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The Tech Totem

The Tech Totem

City Experimentation and Citizen Engagement Platform

With the proliferation of digital street furniture and demand for “smart” infrastructure, how can cities ensure they are getting the best use from their space now and in the future and demand the most valuable services and revenue share from providers?

This project explores how digital street furniture can enable us to address multiple city and market challenges. To develop new technology and products and demonstrate the value of interventions in cities, they need to be deployed and tested in a real city environment. To encourage this experimentation by reducing barriers to deployment the Future Cities Catapult are developing a new physical city experimentation platform, using ”Technology Totems”. These Totems provide a distributed test-bed in cities, and through our innovation support program we can provide space for businesses to test and develop products and provide valuable data for cities. Tech Totems test models for deploying digital infrastructure in cities to engage with citizens and create an open and flexible technology platform.

Future Cities Catapult’s vision is to create a federated network of digital assets in UK cities to provide a broad range of test environments. Technology Totems and other assets can join the network and make use of services in exchange for allowing access to experimentation activities. The network will support businesses to to develop and demonstrate their technologies in real city environments, and progress up the TRL scale from TRL 3 to 7.

Our vision for Tech Totems in cities

Allows business to easily deploy and test their technology in the city
It can be a challenge for small businesses to navigate a city’s complex policies and processes to get the necessary approvals to test their products in a city environment. Tech Totems provide a secure, powered space, where sensors or other devices can easily be fitted to collect data from the local environmental like air quality, noise or video analytics.

Evaluate the impact of urban interventions
Understanding the value of an intervention such as a new road layout or wayfinding system requires the collection of performance data (baseline and in-use data) to enable quality evaluation to go ahead. Mobile, off grid technology totems can be temporarily placed with a flexible array of sensors to monitor baseline and after effects of interventions.

Public Consultation
Efforts to engage citizens in the vision or planning of an area are often unsuccessful and, therefore, not designed with citizens in mind – this means people lose interest in the area and feel less ownership/sense of community. By placing engaging information and gathering feedback at the location of proposed development sites technology totems can unlock feedback from a wider selection of the population.

Technology totems provide dynamic, context aware local advertising and information. This can provide wayfinding, public information and local recommendations. The project will explore place-making and citizen engagement through the use of a low energy e-ink screen and audio with locally curated content and interactions.

Deployment of the first Technology Totem prototypes

The Future Cities Catapult is working with UK SME, TrueForm, to manufacture the first tech totems. The first prototype totem located in our Urban Innovation Centre allows our team to experiment before new hardware, software and content is deployed in a real city environment. The second totem is deployed alongside Atkins’ new mini park in Birmingham’s Southside district. This second totem contains 3 live experiments (with different partners).

Comparing the effectiveness of people counting technologies using video analytics (Staffordshire University) and anonymous Wi-Fi counting (RedNinja) technologies.Novel digital planning consultation gathering local feedback on proposed major developments in the areaEvaluating the local economic impact of the mini park installed by atkins (Southside BID)

The first Totems use low-power, e-ink screens and audio cues to prompt passers-by to engage with it. This can be used for consulting citizens on local planning applications, conduct research and for signposting local businesses, events and amenities. Citizens can also share their stories and opinions with the Totem, which helps build a sense of community and place, and could go on to inform decision-making in the area.

Interested in getting involved? If you are a business who would like to use our experimentation platform or a planner, local authority, university or business improvement district interesting in providing information to the public, we are here to tell you more.

Email totem@futurecities.catapult.org.uk for more information.

We are seeking your views on how we can help make it easier to test new technologies in cities. If you’d like to help make this better, please fill in our survey here.

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