4 Projects that Make City Life More Fun and Engaging

From projects that assist visually impaired pedestrians to games that motivate residents to exercise more often, these deployments emphasize the beauty, fun and tranquility in a bustling urban environment.

by / October 17, 2014
via YouTube

Cities can be dangerous and complicated for residents and travelers, but organizations are using technology to make urban navigation less stressful. Developers have created mobile games, apps and even headgear to make maneuvering the environment more engaging and relaxing for users.  

From projects that assist visually impaired pedestrians to games that motivate residents to exercise more often, the following four deployments represent technology designed to enhance city life and travel.

1.     The mood-reading helmet: Panos Mavros, a Ph.D. researcher at the University College London’s Bartlett Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis, has developed a helmet that reads the wearer’s brain to monitor responses to stimuli. He’s deployed the unit in a London pilot project to gauge how people feel when navigating the terrain. BBC reporter Jane Wakefield wore the technology during a demonstration and wrote about her frustration and calmness as she walked through London areas. Mavros told the BBC that he wanted to understand how people perceive city features, like specific surface windows or building designs, which would presumably allow planners to design more attractive features. The information is cross-referenced with GPS data so analysts can see where someone was when they felt a certain way. Mavros is working with the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association to find out which routes are least stressful for people with impaired vision.

2.     An equation that “figures out” beautiful travel paths: Yahoo computer scientists developed an algorithm to discern the most scenic urban routes and plan to incorporate it into a mobile app that presents users with the most desirable paths in their cities. They asked more than 3,000 participants in a project to select beautiful London areas from shots in Google Street View, and then created graphs and a database. The algorithm searches through the data to generate pleasing routes. Yahoo tested the results with 30 volunteers, who said that the routes were indeed more scenic.

3.     Making neighborhood exploration fun: Pan Studios is developing the game "Run an Empire" to challenge players to “capture” neighborhood areas by walking or jogging around them. The more laps they run, the more they safeguard their areas from invasion. It’s a gamification effort to motivate people to exercise by blending fun with native environments. Pan raised funds on Kickstarter to finance the game’s creation and surpassed the £15,000 goal this past spring. 

4.     Dancing traffic lights: The Smart company created a traffic light that mimics the dance moves of people nearby. It deployed the technology in Lisbon, Portugal, and 81 percent more pedestrians stopped at red lights when they saw it dance. Smart created the light as part of an ad campaign to promote their corporate commitment to safety, but there don’t appear to be any plans to deploy dancing traffic lights in more cities for continuous urban implementation. 

Many people blaze through busy days and take their surroundings for granted, but projects like these emphasize the beauty, fun and tranquility in the environment that may go unnoticed in the frenetic energy of city life.

Hilton Collins

Hilton Collins is a former staff writer for Government Technology and Emergency Management magazines.