Making urban infra­struc­tu­re visi­ble and comprehensible

Whe­re does our rub­bish actual­ly go? When is water con­sump­ti­on at the hig­hest point in the week? How is pas­sen­ger traf­fic dis­tri­bu­ted in a city? The­se and many simi­lar ques­ti­ons will be addres­sed by “VIDAN” start­ing in autumn 2019. Vidan stands for “Visu­al and Dyna­mic Arran­ge­ments of Nar­ra­ti­ves” and is a new pro­ject of the Urban Com­ple­xi­ty Lab (UCLAB), an inter­di­sci­pli­na­ry rese­arch group at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Appli­ed Sci­en­ces Pots­dam. For three years, the UCLAB sci­en­tists will be occu­p­ied with new forms of data visua­li­sa­ti­on of urban infra­struc­tu­re. The pro­ject is fun­ded by the Fede­ral Minis­try of Edu­ca­ti­on and Rese­arch (BMBF). Exis­ting data from uti­li­ty com­pa­nies will be coll­ec­ted, pro­ces­sed, visua­li­sed and pro­vi­ded with expl­ana­to­ry texts by the rese­ar­chers and desi­gners. The aim is to pre­sent and explain com­plex inter­re­la­ti­onships in an appe­al­ing design to poli­ti­ci­ans and the busi­ness com­mu­ni­ty as well as inte­res­ted citi­zens in an com­pre­hen­si­ble, crea­ti­ve and cri­ti­cal way. Some data sets are still miss­ing befo­re the pro­ject can real­ly get going. The­se are curr­ent­ly still being gathe­red, and, of cour­se, in line with DSGVO regu­la­ti­ons. The respon­si­ble hand­ling of data and algo­rith­ms is a top prio­ri­ty at UCLAB.

But what is UCLAB actual­ly? The Lab, an abbre­via­ti­on of Labo­ra­to­ry, was foun­ded in 2015. Urban Com­ple­xi­ty, that indi­ca­tes what is at sta­ke: com­plex muni­ci­pal deve­lo­p­ments and infra­struc­tures, i.e. the city from a cul­tu­ral, socio-eco­no­mic and tech­no­lo­gi­cal per­spec­ti­ve. Mean­while, other fields have been added, inclu­ding a rese­arch pro­ject on cli­ma­te sce­na­ri­os. The Lab has, for exam­p­le, crea­ted an app that can be used to track the mas­si­ve increase in CO2 emis­si­ons over the deca­des. The rese­arch labo­ra­to­ry is joint­ly hea­ded by Mari­an Dörk, Rese­arch Pro­fes­sor for Infor­ma­ti­on Visua­li­sa­ti­on, and Boris Mül­ler, Pro­fes­sor for Inter­ac­tion Design. Both joint­ly foun­ded the labo­ra­to­ry in 2015. “We are an inter­di­sci­pli­na­ry rese­arch group at the Pots­dam Uni­ver­si­ty of Appli­ed Sci­en­ces, loca­ted bet­ween inter­face design, com­pu­ter sci­ence and the huma­ni­ties,” the UCLAB web­site says. At the cent­re of the rese­arch is the com­pre­hen­si­ble pre­sen­ta­ti­on of the chal­lenges and ques­ti­ons ari­sing from social, cul­tu­ral and tech­no­lo­gi­cal changes.

Data visua­li­sa­ti­ons are some­thing we come across quite often nowa­days. Media such as Zeit Online, Tages­spie­gel, Ber­li­ner Mor­gen­post and the New York Times have now under­ta­ken their own data pro­jects. The dif­fe­rence bet­ween the UCLAB pro­jects and examp­les from media prac­ti­ce is that the visua­li­sa­ti­ons at UCLAB are not only a means to an end, but also an object of rese­arch. The aim of the work is to deve­lop new forms that go bey­ond con­ven­tio­nal charts and maps. Moreo­ver, UCLAB is expli­cit­ly a non-com­mer­cial rese­arch group that is sole­ly con­cer­ned with insights from free­ly available data. Unli­ke tech­no­lo­gy and media com­pa­nies, no user data is coll­ec­ted here. The focus is on making some­thing visi­ble that has not other­wi­se been seen befo­re in order to pro­vi­de insights and new findings.
UCLAB’s work is inte­res­t­ing for all tho­se who have com­plex dyna­mic data that they want to make visi­ble, tan­gi­ble and com­pre­hen­si­ble. The­se can be pri­va­te orga­ni­sa­ti­ons such as trans­port com­pa­nies, elec­tri­ci­ty sup­pli­ers or retail­ers, as well as aca­de­mic, cul­tu­ral and public insti­tu­ti­ons. All rese­arch pro­jects are col­la­bo­ra­ti­ve. It is always important to UCLAB that free rese­arch is pos­si­ble. Pure ser­vice pro­jects the­r­e­fo­re don’t play any role the­re. In addi­ti­on to public finan­cing, part­ner finan­cing is also possible.

By Eva Werner

About MTH Blog

The media technologies of the future are already being used today – not only in the entertainment sector, but also in a wide variety of industries. Christine Lentz meets up with tech enthusiasts, established companies and researchers for our monthly MediaTech Hub Potsdam blog to tell the stories behind the innovative business models.