WIKITOPIA — RESEARCH

Technologies for Future Urbanism

At the Wikitopia Project, we conduct an eclectic range of research initiatives to realize our long-term goal of a computationally-enhanced, citizen-led future urbanism. At the center of our activities is a collection of engineering efforts that pursue the following four objectives:

DIY-Style Urban Design

Support spontaneous, DIY-style urban design by citizens (e.g., tactical urbanism) through new design tools and fabrication technologies

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Dynamic, Adaptive Environments

Make urban environments dynamically adapt and respond to citizens' needs using new interactive technologies and intelligent robotics

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Sharing Visions of Future Cities

Allow citizens to easily visualize and share their visions of future cities through augmented/virtual reality and other new media technologies

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Collective Decision-Making

Assist collective decision-making by citizens using intelligent planning tools and online platforms that facilitate consensus building

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Our view is that such efforts will lead to the emergence of a new mode of urban design, that mirrors the massively collaborative process ("commons-based peer-production") through which various digital artifacts such as Wikipedia and Linux are created. We aspire to endow citizens with increased power to "edit" (alter the designs of) their neighborhoods, while implementing mechanisms to ensure that such collective edits produce broad benefits to communities.

CITY EDITING

Software such as Wikipedia and Linux are collections of digital data, and thus can be easily edited on PCs and other electronic devices. Physical environments are typically less malleable in contrast.

We believe that digital fabrication, robotics, IoT, and other emerging technologies can be used to infuse built environments with higher degrees of interactivity and plasticity, enabling community-driven "editing" of cities.

COMMUNAL BENEFITS

Recent debates regarding online media (e.g., freedom of expression vs. fake news) teaches us that individual freedom can occasionally come into conflict with benefits of the community as a whole.

We can easily imagine similar conflicts arising from edits made to cities by citizens. We believe that new media technologies, communication tools, and online platforms can help align individual and collective needs.

As can be seen from the list of submissions to our 2018 WIKITOPIA INTERNATIONAL COMPETITION, realizing our vision of future urbanism will require a vast network of new technologies, designs, policies, etc., the development of which is beyond the capabilities of a single research group. We are focused on contributing the core technical and theoretical foundations of Wikitopia, that we hope will provide the initial impetus for a larger-scale movement to take hold.

In addition to the engineering efforts, we engage in various activities including holding public events such as the aforementioned competition, writing academic and popular articles discussing Wikitopia and its theoretical underpinnings, and community-building initiatives to bring together a broad group of practitioners and researchers interested in future urbanism. We are also planning to set up an initial testbed for Wikitopia ("Wikitopia Zone") — a neighborhood-sized special zone with relaxed rules regarding the use of public space — to conduct long-term experiments.

Below is a list of ongoing engineering projects (dedicated pages describing each project in detail will be available shortly):

3D PRINTING ENVIRONMENTS

We are developing new 3D printing technologies with the goal of enabling citizens to design and modify urban environments in a DIY manner. In particular, we are interested in techniques for 3D printing "semi-natural" urban elements, such as miniature gardens, farms, and life-sustaining ecosystems. In the future, neighborhood parks may be designed collaboratively on the internet by local citizens, and fabricated automatically using large-scale 3D printers.

Reference:
Takeuchi, Y. 3D Printable Hydroponics: A Digital Fabrication Pipeline for Soilless Plant Cultivation. IEEE Access Vol. 7. 2019.
Download (PDF, 6.7MB)

UNIVERSAL LIGHTING

We are developing a new lighting technology ("integral illumination") that allows a single, panel-shaped device to reproduce illumination effects of a wide range of light sources, such as spotlight, chandelier, sunlight, etc. In the future, we expect such devices to replace most indoor/outdoor artificial lighting equipments. Lighting will be programmable on a city-wide scale, and be made to constantly adapt to the needs of local citizens, flora/fauna, etc.

Reference:
Takeuchi, Y., Suwa, S., Nagamine, K. AnyLight: Programmable Ambient Illumination via Computational Light Fields. Proc. ISS 2016.
Download (PDF, 4.5MB)

URBAN AUGMENTED REALITY

We are developing a suite of technologies that facilitate the use of augmented reality (AR) in cities, including new markers that assist location tracking, and image processing techniques that enable elaborate (virtual) transformations of urban environments. "What if this road was a bit wider?" "What if this park had a fountain?" Ideas to improve cities can be visualized, shared, and experienced in virtual space, which can then inform real-world decision making.

Reference:
Takeuchi, Y., Perlin, K. ClayVision: The (Elastic) Image of the City. Proc. CHI 2012. Best Paper Award.
Download (PDF, 3.9MB)

FACILITATING CIVIL DISCOURSE

Discussions regarding urban issues can often become contentious, especially online; while having disagreements is natural, we believe that defects in current tools needlessly exacerbate emotional escalation among participants in online communication. Taking cues from findings in interface design, linguistics, etc., we are developing new digital tools that steer online debates away from "flame wars", instead encouraging civil discourse and consensus building.