Building a city of the future with Arduino



Writing for Wired UK, Liat Clark describes the recently held Playable Cities competition between British and Brazilian digital artists.

“The scheme was launched in January, when a Brazilian cohort came to Watershed’s Pervasive Media Studio in Bristol to explore the concept of a future city that is not just smart and efficient, but fun to live in,” writes Clark.

“While driverless vehicles and smart meters remain the focus of those future metropolises, Watershed wanted to explore how a smart city could be interactive, playful and most importantly, how it could bring communities together. With help from the British Council’s Creative Economy program, this [initiative] was taken to Recife.”

One of the featured exhibits was Fortune Fictions, a futuristic bus stop that cheerfully delivers witty one liners to waiting passengers. 

According to Fábio Florencio, a sound and game designer, Fortune’s goal is is to “deliver enjoyable moments” for people who are bored waiting for their buses.

“[The project] also deals with complicated elements in Recife such as lost times in traffic jams, the heat in summer and rain in winter,” he says.

More specifically, the futuristic bus stop is furnished with an Atmel-based Arduino board that receives commands from a physical button pressed by citizens – with an MP3 shield triggering sounds and phrases. In the future, Florencio and his team envision equipping the stop with pressure sensors (for the benches) and RFID readers.

“It rewards the curious Recife bus traveller with fantastical words of wisdom, gauging the mood of the city and breaking the monotony of waiting times,” Florencio explains. “Drawing on data such as weather, traffic, pollution and football information, enigmatic advice, broadcast from the bus stop itself, sends the passenger on their way with a thought… and a smile.”

Press Play – another Arduino-based exhibit displayed at the Playable Cities competition – engages the public via music. Indeed, pedestrians can touch hands, fitted with sensors, to play part or all of a tune.

futuristichand

So, how does it work? Well, Press Play is fitted with a conductive matting for durable touch switches connected to an Arduino and wav-Trigger board. This configuration supports up to eight tracks running simultaneously from a micro SD card.

“[Press Play] became a gathering spot for different people that haven’t met before but, for a short period, felt intensely connected with each other,” Filipe Calegario, a doctorate student for UFPE’s Informatics Centre, told Wired UK. “Last Friday was the first day of public testing and, for a moment, the systems stopped working because the battery ran low. The people’s reaction was impressive, they felt so involved that the absence of sound made them shout ask us to make the system work again. It was such a spontaneous reaction.”

The full text of Liat Clark’s “Urban Legends Brought to Life in Playable Cities Competition” can be read here on Wired UK.

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