“Well Connected City” event

I attended this event earlier this week – lots of interesting speakers, a very well organised affair and a credit to Imperial College’s Business School, which hosted. Among the presentations worthy of note were Itiner, a Polish personal navigation application that works with fairly basic phones as a Java application. It’s already up in 13 Polish towns and one Italian city. It works in offline mode to conserve data usage (thoughtful) and it’s based on timetable information provided free by the transport operators. It looked very nice, though not knowing any Polish or the layout of Kracow I can’t say for certain how well it really works.

One of the sponsors/organisers was LivingLabs Global, which has a great showcase of case studies, demonstrations and videos. Not all of these are sensible or stand up to much critical examination; one of my favourite silly ones, which was also presented at the event, was ‘bring.buddy‘, a proposal to use crowd-sourcing and social networking to create an ad hoc parcel delivery system. It’s easy to knock holes in this (why wouldn’t the volunteer deliverers steal the parcels? Wouldn’t the volunteers become grumpy when the number of parcels goes from one to five to fifteen to…?), but it does point the way towards other – perhaps more commercially oriented web-based mechanisms for delivery. Apparently UK retailer Next already uses local residents as a last-mile deliverers.

Also presented was e-Adept, a pedestrian navigation system for the visually impaired from Stockholm. This uses a combination of GPS, digital compass and pedometer-based dead reckoning to calculate positioning, and a clever interface including speech synthesis to provide directions. It’s only possible because the company which make it, Astando Inc, has access to a really detailed pedestrian routes database for Stockholm created by a local social enterprise using unemployed people.

For my money, the best presentation of the day was by Dominique Laousse of the Paris transport authority/operator RATP. Mr Laousse describes himself as a civil engineer, but perhaps all civil engineers in France have to double as poets. His slides crackled with new concepts like ‘Beta Cities’ and ‘WikiPolis’. Among the projects described were ‘Transport Amoureux’, where travelers can leave virtual tags for others about people, the city and transport. RATP calls this Mobility 2.1 – read more about RATP’s beta test programme here.

I was rather less impressed by a presentation from dynamic ride-sharing provider ICarYou. The presented was late and half-hearted, and the project is clearly already in transition from a dynamic sharing model to something much more like a company-sponsored car pooling scheme. Responses to queries about how dynamic ride-sharing could avoid putting victims together with their future murderers and rapists were more or less met with a shrug.

Also worth an honourable mention – included in the impressive book given to participants in the event, though not actually presented – are:

  • the Taipei EasyCard system, which aspires to unite payment systems for car parks, bus, the city metro transport system, shops, fast food outlets and banks
  • the Bicing public bicycle system in Barcelona

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