Things as citizens – Designing autonomous and self-aware bicycles

Cities are becoming smarter. Sensors are embedded on objects such as traffic lights or park benches; the data generated by the user of the city are combined and analyzed to optimize the use of the city in all kind of ways, offering new products and services.

Project PACT argues that there will be a next iteration of the smart city as soon as the things become more intelligent through artificial intelligence and machine learning. Things will become self-aware and have agency. The things will be citizens too in the intelligent city. Not only will we see new interfaces with services as the dialogues become more dominant paradigm, the whole system of the things in the city will change. When we understand the potential relation between people and intelligent things, we are better able to live with them. Designers will have an important role in shaping this future society.

For designers this triggers all kind of questions. What is the rule set we need to design for these things? And what is the relation between things and humans in these smart cities? In this project, we would like to dive deep into the future of these new cities and make a demonstrator of one particular thing, a bike that behaves as a citizen.

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Design challenge

Imagine a bike that is riding itself based on a target that is given. The bike is intelligent and takes the best route. The intelligence is so far developed that the bike can react on its user and direct context, and combine this with the knowledge of all other members of traffic.  At the same time, the cyclist should be informed on the (expected) behavior of the bicycle to deliver a comfortable ride. This is of course a hypothetical product, but it could happen. We would like to get insights in the possible interfaces. To keep it focused, we frame the context towards an area of 50 x 50 x 5 meter on the crossing Wibautstraat/Mauritskade.

The embodiment of intelligence in the bike leads to its own will and actions. Within that space, every solution is possible to achieve an interaction between bike and rider. Steer, pedals, bike, saddle, or whatever you can think of can become touchpoints for interaction, and visual, touch or audio or anything else can be used as cues for interaction. Next to the interface, we also think it is interesting to design the relation between the thing and the human, i.e., who is in charge/when and what is the communication style.