I’ve recently been thinking a lot about cities.
Places where some of us call our home or places that gets us excited when we visit them.
I was wondering about how cities can connect with citizens on a more deeper level, beyond it’s superficial aesthetics.
How will they interact with the city and really experience it, especially now in our post-Covid19 world that we find ourselves in.
A UN report suggested that in thirty years from now 68% or two thirds of the global population will most likely live in cities. While it’s easy to think about this as an indicator of progress, it also presents the possibility of serious problems taking place:
- Challenges in improving infrastructure to keep up with the demands of urban populations
- Monitoring public issues that need immediate fixes
- Handling an increasing sense of isolation within the hearts of citizens who may feel disconnected from the rest of the community due to the hustle and bustle of everyday life
And that’s where Hello Lamp Post, a UK-based unique “human-centric” technological solution comes in.
Picture being able to talk to your post box about the people who passed by it before you did, or asking a manhole cover about what’s been happening on the street lately. In a nutshell, it’s the Internet of Things, but for ordinary street objects – a literal interpretation of the concept of a “smart city”.
And with the right execution, it’s a powerful tool for gathering data – and for advancing worthwhile initiatives with long-term benefits for the public.
How Hello Lamp Post works
Using an ordinary mobile phone – yes, it doesn’t even have to be a fancy smartphone – users can send an SMS to the phone number or scan the QR code, assigned to that specific object (which can be found on the objects themselves). This data is handled and managed via a web server using a cloud communications platform service that is an AI driven, conversational system.
As more users engage with these objects, the system is able to collect more data. This, of course, has a twofold benefit:
- Being a source of relevant information and concerns that must be considered in urban planning
- A novel and entertaining pastime that turns city living into a truly immersive, interactive experience.
With Hello Lamp Post, users can:
- Share feedback about the public spaces in their local neighborhoods
- Become part of the overall decision-making process in improving the city
- Share their own thoughts and experiences involving city life.
So far, the team has been able to work with governments, city councils, smart city projects, construction companies, corporate businesses and urban planners in addressing the needs of citizens. In essence, Hello Lamp Post was designed to encourage citizens to express and share their thoughts, ideas, and feelings. The license and its features, from data collection to analysis and report creation, come with a renewable, scalable fee.
Having this tool as a supplementary data-gathering platform will allow urban planners to propose and execute solutions that can really address citizens’ pain points.
When the project premiered in 2013 in Bristol after winning the Inaugural Playable City Award, it recorded a whopping 25,000 text messages sent to the system within just eight weeks. Since then, it has expanded to some of the world’s biggest and most populated urban areas, including Austin in Texas, Bristol and London in the UK, Sydney in Australia, Vancouver in Canada, and Tokyo in Japan. All in all, it is in over 25 cities worldwide.
Depending on the needs of the city government the team works with, the system may implement key deployments concerning Way-Finding, Culture and Tourism, Urban Planning, Air Quality, Transport, and other critical concerns. Each deployment generates a detailed output report that helps in informing the city officials’ future decision and policy-making.
Research has shown that the project appeals to demographics across the board, but is especially a hit with the digitally native millennial and Gen-Z crowds.
Hello UBC (University of British Columbia) – Student Life
One example of this is “Hello UBC”, a project in collaboration with the University of British Columbia’s parking and access services department, which gathered information on how the students experienced public spaces during university life. With the data, the university was able to grow into a campus-wide resilient network for constant student communications with no time limit.
City of Summerside, Canada
Another case study is the City of Summerside in Canada, which utilized the system to hear from its younger residents. In the end, the city recorded its highest citizen engagement and participation rates ever. Nearly a fifth of the population (18%) interacted with these objects, receiving broad feedback from those 15 to 30 years of age.
Hello Sustainable Malmo, Sweden
Meanwhile, Sweden’s “Hello Sustainable Malmo” was crafted to disseminate information around the UN’s Global Goals to citizens while encouraging them to participate and obtain more knowledge about their city’s support for the UN’s objectives. Interestingly enough, this resulted in a 75% increased engagement and participation rate.
Hello Climate Emergency – Southwark Council and Traverse
Last but not the least is Hello Lamp Post’s collaboration with Southwark Council and Traverse, “Hello Climate Emergency”. The system encompassed 5 key sites in the borough, inviting citizens and guests to share suggestions, stories, and challenges in dealing with the climate crisis with lamp posts, trees, benches, and even flagpoles.
Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, Hello Lamp Post has proven to be invaluable in remote engagement, from scaling up projects to activating more street and campus objects to creating friendly chatbots on council and public sector websites.
See how Hello Lamp Post support other government challenges here.
A ‘force for good’
Over the years, Hello Lamp Post has received considerable praise and recognition, including the Smart Cities UK Award in 2018 and the Tourism NI Awards in 2019. The team has also been accepted onto two digital accelerator programmes: Microsoft’s AI for Good Cohort, which provided AI-based assistance to the business, and Facebook’s own in-house startup programme LDN_LAB.
Recognizing the importance of strong community engagement, numerous organisations and local councils worldwide have reached out to the team to possibly use the system in getting suggestions and opinions from citizens.
Imagine if you could talk to everyday objects like: postboxes, fire hydrants, parking meters or bike racks? Well, Hello Lamp Post has made all that possible.— Hello Lamp Post (@HelloLampPost_) November 24, 2020
Comment and let us know what objects you'd like to chat to in your town or city.#Chat #AI #Conversations #Tech #Town pic.twitter.com/0aoK5jvB6y
Ultimately, the vision of the team behind Hello Lamp Post is to be known as a “force for good” – the connective tissue between physical environments and their users.
As technology continues to progress, the dream of a true “smart city” is inching closer and closer to reality – and Hello Lamp Post, in this regard, is one giant leap for mankind.
Organisations interested in incorporating this technology into their cities may send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit their website and fill out their contact form
Liz Azyan is interested in the ways new kinds of social data and technology introduce challenges and opportunities to society. Get involved with Liz’s latest project here.