Mara Balestrini has recently returned from Ensenada, Mexico, where she has been deploying the first stage of her JokeBox project on enhancing social connectivity.

The JokeBox is an urban installation whose primary purpose is to promote social interactions in the public space, encouraging collaboration and conversation between people. It is a technological device that consists of two pedestals with buttons, which can detect the presence of individuals in a limited radio. When detecting their presence, the JokeBox asks people if they want to hear a joke. To do so, users need to press both buttons at the top of the pedestals simultaneously.

There is much evidence that social connectedness can increase the well-being of individuals and communities. However, little research in HCI has studied the key factors involved in designing robust and easy-to-use interfaces to encourage social interactions among strangers in the public space.  The JokeBox Study is a research prototype that allows us to gain insights into this challenging domain.

The JokeBox is a prototype of ubiquitous technology created by researchers Mara Balestrini, Jon Bird and Paul Marshall (University College London, UK), Raymundo Cornejo and Monica Tentori (CICESE, Mexico), with the help of students from both institutions. The study has been supported by the Ubihealth project, aimed at fostering research on technologies that promote the well-being of individuals either to prevent disease or promote healthy behaviors.

The first prototype of the JokeBox was created in November 2013 in London, where a small semi-controlled usability test was held in order to improve the design. Later, in March 2014, an in-the-wild study was held in Ensenada (Mexico) to test the JokeBox in four different locations (a park, a food stall, a shopping plaza and a bus stop), over four weeks. The collected data is now being analysed, with further in-the-wild studies planned over the coming months.

The JokeBox study received significant media attention in Ensenada and was published in different local newspapers, TV channels and radio stations.



ICRI Cities to Jointly Sponsor CHI Party Event at CHI Toronto, Canada


ICRI Cities are proud to be involved with hosting a small party event to celebrate London researchers and their work at the upcoming CHI Conference, to be held in Toronto on Tuesday 29th April.

The ACM SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems is the premier international conference on human-computer interaction and is a hugely popular and well respected event.  ICRI Cities are proud to be involved with this event and are excited to confirm that a number of our researchers have had their papers both accepted at CHI as well as receiving honourable mentions for their exemplary work. The SIGCHI Best of CHI Awards honour exceptional submissions to SIGCHI sponsored conferences.  Receiving an Honourable Mention Award indicates that the paper submitted was identified by the CHI Associate Chairs as being among the top 5% of all submission to CHI 2014.

Honourable mentions include:

“Understanding Sustained Community Engagement: A Case Study in Heritage Preservation in Rural Argentina”.  Authors: Mara Balestrini, Jon Bird, Paul Marshall, Alberto Zaro, Yvonne Rogers.

“Never Too Old: Engaging Retired People Inventing the Future with MaKey MaKey”.  Authors: Rogers, Y., Paay, J., Brereton, M., Vaisutis, K., Marsden, G., and Vetere, F. (2014).

Other papers accepted:

“Bigger is not always better: Display Size, Performance, and Task Load during Peephole Map Navigation”  Authors: Roman Rädle, Hans-Christian Jetter, Jens Müller, HaraldReiterer

“Poverty on the Cheap: Estimating Poverty Maps Using Aggregated Mobile Communication Networks”. Authors C. Smith-Clarke, A. Mashhadi and L. Capra.


The Guardian newspaper recently ran an article on ‘Ten social Innovators to Watch’ about the ten most exciting people to watch out for on the digital innovation front.  Highlighting the importance of digital creativity in providing more sustainable and collaborative ways in which to enhance our environments and society, ICRI’s very own Tomas Diez was named number one.

1. Tomas Diez, co-founder, Smart Citizen kit @tomasdiez
Tomas Diez is the co-founder of the Smart Citizen Kit project – an initiative that empowers citizens to improve urban life through capturing and analysing real-time environmental data. The Smart Citizen Kit is based on two components: the “kit” itself and the platform used to share data between people operating a kit. It is built on the open hardware product Arduino, and equipped with sensors that can measure air quality, temperature, sound and humidity. Via the platform anyone who owns a kit can share and visualise their data.

Great work Tomas!


“Interdisciplinary research brings with it diversity” Julie McCann, ICRI Cities, Imperial College London.

girls on top 2

(From L to R) Yvonne Rogers, Han Pham, Lorna Wall, Sarah Gallacher, Jessi Baker, Lisa Koeman, Licia Capra and Julie McCann


ICRI Cities recently held its annual retreat, an opportunity for Industry and research to get together and discuss their work and possibilities for the future.  Workshops were held over a two day period and everyone involved had a positive experience.  During the evening a drinks reception was held and an opportunity arose to photograph the women involved in ICRI Cities.  It is great to see so many inspiring and talented women working within the centre to help work towards producing some truly innovative and ground breaking research that works towards making cities more sustainable and connected for the future.


Two of ICRI Cities’ recent projects in education and public health have been highlighted in the inaugural issue of Adjacent Local Government, February 2014 Special Issue.

Produced quarterly, with a distribution of 70,000 senior figures throughout local government and associated organizations across both the UK and EU, the Adjacent Local Government magazine covers a variety of topics from sustainable living to how local authorities can utilise the latest thinking and research into their wider strategies for communities.

Visit the full edition here:

Brixton Listening Lab: Moving communities forward

Katz Kiely and Han Pham examine how future cities can sustain sustainable behaviours through nudging citizens and community activities…

In less than a month, key leaders in London’s Brixton community – all at the leading edge of technology, behavior change, and policy – from local council, public health professionals, teachers, faith leaders, social innovators, entrepreneurs and local media, to social scientists, data specialists, designers, and programmers – will design a new community experiment to tackle a difficult dilemma: London is Europe’s most polluted capital city. The bigger challenge? To make it fun. The judges? Kids.

Read more here:

Data driven education

Han Pham, Intel Collaborative Research Institute for Sustainable Connected Cities explores how young digital citizenship can be taught…

Data is flowing into our cities, homes, and schools at an increasing rate. How can the UK help prepare our next generation of school children not only as future consumers of the digital data economy, but also its creators?

In a busy corner of a conference filled with 30,000 people, a young girl was exploring a new world. She raised her arms to the side and began flapping imaginary wings. Suddenly, she began experiencing London from an entirely new perspective… London, and its data, made tangible.

Continue Reading:

Han Pham, Intel Collaborative Research Institute for Sustainable Connected Cities, discusses bringing people into sustainable technology futures using design and social science with examples from energy, disaster management, and smart mobility.

Han ICRI Cities

Han Pham


We are not just designing things, we’re designing how people learn. If we can create frameworks for how they understand something – with frameworks that are sticky and that work for them – builds an expectation of how things should work. We can make use of that learning window so products and services can change how people think.”

 Listen to the podcast at:



Dr. Sarah Gallacher Recently Led a Brainstorming Session Investigating User Experiences and Ideas for her Crowd-Sourcing Bicycle Project


Card, glue, scissors, lego and plasticine – the essential tools for a great brainstorming session!  Indeed these are the tools we used to get our creative juices flowing around the theme of cycling.

There is much bike related research work carried out across the world, from the Copenhagen wheel to the Fukoshima wheel and at ICRI-Cities we are also investigating this interesting area.  However, in contrast to previous works that focus on enhancing the physical bike, we would like to focus on the cyclist and enhancing the cycling experience.

At our brainstorming session we began by thinking of positive and negative cycling experiences and associating emotions to those events.  Then the fun began as we designed and developed novel and crazy objects that could allow cyclists to express their emotions while on the move.

The result was a variety of wonderful objects ranging from the very fun to the quite practical.  We had “bike gearsticks”, “lazer light indicators”, “sensing pedals”, “pop-up emoticons”, “squeezy destressers”, “emotional handlebars” and “tail mounted communication devices” to name a few.

Cycling has never been so much fun!

The SenCity Workshop @ Ubicomp 2013

By Sarah Gallacher


The SenCity workshop took place on Monday 9th September 2013 at Ubicomp in Zurich Switzerland.  Over 20 participants arrived on the day, bringing their own skills and interests.  They included designers, social scientists, technologists and sensor experts to name a few.  The aim of the workshop was to explore the use of sensing technologies for visually resurfacing some of the hidden dynamics of the city by providing a collaborative and facilitated environment for applied research and creative exploration.  The participants were split into groups and two sensing kits were provided to groups.  The first kit was the Smart Citizen environmental sensor kit and the second was the custom built SenCity kit built by Vaiva Kalnikaite.

Groups were given time to brainstorm what they wanted to sense in the city, how they were going to do it, where they were going to do it and what the sensor kit should look like in the city environment.  Various materials were provided to build sensor kit casings.  The groups showed great creativity and the final results ranged from typical “black-box” style casings to duck shapes and even an alien!  The groups then left the workshop room to explore Zurich for several hours and try out their creations.  On their return the collected data was plugged into a visualisation platform, developed by Hans-Christian Jetter, and each group presented a story of their day including their ideas, final sensor casing design and their data story of where they went in Zurich, what they sensed and what the visualisations represented.

It was interesting to note how several groups created animal or human-like sensor casings that were aimed at encouraging public participation.  Indeed, those groups experienced positive curiosity from the public whereas other groups with more “black-box” like designs commented on the negative suspicion of members of the public.  Another interesting behaviour was the expectation of a reward by some members of the public who had interacted with one of the sensor kits.

These outcomes along with the collected data and other experiences from the workshop are central to our on-going research agenda investigating the challenges of citizen sensing in urban environments.  We wish to develop technologies and tools to empower the citizens of urban spaces through sensing and sense making in a bottom-up fashion.  Interesting questions arise as to how to encourage participation especially in the long-term and what the benefits are to the citizens who participate?  As the trends of big data and “smart infrastructure” continue we want to give city inhabitants the means and opportunities to impact and drive change.


Pictures by Danny Harrison (

What lessons can we learn from real-world implementations that successfully navigate the interesting tension between top down versus bottom up design of urban technology?

On October 22-23rd, Intel  will explore this and other questions pertaining to the challenges facing future cities as paty of its 2013  European Research and Innovation Conference (ERIC), which will hosted together with the annual Research at Intel Europe (R@IE) showcase in Nice, France, close to the home to Intel’s High Performance Computing and Wireless Labs.

 190 Intel ERIC Banner 2013 P1

The theme of this year’s conference is “Building a Smart, Sustainable and Inclusive society through Research and Innovation partnership” and there will be a number of distinct focus areas included within the event: Networking, Mobility, HPC Exascale, Connected Cities and System on Chip (SoC) Architecture.

For the third year running, David Prendergast, an ICRI Cities Principal Investigator is responsible for organising the Connected Cities and Communities track in the conference. The theme for 2013 is “City Life” and speakers have been asked to provide insights around how we synthesise scalable city platforms with local community needs, practices and aspirations.  What lessons can we learn from the recipes that have worked over time?

Selected partners from the Intel research ecosystem, including Academic and Intel Researchers as well as leading thinkers and practitioners in the area of future cities are invited to speak in order to bring together a potent mixture of perspectives, approaches and challenging discussions. Speakers and delegates have ample opportunities to network with experts across academia, industry & government organizations as well as press and analysts from around the world.

Attendance is by invitation only and whilst places are very limited, ICRI Cities has access to a small number of spaces that it can make available to potential delegates. Readers are welcome to register their interest by contacting

Vaiva Kalnikaite and Sarah Gallacher, both from ICRI-Cities at UCL in London will jointly present their work on gathering and representing community data using novel input and visualisation mediums.  The presentation will include details of two in the wild studies that were conducted at two scales within a city environment – 1) in a “dead” workplace building and 2) in a “divided” community.  The first study looks at how lightweight and playful technology interventions can encourage greater levels of social connectedness within a “dead” workplace environment where physical interactions and a sense of community are typically low.  The second study looks at how a technology intervention has been used to challenge the strongly held belief of a social divide in an urban community.

Conference Schedule

Day 1 – Tuesday 22 October

Start Time




Arrival & Registration


Conference Opening Martin Curley (Intel), Gabriel Crean (CEA), Christian Estrosi (MP & Mayor of Nice)


Research@Intel Europe Technology Showcase




Welcome to the Connected Cities Track Martin Curley & David Prendergast


Sustainable Intelligent Systems Charles Sheridan, Intel Labs Europe


Hyperlocal technology and social sustainability: how to empower local communities Mandeep Hothi, Young Foundation


City Intelligence as an enabler for Sustainable Cities Bernd Wachmann & Christian Schwingenschlögl, Siemens


Coffee Break


Welcome back to the track David Prendergast / Keith Ellis


SmartSantander Uncut – From City to Citizen provided Infrastructures Alex Gluhak, Surrey University


Community data gathering & visualisation Sarah Gallacher & Vaiva Kalnikaite, ICRI Cities


ICT for Urban Water Management Philippe Gourbesville, University of Nice


Closing comments David Prendergast / Keith Ellis


Free Time


Drinks Reception


Awards Ceremony Intel University Program Office


Bus Transfers to Nice City Centre and Harbour


Day 2 – Wednesday 23rd October

Start Time




Intel ERIC 2013 Opening & Welcome Martin Curley


Keynote Speaker Steve Pawlowski – Snr Intel Fellow


Plenary introduction Martin Curley


Innovation as a Growth Engine for Europe Peter Droell – Head of Policy Development for Industrial Innovation, EC


Smart Grid – Smart Europe Laurent Schmitt – VP Alstom Grid


Integrated Computing – the Next Wave Philip Moynagh – Intel Director, Low Power Embedded Processors


Speaker 4  TBC TBC


Closing Comments Martin Curley


Coffee Break


Welcome back to the track David Prendergast / Keith Ellis


Intelligent Cities – Hype or the Shape of Things to Come? Jen Hawes-Hewitt, Accenture


Walking the Talk: Sensors & the City Katz Kiely, Loop Labs


Stories from the Grid Laurent Schmitt, Alstom Grid




Welcome back to the track David Prendergast / Keith Ellis


CityWatch: Participatory Sensing for Smart and Sustainable Cities Melanie Bouroche, Trinity College Dublin


Energy awareness solutions – empowering citizens Regis Decorme, CSTB


Prototyping the (Smart) City Henrik Korsgaard, CAVI, Aarhus University


Towards a Capability Maturity Framework for Digital Cities Giovanni Maccanni, Innovation Value Institute


Closing comments David Prendergast / Keith Ellis


Coffee, Networking, ERIC Close



A designer named Matt Tomasulo has created a website called Walk [Your City] that aims to encourage people to walk by letting anyone erect a street sign.

Tomasulo’s signs are created using an online tool. You select the location of the sign and its destination, and then type in some text for where it’s pointing to. The time necessary to walk (or bike) the route is generated automatically, and a QR code can be scanned to display the directions in Google Maps.

Check out the full article at