Designing robotic landscapes for human ends

New project – November 28th, 2019

In a world engineered for efficiency and seamlessness, technologies such as automated sensing systems play an increasingly central role in solving urban challenges. While digital tools and data collection technologies, such as scan cars, present many opportunities for cities to increase efficiency and decrease operating costs, they also raise many well-founded concerns regarding data and privacy in the public realm. Additionally, designing for “seamlessness” can obscure the mechanisms behind a technology, making it difficult for citizens to understand and have agency within these systems. In order to ensure that the benefits afforded by these systems are achieved without sacrificing the privacy of citizens, we believe that design must play an increasingly central role.

Collaborating with AMS Institute

At UNSense, we explore how new technologies and scientific insights can allow us to better design spaces toward more human ends. Seeking to explore how this works in practice, we collaborated with the Amsterdam Institute for Advanced Metropolitan Solutions, where our shared interest in responsible urban digitization meets our complementary areas of expertise (design and research, respectively). Our collaboration aims to build a platform to bring together academics, designers, and industry experts to create new metropolitan solutions.

The future Scan Car: a pivoting point

To launch the collaboration, we developed a process consisting a three-part “design sprint”, exploring how a human scale approach technology could reimagine the future of “scan cars”. Scan cars are vehicles equipped with data collection sensors that move around the city collecting data. They are increasingly being used by municipalities to complete routine tasks, from enforcing parking violations to targeting locations in need of waste collection.

Given that this data is being collected in the public realm, concerns regarding surveillance and data privacy almost instantaneously materialize. These concerns are well-founded, and we believe that any responsible system will place these issues at the forefront. Privacy and security, however, are not the only features a designer should consider. When overlooking design possibilities, we have developed a spectrum constituted of five design approaches, respectively considering and enhancing a system’s transparency, legibility, relatability, contestability and actionability. With this in mind, the question becomes: how might we leverage the benefits of automated, mobile data collection systems while retaining the human scale of an analogue system?

This three-part design sprint effectively supports multi-stakeholder collaboration and was designed in a way such that interesting, creative ideas can be developed within a short time-frame. In line with our strong beliefs in co-creation, in this case we invited representatives from the Municipality of Amsterdam, Rotterdam, CTO of Amsterdam, TADA and researchers from TU Delft to participate, share insights and collectively work towards a more human scan car.
The first session focused on framing problems of data collection through automated sensing systems, explicitly by pinpointing perspectives of different major actors and looking through the lenses of data ethics.
The second session focused on ideating and developing solutions in response to the problems identified in the first session. To better communicate and visualise the outcomes of the sprint, we further developed and consolidated the design ideas in between the sessions and reworked them into four concepts.

We presented the outcomes and the concepts in the third and final session. From revaluating sensing technology used in registering parking violations to further exploring forms of human interactions with the scan car, each concept focuses on adding different human perspectives to the existing model of urban data collection. In this session, we gathered useful feedback from the workshop participants, which we are currently integrating into a final report.

Connor Cook | Sensorial Experience Designer |UNSense: “Going into a design sprint, it is impossible to predict what the outcome will be. Along with AMS, we tried to design the best possible process and group of people for the sprint, but that only gets us halfway. There was something deeply satisfying about seeing the process we designed brought to life by all of the attendees, leading to ideas that no single individual could have developed themselves. We look forward to taking the next steps to prove these concepts and test them in real life.”


See below the four design concepts.

Concept 1. Improving and Expanding on Existing System
Concept 2. "See Like the Scan Car"
Concept 3. Scan Car as a Neighbor
Concept 4. Introducing new uses of vehicle-mounted sensing systems in cities: Gesture-based Polling

Read more on the five design principles here.