Urban Probes

A methodology for conducting Urban Computing Research

"Let us embrace the full scope of urban life with all of its emotions and experiences"

Urban Atmospheres Research at Intel





An important aspect of Urban Probes is the creation of real semi-functional artifacts to introduce into an environment.  Rather than designed to blend into the landscape, Urban Probe artifacts are designed to elicit direct reaction and promote immediate discussion about them.  These objects or situations must be designed to answer or understand particular urban computing issues. Examples are objects that overtly address privacy, test strangers urge to collaborate, or expose an unknown or provocative element of a city landscape.

The resulting artifacts must employ some essential functionality.  More importantly is declaring what these objects are not.  They are not paper prototypes.  They are not required to solve an explicit problem or improve a task.  They do not need to meet industrial strength user testing requirements. In fact designs that are entirely impractical are equally encouraged. It is not the practicality of the artifact that manifests its merit. Instead the goal is to create such artifacts that will help unambiguously answer critical urban questions. This is precisely why objects that garner timid user reactions are less advantageous than those that provoke an immediate and polarized response.

With urban computing is in its infancy, Urban Probes encourages relaxation of the typical evaluation rigor of usability, engineering, and design. The goal is to use the probes to rapidly explore the research space and influence the overall direction of urban computing.  Later, outside of the probing methodology, the necessary studies of usability, engineering, and design can be conducted.


Urban Atmospheres at Intel Research