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State of (The Art): Sentient City

by Stephen Tortora-Lee on November 6, 2009

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Sentient City almost sounds like science fiction, but it is the opposite actually.  These are actual techniques and devices to help the system of the city (through the people that live within it)  become more aware of the processes within itself through mobile technology and designed in feedback systems in order to make cities more sustainable as well as more interesting.  Last Friday I went up with my friends Tom and Jason to 51st St and 6th to check out the Sentient City exhibit.  The space isn’t huge, but what you see are prototypes and new possibilities of design ideas created to change or allow new behaviors in people.

Too Smart City

Too Smart City outlines ideas where “smart” objects can dissuade people from behaviors that inconvenience others or break down others.  This diagram from their exhibit shows you a Too Smart park bench:

If you sit too long it will push you off the bench, so others can have a turn.

Too Smart City Park Bench Diagram

The Bench is there so you can try it out (with a very short timer for demonstration purposes), though it was out of order last week and it was scheduled to be fixed sometime this week.

There is also a sign and trash can design.  When you try throwing  away the wrong type of garbage into the Too Smart garbage it will spit it back at you.  You can check out this exhibit at the Sentient City web site or the designer’s blog.

Amphibious Architecture

Secondly, there was a piece called Amphibious Architecture, where sets of data collecting tubes are set up and then connected to an SMS gateway so that people in the neighborhood could send a text message, and then get a status report back as to what was going on beneath the waves.  There is a prototype in the exhibit and there are actually sets in operation in the East River and the Bronx River.  Text “EastRiver”  or “BronxRiver” to 41411 to see how it works wherever you are.

Here is a diagram how it operates:

See whats going on under the water by texting on your cell phone.

See what's going on under the water by texting on your cell phone.

Natural Fuse

Natural Fuse takes the idea that if you make people guilty enough through a feedback device with a plant they will use less energy.

The idea is to connect a plant to a light bulb that you use at your desk.  A sensor keeps track of how much carbon dioxide is being absorbed by the plant and another sensor also keeps track of how much energy you are using with the light.  If the amount of carbon dioxide that would be generated by the power plant to produce the light from your light bulb is more than the amount of carbon dioxide that the plant is absorbing through photosynthesis, an alarm will go off.  The first two times it is an audible alarm, the third time a bulb of water and bleach is injected into the plant, thereby killing it.  You can pay $50 to rent one of these devices for a week.  Here’s a lovely diagram:

Natural Fuse demonstration

Natural Fuse demonstration

Find out more at

Trash Track

Trash Track is being put into trials by the New York City Department of Sanitation.  The concept behind Trash Track is Trash Track tags take a bearing on cell phone towers they pass as the garbage they are attached to moves through the system.  This information is sent back so that a map showing the (in)efficiencies of the system ca be displayed in a video format so the system can be tweaked as more data is gathered.  There is a projection of data collected on the wall of the exhibit, but you can find screen shots on their web page.

This is what a Trash Tracking tag looks like:

Find out more at their home page.

Break Out!

The Break Out! Festival started in lower Manhattan as a way to encourage people working outdoors.  It is now a series of events of coworking that you can find out more about at their home page.

Senitient City is only at its current real location until November 7th.  It was put together by the  Please check it out virtually at

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Visitor Information

Sentient City Hub Exhibition
The Urban Center
457 Madison Avenue
New York City

Gallery hours:
Monday–Saturday (closed Thursday)
11 a.m. — 5 p.m.
Free admission
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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

DingoDoggNo Gravatar November 8, 2009 at 10:53 am

Thank you! I would now go on this blog every day!

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