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Students Imagine the Future of Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park Through the Internet of Things

In November, a group of 70 students from Design Products and Information Experience Design took part in a two-week workshop with members of the Intel Collaborative Research Institute for Sustainable Connected Cities (ICRI Cities). The workshop provided students with the opportunity to prototype designs using sensors and Edison boards, imagining a future for the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park connected through the Internet of Things.

Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park (QEOP), the main location for the 2012 London Olympic Games, is now managed by the London Legacy Development Corporation. This organisation is responsible for overseeing the transition of the area from its former use to a publicly accessible site at the core of the local community. The workshop focused on the ways new technologies can contribute towards building a sustainable and thriving neighbourhood within QEOP and the surrounding boroughs.

The Internet of Things (IoT), a term first coined in 1999, describes a network of objects, or living things, attached to electronic devices, or sensors, that are able to collect and exchange data. As the associated technologies develop – becoming smaller, lighter and more affordable – applications for the IoT expand, with the potential for it to be utilised to improve the lives of inhabitants of future cities. 

Intel provided 20 of their Edison boards to be used in the workshop along with Seeed Studio’s Grove Sensor Kits. The students had the opportunity to apply this technology to a real-world situation, allowing them to explore in practice the benefits and drawbacks of an ever-expanding IoT. In particular, they were asked to consider how data generated through sensors in QEOP might be used to create social, economic and environmental value in the area.

Alongside training from Sarah Gallacher, Duncan Wilson and Michael Rosen from Intel, the students also had theoretical input from experts on the development of QEOP and practical urban applications for the IoT. Jennifer Daothong, Senior Sustainability Manager at The London Legacy Corporation, discussed how a sustainable and thriving neighbourhood is defined and what the challenges are in creating one around the QEOP. Peter Baeck, Principal Researcher in Public and Social Innovation at Nesta, explained how collaborative technologies could be used to address urban challenges. Founding partner of Umbrellium, Usman Haque, introduced ideas of participatory urbanism and Tomas Diez, director of FabLab Barcelona, presented case studies of the IoT implemented within city infrastructure.

In groups, the students developed designs addressing the needs of the local community. They carried out first-hand investigations in QEOP and surrounding areas; using ethnographic and geographic research methods, they collected data on how the park is being used and discussed with local community groups the structures that are already in place for the community. Other students focused on the technology and remote sensors currently installed at QEOP, such as cameras and weather stations.

At the end of the workshop, the groups presented their final ideas to tutors from the RCA and special guests from Future Cities Catapult and ICRI Cities. The designs addressed issues such as segregation, disengagement and the need to encourage certain demographics to make more use of the park. Communal cooking using locally grown produce and a local currency based on swaps and favours were suggested as ways that online platforms could be used to connect and bring together members of the community in specially created physical spaces.

Some groups considered the park’s past and created designs that would encourage people to be more active in the park using athletics and sports. One design featured a 100-metre sprint track with infrared sensors that would record times and display them on a physical board. This group also proposed a mobile app that could share these times and invite friends to compete.

Other proposals addressed environmental concerns within QEOP. Water Lab featured a data collection kit for school children to test levels of pollution in the local River Lea. Data collected could then be uploaded through a mobile app and shared through an online database. Another group proposed that hazel trees, which they saw being coppiced in the park, could be used to teach local school children about data collection and caring for their environment. They suggested that the trees could be fitted with sensors to monitor temperature, the moisture levels of the soil or carbon dioxide levels.

Discussing the outcomes of the workshop, Duncan Wilson from Intel said: ‘The creativity of the design students was in abundance and was reflected by the wide range of ideas and the novel ways in which each team realised and presented their vision.’