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Smart data & sustainable design

In the past couple of weeks we’ve looked at sustainable design through the lenses of open data and big data, and this week we’re looking at the holy grail, which is “smart data.”

Is “smart data” really just a way of describing how communications and physical engineering are merging into new systems that enable “smarter” decision making, potentially in real time–an internet of things (sometimes known as IoT)?

That’s how smartplanet describes it in their post about the Spanish town, Santander, that has launched the SmartSantander initiative with $12 million from the European Commission.

Smart Santander is a city-scale experiment in smartness. Part of what caught my eye was this image of one of the parking sensors:


A parking sensor embedded in the street--one of 1000 sensor nodes supplied to Santander by Libelium

Ultimately the project aims to deply 20,000 sensors, which hints at the scale of the design problem for a truly smart city. What should all these senors look like? When should they be obvious and when should they be seamlessly and invisibly integrated into imfrastructure. Do people need to know when they are being “sensed”?

These ethical question sit alongside a host of practical design problems around durability, behavior, measurement, aesthetics, usability, maintenance, etc.

To get a sense of the range of things being monitored (from noise to snow level), check out Libelium’s 58 applications for their “plug and sense” waspmote sensor. In fact, why not buy a few of these senors and set up a hands on lab for your students–OK I admit I didn’t have time to send in the form and get the price list (but you can read more about hands-on labs here, with the wind-up energy lab proposal).

Santander will generate big data and, it seems, at least some open data. The hope is that “smartness” will make resource use much more efficient while also generating civic value. There’s certainly a lot of material in this case for teaching and research!


Find this post interesting? Share it with a colleague and subscribe in the right margin for the monthly summary, which always includes a bonus article. Also check out this week’s post over on the design, consumerism and activism blog, Measuring Social Impact from Design–another meaty topic.

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