend £800m+ on cycling infrastructure over the next decade.)
Yet as well as this investment—and clearly significant attention to such hard infrastructure is key, preceding any conversation elicited by this film— there is still the potential of a soft infrastructure which can be overlaid on existing urban fabric to further support cycling, which could take advantage of contemporary technologies such as wearables, IoT, real time sensor data, and so on. Part of our job is making it easier to grasp that potential, partly in order to pull more focus onto the importance of improving the experience of cycling generally (using this as bait, in that sense) as well as exploring how entirely new experiences might manifest themselves. As well as transport providers we also talk to tech companies, from startups to multinationals, to understand what's viable here, and what their interests are too. Films like this can help suture these various perspectives together into a coherent set of possibilities.