“Social interactions will always exist in urban environments, what we’re seeing now is the opportunity to curate them mildly.”

Our current relationship with technology is not healthy.

“You see people with their necks down, looking at their phones and not taking in their surroundings,” says Matt Low, who leads a digital team at Arup’s Melbourne office. The Internet of Things for Social Cities–a collaborative research project between Arup, RMIT University, and local creative agency SandPit–seeks to improve this relationship within the context of the built environment. By placing technology within the environment itself (on walls, floors–even trees) Matt and his colleagues believe they can change the way people interact with who and what’s around them.

From inception, this research took a uniquely human-centered approach. A partnership with a new development in inner city Melbourne–the Collingwood Arts Precinct–gave the team the opportunity to user-test their hypothesis in the field. The project began with comprehensive ethnographic research: 15 people representing 10 different communities within Collingwood were consulted to learn how they used their environment. Any gaps were identified and these pain-points used to inform a number IoT solutions that were prototyped, tested, and iterated upon within the community.

This research was unique for Arup in that we rarely enter into a project so early. But interacting with the CAP community from the inception of this project not only allowed us to facilitate a more participatory design process, it allowed us to shape more appropriate outcomes for the residents.

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