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Tech + EngineeringTech & Engineering

If This City Could Talk

ByTeal BurrellNOVA NextNOVA Next

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If these walls could talk, what would they say? Or for that matter, what would a street lamp post say, given the hundreds, even thousands of people that pass it every day? An interactive exhibit in Bristol, UK allows visitors to “talk” to objects and hear their stories. Keith Stuart, writing for the Guardian, explains the Hello Lamp Post project:

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This fascinating project encourages visitors and residents to communicate with street furniture like lamp posts, post boxes and bus stops by using the repair numbers found on these objects as SMS codes. Participants simply text the relevant number to a central server thereby ‘waking up’ the object, which will then ask a series of questions via text messaging. The next person to ‘sign in’ with that object can learn about previous replies, and the idea is, regular ‘conversations’ with the same objects will allow players to learn lots of stories about the hidden lives of the city’s population.

It sounds like a city-wide “Internet of Things”—where everyday objects are connected to the internet so they can communicate with each other, enabling them to react intelligently to the world around them, like a sprinkler system that would turn off when rain is forecast. And that’s kind of the idea. The project won the Playable City Award—which was inspired by the idea of the Internet of Things—for the way it encourages tourists and residents to explore the city.

hello lamp post

It’s more of a playful version of the Internet of Things than a useful one, but there is at least one aspect that shows the way to a practical, connected future: The unique identifiers Hello Lamp Post uses are existing codes given by the city to indicate which objects need repair. Today, texting hello to these codes will strike up a conversation. Stuart calls it “sort of a cross between a chat forum and an Artificial Intelligence conversation system – but one that can be accessed through sending text messages to a manhole cover.”