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.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Pigeon Hotel

Just a few roofs away from V2 in Rotterdam is the Pigeon Loft, an alternative project to control the city's pigeon population. Since 2003, instead of killing off the birds or capturing them, the loft offers nesting space for about 200+ birds. Any eggs produced by the birds are replaced by fake eggs. The birds are fed proper food instead of pommes frites and the place is maintained by volunteers. According to the loft's designer/artist Stefan Gross the loft managed to reduce the population noticely in an area up to a 1 mile radius, including the popular shopping area around Rotterdam's Binnenwegplein. The germany originated project showed superior to methodologies like killing pigeons off, which in most cases only resulted in a pigeon populaton explosion as a reaction, sometimes ending up with more birds than before.
Despite it's success in other cities like Amsterdam and Bijenkorf.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Let it snow

On friday 25th november 2005, the netherlands were hit by a surprisingly intensive snowfall and rainstorm in the south and east of the country, resulting in one of the biggest traffic jams, an estimated 800km plus numerous accidents, road blocks and even power cuts, due to broken tree branches. Schiphol airport also reported massive delays and cancelled flights as it was only able to use a single runway.

From our point of view: Valentina and me left Rotterdam at about 12.00am for Hengelow and we entered the snow zone, a reported 30cm+ snowfall right after Utrecht, which kept on getting whiter and stormier by the km. Our first unprogrammed stop happened about 3km before Apeldoorn, due to our train colliding with a car's hanger, noone harmed, but a stop for nearly 2 hours till it was cleaned up. Yet just about on the next crossing ahead, a stuck truck stopped our journey again, not moving back nor forth blocking the rails. Another half an hour later and after receiving information that already 6 lines are down due to branches, etc. the traindriver finally decides to drive back to the previous town due to the truck not moving, resulting in a rebellious traveller pulling the emergency break. Another painful half an hour later, we finally get going but the truck was finally pulled away and we arrive at Apeldorn at last. 17.00 and being 2 hours late for our meeting, we had cancelled an hour ago and decide to go back to Rotterdam. Yet again, lucky lucky, just as we arrive, trains are getting cancelled and chaos reports come spilling in no trains, no busses and no cars(taxis) whatsoever. Whilst waiting at the train station, power failure is experienced. Lights uncontrollably go out and on again, kids start crying and comments flying.
Hours later all hotels booked out, the town hall is turned into a crisis center, broodjes and koffie is handed out. People are slowy filling up the waiting hall, I count about 100 in the end. Mobiles are used, credits are running out.
24:00, the city managed to get us a space at the local army barrack's gym. We arrive, split up in Buben and Maedchens, the guys toilets manage to experience a 2cm high water puddle, due to melting snow as we all hope.
Slowly matresses arrive along with duvets and pillows, simple but warm. As far as I can tell from the men's department, it wasn't as smelly as I expected and we had few snorers, yet the light in the gym seemed to be motion-triggered or timebased, resulting in another switch-on and occasional additional stranded guests till about a good 4:00 am.
Somehow we managed to organize a car to the train station at 7am, skipping the city-planned 9am mass-transit, trains were running, we catch a train to rotterdam after 5 minutes and Valentina reaches Schiphol in time(to my knowledge).

Only winner Rob, who couldn't make it to the meeting on friday, he must have know this to happen cause he is dutch!

How fragile physical networks can be...
I had to double post this one.

Help for stranded travellers article (dutch)

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

2003 Aura

Someone just sent me a link. About two years ago some artists from Belgrad did an interesting project with pigeons. It was about the loss of a message, as far as I understand. They equipped a pigeon with a radio transmitter camera, including batteries I suppose, to visualise the moment when the video transmission stops. Even though they lost the bird, I hope someone found it eventually to take that camera off the bird's back.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

RFID threat

I keep on getting URLs sent and find hundreds of similar articles about the threat of RFID tags being read from miles away and evil people with evil devices reading your tiny data on your chip and then owning your private life, your credit card account and your dog.
Don't get me wrong. I believe that it is possible to read RFID tags from far, and I believe that the data on a chip can be hacked, the issue is another one.
First of all, even though RFID tags (and there are quite a few different ones out there that require different readers) can be read, the data on them is still encrypted, so there is another hurdle. Second, in none of the articles (so far) have I actually found a serious example of data that could be used to damage your privacy rights or rids you off your money. Unless that is of course, if you put your pincode on your chip, but as far as I remember they still tell us not to put card number and pincode both together.
In one article, a US citizen mentioned the worry, that terrorists could filter out US citizens out of a crowd of people and kidnap only them. Interesting.
Apart from your behaviour, language accent, maybe way you dress or even your passport, I guess it would be nearly impossible to get this information otherwise and we all don't want to have peaceful canadians kindapped.
Passports have been copied(about every generation of them), creditcards, chipcards, phones have been phreaked, email accounts and servers hacked and spammed, audio tapes, VHS, CDs and DVD have been copied, Playstations have been hardware and software hacked, mobile phone adressbooks stolen over bluetooth, perfect medicament-fakes like Viagra-Pills enter the market on a level that the pharma-cons haven't full control over, bus and concert tickets have been copied despite hologram labels, designer label products have been copied to the extend that the counterfeiters have access to the same factories like the brand's company and last but not least, money has been reproduced. The list is endless.
Apart from your goldfish at home, everything out there could be a copy and you don't even know it. Understandable as our senses are pretty limited. The point is rather, who says it is a copy when we live in times, where every second pop song is not a copy but a cover version and your identity is more proven through non-living things rather than your own living persona.
And who is gonna pay for the inflation of product security.
I remember when we worked on global and growable creditcard concepts with IDEO, we ended up talking about the essence of trust that eventually lies behind all these transaction security procedures and disembodied accounts.

Electronics Documentation

I always wish to find something like this on the web, yet understandably noone has the time for documentation like this, so I made myself some time.
I uploaded a hopefully helpfull documentation in PDF format on my server for everyone to enjoy. If you are planning to use the same reader, or just want to get an idea how much it takes to hook a RFID-reader up to your machine (especially your Mac), this should help a lot.

Reader Documentation (1.8MB PDF File)

Out in the Field

Last week, I finally had the opportunity to see a racing pigeon RFID system in action. I visited Henk van Linden in Utrecht, about an hour from Rotterdam. As Henk onl
y spoke dutch, I was lucky to have Hein, my project manager, with me to help me out.
Henk comes from a family of pigeon aficionados, his father introduced him to this intensive pasttime. Despite living in a tightly housed district, the pigeon cage, which is based in the backyard, covers a good half of the back yard and is two storeys high, the upper part which contains the landing platforms accessible by a small ladder.
The roughly 30 birds he owns are mostly his own breed plus a few bought ones to keep his own pigeon's DNA set active.

He normally spends about 2 hours each day for them to feed and let them fly. At the time of our visit, he had one that had an inflamed digestive system and therefore needed some extra care and time. During the racing season he
spends a good 4 hrs a day with the pigeons and getting up as early as six in the morning for the first feeding, seemingly keeping a man of a 60+ age active and healthy. For the training, apart from a sophisticated feeding plan, he lets them fly once a day and some are then gone, especially the females for a good two hours.

When they return they then each trigger the reader's antenna which is located withing the landing platform, through their individual tags, in the small plastic rings attached to their feet(see "The Germans Are Coming" below for photo). He can check the readings with a small handheld controller that displays each tag when being read. We tested a few blanks and one of my own tags I had brought with me. As much as my tag contains a chip with an ID , there is no further information attached to it of course. The way it works is that he brings his pigeons to the clubhouse and they put the tag on the pigeon there, where the pigeon's information is then entered into a centralised database for future races and analysis.
Surprised that a hobbyist can afford such a system, he confirmed that apart from one member, the whole club is using it, he said it was an investment, but the additional data he and others are getting with the system is impressive, plus it makes lost pigeons be found easier, especially as it is not uncommon that pigeons fly with another flock and end up in other people's cages.

What I was still mosty impressed was not the technology, which works all fine and well, but the fact that this man spends so much time studying and monitoring these animals. His link with these animals is obviously a strong one and based on this he confirmed that when he walks through the city his perception of any bird in sight is a much different one than anyone else not involved in bird sport.
As odd as pigeon racing might seem to some(yet it is a worldwide phenomenon in a multi billion dollar range due to betting on races) the effect this fascination of animals has on an individual is impressive, and I can presume that Henk van Linden has found something others are looking for their whole life to keep them active and happy.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Is there such a thing as "Friendly Fire"?

Unpleasant headlines of soldiers shooting rather each other than the enemy during missions like Desert Storm might just get less. US company Sandia has a system that equips soldiers and vehicles with radio-tech tags that can tell the shooter if it's friend or foe. Now let's just hope these batteries wont'leak.

RFID Radar

A South African company claims to have come up with a brand new system that allows the scanning and detection of multiple UHF tags over a stunning distance and also be able to trace the location in 3D space and all with a single low cost reader.

Eindhoven Design Academy

Been to Eindhoven to visit a friend who just started at Philips and visited the Design School's final show. I was impressed. Not only a good collection of nice and clever ideas, but very well presented. Worth the unusual 5Euro entry fee for a final show.
The bathroom plates that were covering the pipes in 3D style or the styrofoam lamp as well as the "glass" bulbs.

RFID life prediction

Tagged World Project has developed a system that captures human behaviour patterns using RFID tags, stores them in an XML format, uses the data for predicting users' future behaviour patterns and provides services proactively. (From we-make-money-not-art)