At the Future Cities Catapult, we do projects that try to make the promise of technology real for people, for business and for cities. With this research theme, Connected Streets, we're interested in how technologies might materially change the way the street feels, the way it works, the way services and systems come together in a particular place.
To do this, we're working with a wide range of partners to research, develop and deploy a range of real urban prototypes, products, services and experiences. These are based on the everyday technologies that actually comprise much of our urban experience — the various touchpoints of large systems like housing and transport to the small scale of street furniture and signs.
Our approach is to make, document and discuss these possibilities with the goal of ensuring these technologies are well considered, and can thrive. We work with startups and small firms, as well as established players and public authorities, to co-develop plausible products, services, spaces and experiences. We use film and events, as well as enabling physical/digital prototypes.
We believe that it's only when you make something that you flush out the sometimes latent issues that remain hidden when the ideas are still on the drawing board or business plans, or in Powerpoint. There's a saying in design futures work: when you invent the motor car, you also invent the traffic jam. We want to ensure that we imagine both, through making, and deal with the negative whilst capturing and enhancing the positive.
We've embarked on an industrial design research project with UK technology company Berg around Connected Signage specifically. Signage is both functional and aesthetic and has a long and rich design history. Responsive signage can mean chalk boards or digital screens, yet interactive, low-energy web-connected signage which is a new possibility. Berg has researched the idea by making a prototype called Pixel Track. The Catapult has pursued the idea through a series of interviews with those who commission, curate and manage signage.
We've also collaborated with Wikihouse and Arup for the London Design Festival, and explored themes around innovation in the provision of housing, with a series of films about the way housing provision, construction and planning may change post-Internet. Connected Homes. Topics include: Crisis, Fabrication, Timber homes & Emerging models. Wikihouse links the so-called third industrial revolution to Britain’s housing crisis and the films explore associated themes of localised production, carbon efficient building, localism, land markets, new business models and material innovation.
In relation to our Sensing Cities project, we're also interested in prototyping what sensor boxes should be like, as municipal infrastructure that tries to connect with people, and with policy. How can design help convey the seams of these emerging systems?
Equally, our Cities Unlocked collaboration with Microsoft UK and Guide Dogs for the Blind also takes this approach of design-led research and prototyping at the street level.
We will be exploring other elements of the street as we continue to develop our thinking and research, in collaboration.