The SenCity workshop was hosted at UbiComp 2013 in Zurich, Switzerland. The aim was to explore mobile sensing kits and their uses in urban environments.  This was in response to a growing trend of small sensing kits aimed at citizen hackers with the idea of creating crowdsensing networks.  Libelium had recently unvealed their new “Waspmote” and the “Smart Citizen” kit had been extremely successful on Kickstarter.  What we wanted to look at in the workshop was the possible uses of such kits in a real urban environment and what benefits they could bring to the individual citizens who would make up these large crowdsensing networks.  There is no doubt that such kits could provide huge amounts of data but what could we do with it?

In the workshop we split everyone into 5 groups and provided 2 sensing kits for them to play with – the Smart Citizen kit (thanks to Tomas Diaz of Fablabs Barcelona) and also a custom made sensing kit (which we’ve termed the “SenCity” kit) built by co-organiser Vaiva Kalnikaite of Dovetailed.  The two kits were very different and designed for different purposes.  The Smart Citizen kit is an environmental sensing kit that, after initial configuration, will sense its surroundings without the need for further user engagement. In contrast, the SenCity kit has an LED display and various knobs, sliders and buttons so users can configure it on the go, without the need for programming.  It also has a camera that can be configured to take a picture when the sensor reading goes above or below some threshold.

DSCN8643We then asked the groups to brainstorm ideas of what they could do with these sensors in a city.  To kick start ideas we gave some examples….perhaps they could sense and photograph the noisiest traffic, or the busiest bridge, or the quietest street?  We also asked them to think about what their sensor kit should look like in its urban environment – should it blend in or stand out?  We provided lots of materials for groups to create casings for their sensor kits and the results were a variety of spy-like boxes, sensing ducks (see left) and a hand-shaking alien (as shown in the main picture).  We then sent all the groups out into Zurich to try out their creations.

Some groups (with more box-like casings) reported suspicious looks from passers-by.  In contrast the duck and alien attracted much interest and their lighthearted appearance seemed to divert attention from their sensing nature.  Lots of data and pictures were collected and later visualised back at the workshop room using a custom-made visualisation too created by workshop co-organiser, Hans-Christian Jetter. The tool allowed each group to scan through their data, view the pictures and put together “data stories” describing what they had sensed and why.  Each group then gave a short presentation of their day – from brainstorming to creating to sensing to visualising. We wrapped up with some short discussions and thoughts of doing it all again sometime.

Workshop video:


Gallacher, S., Kalnikaite, V., McCann, J., Prendergast, D., Bird, J., & Jetter, H. C. (2013, September). SenCity: uncovering the hidden pulse of a city (workshop). In Proceedings of the 2013 ACM conference on Pervasive and ubiquitous computing adjunct publication (pp. 1311-1316). ACM.

Jetter, C., Gallacher, S., Kalnikaite, V. & Rogers, Y. Suspicious Boxes and Friendly Aliens: Exploring the Physical Design of Urban Sensing Technology. To appear in Proceedings of the 1st International Conference on IoT in Urban Space (Urb-IoT 2014), 27th – 28th October 2014, Rome, Italy, ACM.


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