URBAN EYES is a critical design concept combining RFID technology, aerial photography and pigeons to create an explorative experience for urban spaces. This Blog is a documentation of the project's development and related issues and articles list.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Kader Attia’s Flying rats

A rather disturbing art installation, where stuffed child puppets get eaten by pigeons over time.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Baja Beach Club

Last weekend I visited the Baja Beach Club here in Rotterdam, one if not the only club in the netherlands that is using RFID tags for their customers. In combination with a VIP club membership, visitors can have a glass chip implanted to function as a creditcard to pay with at the entrance and the specially equipped VIP bar area.
We met one of the first VIPs to ever get a chip (photo). Check out the first implanting session held live in the Baja Beach Club last year.
According to Manager Jo van Galen, 70 people are already wearing a chip, they have a waiting list, and then there is also their branch in Barcelona.

Newspaper Heritage

Have I mentioned the coincidences yet? It happens that the V2_ lab is in an old newspaper building, not only with a nice "penthouse terrace", but just outside amongst the roof tops, it has an abandoned birdcage for the homing pigeons, the newspaper was using.

Friday, October 14, 2005

RFID Live Event, Amsterdam

Probably one, if not THE biggest RFID event in europe took place this monday to wednesday in amsterdam's prestigous japanese style hotel okura.
A collection of the biggest players in RFID technology like Oracle, IBM, Unisys, amongst many others, took three days to talk about their projects, promote and network around RFID technology and it's opportunities for the retail market.

Coming from an art and design background, I could not help, but feel a little out of place amongst a community which was not only at least 15 years my senior in average, but who's agenda was obviously on the other side of the public/business divide.
The first talk to mention about the power of RFID to fight counterfeiting, led by Thorsten Staake from Auto-ID lab concluded, after some examples of how well people are producing amazingly real looking fake viagra, that the main reason, why RFID would reduce counterfeiting is, that equipping each product with tags actually makes the product more expensive. So would probably wrapping it in gold foil, but who am I to judge. A slightly dissapointing start into the talks this day.

Nevertheless, during the following lunchbreak, taking a look at the showroom, I was pleased to not only enjoy delicious salmon, but to find out that I was not the only artist around. Offered by the RFID Journal, Den Haag's Royal Academy of Arts was present with their very own RFID Lab. As Pawel Pokutycki described it, the Lab works as, an experimental area of expertise running for about a year as a research and enabling platform for cross-disciplin projects involving RFID.

Less surprising, I ran into Bart Schermer, founder of RFID Platform Nederland, who was very helpful getting me in contact with various RFID distributors in the Netherlands before my arrival in Rotterdam and whom I, after all those emails could finally talk to in person about future perspectives and present applications.
Inside the showroom, I noticed the so far highest density of active bluetooth devices, including two computers there were 13 devices, which made about 20% coverage. Why aren't more people using thsi feature more continously?
After an impressive presentation of Oracle's project with NASA about the storing of toxic waste, the presentation schedule finished with the most convincing case-study by Marks and Spencer's James Stafford, a lively mustached chap, who, as if it would be the easiest of all things presented M&S's usage of RFID technology on item-level for their fashion department.

A clear situation analysis about traditional barcode scanning and stock availability at the branches, showed how RFID can really improve a business, if it's deployed in exactly the right places and amounts. Monday's inventory counting process can now be done in 10% of the time and the trust in the system is so high, that these local scans are actually overwriting the centralized database information. A perfect finish to the most impressive success-stories that day was, when asked why he didnt extend such a system to the cash till, he replied "we appreciate the human factor at the cash desk and why replace a good working system that is just slow enough to ensure a bit of chit-chat between customer and staff to ensure an enjoyable shopping experience."
(image: one of M&S' first mobile RFID readers)
No further comments.

The second day, I had a chance to look at Nokia's well-working RFID-phone-shell system, integrated with their DB-Server. Limited scenario application, yet I keep admiring Nokia's approach to always supply a very open Dev Kit for everyone to play and test.
I only had half of the second day as a to meeting with Virtual Platform after lunch, so my impressions from that day's talks were rather minimal.
It is to be mentioned that the overall feeling is that of caution. With a new technology like that it is not surprising, yet the scale of the event made you assume otherwise.
In the end RFID is re-approvingly a very scenario depending technology. Like Eric Peters from TrueDemand Technology said "RFID... ...is an enabling technology." Gen2 is just getting out of it's egg and standards and regulations still differ nearly from country to country.
The only annoying thing about the event gose out to my men (and women) from Hotel Okura:
1) Why was the Wifi not for free?
2) Why after filling out a rather detailed web account form and purchasing half an hour of online time, surfing for 18 minutes and logging out for the next talk, I found my remaining 12 minutes gone. I purchased 30 minutes, not 18, and the auto delete excessive minutes wasn't very much mentioned as far as I remember. Not quite the class expected.
Thanks again to Kim Ray from RFID Journal and to Sonia Russel from Modern Media Partners for the coffee, if remember that name plate right.

URBAN EYES and the media

It is always welcome when your project gets publicity, yet intriguing how the perception of journalists can alter the context of the concept. In the end I have to blame it on my bad english.

We-Make-Money-Not-Art, July 2004

NY ARTS Magazine, November 2004

Damien Mulley's, December 2004

Turbulence.org, April 2005

Mediamatic "Triggered by RFID Workshop", July 2005

Concept Paper

Upon request, I made the pre-V2 early concept paper of URBAN EYES available for download.
PDF document, 830Kb

The Panopticon, Jeremy Bentham

Jeremy Bentham's famous concept as covered by Wikipedia. Interesting to see is that the public believe of it's similarity to the CCTV system is faulty in one essential part:

"The Panopticon is a type of prison building designed by the philosopher Jeremy Bentham. The concept of the design is to allow an observer to observe (-opticon) all (pan-) prisoners without the prisoners being able to tell if they are being observed or not, thus conveying a "sentiment of an invisible omniscience" (more)

With the CCTV system, we know that we are observed around the clock, as modern camera and storage technology allows. There is also the fact that the prisoners are in the state of having been found guilty, whereas in public space, this still has to be individually proven. This fact indeed shows a major shift in how police and the system perceives the public. From an old-fashioned view, only the suspects were observed. With CCTV everyone is observed and recorded, turning everyone into a potential suspect without filtering.

The Panopticon is also a centralised system that includes all surveillance data, where as CCTV (Close Circuit TV) exists "as a series of discrete, localised schemes run by a myriad of different organisations rather than a single state monolith." - Armstrong and Norris, p.7

Another big difference between Panopticon and especially Foucault's concept of Panoptic Surveillance and the CCTV system is the level in which disciplinary power is implied upon the surveillance data. You can read more on that in "The Maximum Surveillance Society", as mentioned in an earlier entry.

Books I - The Maximum Surveillance Society

Highly recommended to get an overview over the history of CCTV, especially in the UK, the political situation, how it could be deplyed without major concern by the public and efficiency studies are neatly wrapped up in Gary Armstrong and Clive Norris' book "The Maximum Surveillance Society - The Rise of CCTV"

Swalloables II

Similar to the previews entry is this newer development of a pill containing technology, which includes sensors that measure temperature and hydration level. Already used by the NFL in the US, it helps to monitor football players, who tend to overheat due to the use of body mass supplements, like Viking's right guard David Dixon, who died of a stroke, which was found to be related to a supplement players call "Ripped Fuel".
The pill shown here is the HQ Cortemp ingestible produced by Florida based HQ Inc and available for about $40 per pill.

Thursday, October 13, 2005


Is it only 5 years ago that this little piece of equipment entered our minds and literally bodies? An isreali company came up with the first swalloable technology and in 2002, CNN published a live experiment using the capsule for treatment. Still a bit chunky and unfortunately expensive due to not supported by the average health insurance, doctors hope that the video pill will become a standard.
A look at Given Imaging's company website gives you a good overall view on how it works. Check out the product description pdf.

Monday, October 10, 2005


URBAN EYES is now an offical entry entry at RFID Nederland project list.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

The germans are coming...

------------------------------------------------------------------ Nach all der Nachforschungsarbeit... Sorry, after all the research into getting the RFID tags attached to the pigeon's feet, I find these pigeon rings especially produced to do exactly that, attach glass tags to pigeons feet. Who is doing that? Cunning and innovative, the germans of course.
German based company MOTZ has been in the pigeon business for 20 years and been using computers to time arriving homing pigeons since 1994. Strongly pushing this modern technology against reluctant opposition from old-school Verbandsleitern, this systems has a huge benefit, as director Helmut Motz makes clear: ".... you don't have to catch the bird once it arrives at the birdhouse anymore. With the old Clock system you have to catch the bird to get the ring off into the timer-machine. Some Club members can't do that anymore due to their age or illness. With the RFID system that part of the process is cut out and allows our pigeon breeders to enjoy their unique sport for many more years." - now I like that, and did you know that pigeons regulate their body temperature over their feet?

Mobiles are first with news images of terror attacks

Since reading Steven Johnson's book "Emergence", which very much underlined the findings of Rob van Kranenburg and my research on the phenomenon of extelligence and resonance design, I am more and more intrigued by the power of simple connection and gathering tools for seemingly uncontrolled and always 100% subversive lay crowds.
Obviously, the phone on yoru camera is one of them.

The Herald also reported a scottish firm started up to manage "free-agent" reporters, I call them human recorders, meaning that equipped with only a mobile phone camera, you could make a buck out of that one lucky shot you got when you popped over to that joint where VIPs hang around oh so often to misbehave.

On the brighter side of the technological revolution is not only the benefit of faster information channeling as in the case of the London bombing, what is much more important is the way it affects our responsibility towards our surroundings.
We don't only watch anymore. With the right, simple tools, we can react, even if it's only to send the photo we took to tell someone how severe the situation is.
What it means in the end is that there is a network of individual recorders, sensors, tool, hands and eyes that can react in a flock-like behaviour. Seeing this, it's no surprise, that the response time is so much superior to top-down hierarchy and filter systems in modern news organisations.
A flock of birds can change direction with hardly any delay of a single bird belonging to the flock. This is not because every bird knows what the rest is doing, it's because he/she doesn't.
If that means that mankind is in such a dilemma with it's own habitat because it inherits a high level of consciuosness is still to be proven.

See also: London Bombing Pictures Mark New Role for Camera Phones

Pigeon Clusters

A not too serious take on "behind-the-scenes-of-technology"

By collecting flocks of pigeons in dense clusters, Google is able to process search queries at speeds superior to traditional search engines, which typically rely on birds of prey, brooding hens or slow-moving waterfowl to do their relevance rankings.

Rotterdam Pigeon Supply 2

Imagine my luck as I found these two fellas in a Pet Shop at Middelland Straat, just around the corner of my new appartment in Rotterdam. They are €9 each and the owner said, it's easy to get them at the moment as the pigeon-season is nearly over. Yep, those are homing ones!

Rotterdam Pigeon Supply

When I was shooting the video scenario during the DEAF festival last year here in Rotterdam, I remember running through the city and finally finding 3 poor little specimen and it took them 10 seconds to fly out of my reach.
Now this morning, things appeared different (thank god). Rotterdam actually has pigeons and they are the most fearless littel critters I came across so far.
The young stoney man on the lower right seems to have a couple of fans, so did the fellow Rotterdamien above, who was followed closely by the pigeon pack. Very Pied-Pipery!

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Chips help morgue track Katrina victims

GULFPORT, Mississippi (AP) -- As body counts mounted and missing-person reports multiplied after Hurricane Katrina, some morgue workers began using tiny computer chips to keep track of unidentified remains.

VeriChip, donated by a subsidiary of Applied Digital Solutions Inc.