Smart Citizen: the Modern Digital Robin Hood of Data

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In the digital age we’re living, data and information have become crucial assets. Data and meta-data (data about data) are a goldmine many contemporary digital dictators try to put their hands on. In the cyber landscape, big players include NSA, GCHQ, Facebook, Tinder and Twitter fighting between each other at to gain more and more data to collect or sell. But not all is lost, in such a grim reality I managed to spot the modern digital Robin Hood of data. The platform is called Smart Citizen and allows people to create, own, share or delete all the data they have created themselves about their immediate environment. Tomas Diaz is the founder of Smart Citizen. He is currently studying for his PhD at UCL in London, a the perfect opportunity for me to meet and ask a few questions for DailyInspiration.

 

Can you describe Smart Citizen?

TD: We’ve created an Arduino with steroids. We’ve basically designed an arduino-compatible board that can sense the environmental condition of the city. The design includes the base-board with build in internet connectivity, rechargeable battery, RTC and micro SD. On top of that there is the board-sensor shield that can sense detect level of NO2, CO, humidity, temperature, light, noise and number of Wi-Fi networks around you. On top of that we’ve created the platform for the users to engage with the community.

 

How did Smart Citizen come about?

TD: Originally, I’m a urbanist, with a Master Degree at the Institute of Advanced Architecture of Catalonia. I’ve always been interested in people and the city. My dream was to enable citizens to empirically understand their immediate surrounding in an easy and accessible way. When I started working on this project I was very annoyed by the complexity, the cost and the general disconnection of the sensors available on the market. There was no platform and the only information available concerning the environment belonged to government or big corporation able to disclose only certain convenient information. We then had to make it ourselves. It had to be done and we crowdfunded the first 200 boards. Most recently, we did the second crowdfunding campaign reaching a total of 700 boards spread across the globe.

What is the biggest goal of Smart Citizen?

TD: The biggest goal is to empower people. Smart city should be produce by smart citizen equipped with tools and create the context for citizen to access information. Information can then be shared and processed. Then, solution and action will be tailored to later people’s need.

Any future features?

TD: Yes, absolutely. We are working on more shields due to be launched soon. The Urban-agriculture shield that will enable citizen to produce food locally through a series of sensor that help people understand how to better grow their plants, creating the optimal conditions to grow food. A sensor shield for indoor air quality. A Urban-bees sensor shield to understand bees and reasons behind the destruction of bee colonies around the world and hopefully help recover those colonies.

Do you see data as something liberating or as a tool for mass surveillance?

TD: Data is very important. And, it will continue to be a protagonist of the future. I believe the amount of information surrounding us is extremely valuable. Data allow the invisible to become visible helping human to reduce uncertainty and understand the world. For instance, data and patterns can allow you to conduct a more aware and healthy life. It is important to see data as something inherited where everything we do produces information. At the same time if you, as a person, are the producer of data, you then have to own those data and have to be able to administrate it. It is unacceptable in my view that sometime you have to pay for the data you produced yourself.

 

Do you have any muse?

TD: Husman… definitely Husman Haque! He is a great mentor and friend. Smart Citizen in a way is a continuation of Pachube– originally developed by him.

How do you see the future of design?

TD: Ahah.. Tricky question. I’m very critical of design as a disciplined run by a few. I believe design is something inherited in every living thing. The exciting trend that I’m seeing in the design world in recent years is the breaking of those barriers between the designer and the public. People are getting closer to the tools that allow them to produce, publish, create and finance their ideas. It is amazing! If you have an idea, you can now realise it without any intermediator. I want to see design becoming an interface for people to solve their own problem. Forget products the future is to design platform that create the context for that object to materialize. Getting the final user to be part of the design process is the future in my view.

To conclude I would like to add that you can purchase the board and become part of this growing community. I personally got mine already.

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About the author

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This post is written by Mattia, Designer & Writer & Maker trying to make the web a bit more human. Founder of Who Said That, he is responsible for TAH live reportage from design conferences, festivals & exhibitions around the world.

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