what’s next

The digital transformation workshop is successfully completed. The participants were enthused and stimulated. The keynotes were excellent and inspiring. The small group presentations were equally inspiring and forward-looking. They identified a set of quite exciting ideas for the city of Philadelphia. The question is where do we go from here.

The idea of digital city as computing platform that induces civil engagement in the form of open source is an exciting one. The coalescence of the material world, the represented world, and virtual world to create a digital world is an exciting technological possibility. The resultant radically convergent digital urban environments can become a new form of social transformation just as steam engine transformed medieval cities into industrial ones. So, the digital technology enmeshed with material world and imagined virtual world is posed to transform the industrial city into something that we haven’t seen before.

This technological possibility invites us into a design problem. It is a design problem because we can actively choose what to do, instead of doing what we are able to do. We have already seen possibilities of such new active world in the form of user-created contents, open source community and self-organizing teams on the web. The challenge is to bring the revolution in the realm of the representational world into the realm of material world. After all, we live with blood and flesh, and atoms and molecules, not just bits and bytes. But, experience of atoms and molecules can be transformed when they are added with bits and bytes.

Digital Transformation of Urban Experiences

On November 1-3, I am organizing a design research workshop on the theme of Digital Transformation of Urban Experiences. (Note: A new web site is currently designed. What you will see is a temporary place holder). We will have about 50 scholars and practitioners from many different fields to explore how we might be able to use various forms of digital technology to radical improve our everyday experiences in cities. I am glad to have Bill Mitchell from MIT Media Lab and Kalle Lyytinen as two keynote speakers. In addition, there are many exciting people who have agreed to come. I will continue to post as the preparation continues.

One of the perks of preparing the workshop is various people that I came to meet. These are people who are passionate about what they do. These are people who make differences in the lives of others through their work. I am often humbled by their questions, yet at the same time encouraged by their support.

As the topic of the workshop is a broad one, I necessarily need to meet people in a wide spectrum. Bringing these people with diverse perspectives together in their richest possible form without loosing the integrity of their ideas and passion for their cause is a daunting design challenge.

Wireless Philadelphia Student Project (2)

The second group in my class worked on a product for Philadelphia Tourists. They come up with a set of services that is designed to replace a tour guidebook. The mock-up user interface is shown below.


The key idea here is that this device is designed to replace tour guidebooks. Its size, weight and appearance are all based on the typical tour guidebook. Much of the contents will be integrated into Google Map service with Web 2.0 type content managements, where people can contribute and evaluate the contents. For example, restaurant guide will include feedback and pictures of foods and places from visitors, not from restaurants. The price of the device will about $250 per unit and they will be sold to hotels and travel agents. They can be rented through popular internet search engines and tourism web portals. The key challenge will be how to create an alliance with potential business partners by creating a new ecology of services that can offer a powerful experiences to many different types of tourists who come to visit Philadelphia. Also, the question is how to make it scaleable. Again, an interesting observation here is that people want pedestrian level navigation systems and leveraging physical places as information sources.

Wireless Philadelphia Student Project (1)

Yesterday was the last day of class and my students did excellent jobs of putting together their presentations. The first group was focusing on a small device for Philadelphia Residents. The name of the device is called PUC (Philadelphia Urban Communicator). It could be a Personal Urban Communicator. It is a small round device that has VoIP, pedestrian navigation service, IM and some other functions. This is a UI prototype of the device. It still has a lot of details that need more work and refinement, but an interesting concept. They suggest a partnership with Yahoo. The suggested retail price of $99 and monthly service fee of $20 through Philadelphia Wireless. Given that MIT Media Lab’s OLPC is only $100, the price of PUC should come down substantially. The price for the service plan also need to come down significantly. It can also incorporate QR bar code and interact with buildings with QR to get information (offices, shops and restaurants inside the building, for example).


Students also took video from their field research. These are three clips from them. First, why do you live in Philadelphia? http://video.google.com/googleplayer.swf?docId=-2174374666859403927&hl=en

Second, what can be improved? http://video.google.com/googleplayer.swf?docId=8813173100607123995&hl=en

Third, can you design a device for Philadelphia wireless? http://video.google.com/googleplayer.swf?docId=5585555175986533996&hl=en