Future Places: A Digital Economy Centre on Understanding Place Through Pervasive Computing

Lead Research Organisation: Lancaster University
Department Name: Computing & Communications


The Future Places Centre will explore how ubiquitous and pervasive technologies, the IoT, and new data science tools can let people reimagine what their future spaces might be. Today, the footprint of such systems extends well beyond the work environments where they first showed themselves and are now, quite literally, ubiquitous. Combined with advances in data science, particularly in the general area of AI, these are enabling entirely new forms of applications and expanding our understanding of how we can shape our physical spaces. The result of these trends is that the potential impact of these systems is no longer confined to work settings or the scientific imagination; it points towards all contexts in which the relationship between space and human practice might be altered through digitally-enabled comprehension of the worlds we inhabit.

Such change necessitates enriching the public imagination about what future places might be and how they might be understood. In particular, it points towards new ways of using pervasive technologies (such as the IoT), to shape healthy, sustainable living through the creation of appropriate places. To paraphrase Churchill: if he said we make our buildings, and our buildings come to shape us, the Future Places centre starts from the premise that new understanding of places (enabled by pervasive computing, data science and AI tools), can be combined with a public concern for sustainability and the environment to help shape healthier places and thus make healthier people.

It is thus the goal of the centre to reimagine and develop further Mark Weiser's original vision of ubiquitous computing. As it does this so it will cohere Lancaster's pioneering DE projects and create a world-class interdisciplinary research endeavour that binds Lancaster to the local community, to industry and government, making the North West a test-bed for what might be.

Planned Impact

The Future Places Centre will be driven by an impact agenda - aiming to transform the way we think about the spaces we live in. Its premise is that ubiquitous and pervasive technologies, the IoT, and new data science tools, can let people reimagine what their future spaces might be. For this to occur, it is necessary that research facilitate academic and public discourse on the possibilities of future places and deepen comprehension of what these might be.

This proposition will be tested and made real through a series of long-term thematic case studies. Each will have a particular focal point, enabling in-depth investigation and practical impacts that can anchor more widespread research. Underpinning these will be innovative ubiquitous computing tools and techniques that provide the knowledge necessary for evolving future places.

The first domain of impact will be the natural environment, i.e. investigating the ecology of the North West coastal area to unfold the complex entanglements of human practice and the environment. Through a series of public engagement workshops and design processes, this theme will make visible that relationship to the public at large and a particular focus of this impact will be in the design and didactic role of Eden North and other longer-term transformative projects on the Bay area.

The second domain of impact will be the built environment. This will have as its focal point various new housing developments in the North West. The ambition behind these is to develop new housing community models that place environmentally sustainable living alongside reconfigured infrastructures. Through series of public engagement workshops and design processes (with local stakeholders ranging from developers through to planners and the potential occupants of these new settings), we will share information about the built environment enabled by IoT and data science and thus impact upon the future form of these developments.

Finally, we will impact through changing health outcomes. This is a bold ambition but we believe we can achieve this through using prior DE project insights to help exploit technology to evidence the relationship between space and human health outcomes. The focal point for this research is the development of the Health Innovation Campus at the University which will house the medical school alongside new 'healthy living' businesses and start-ups. It is expected that these will drive new directions for collaboration with the centre.

The aim is for the impact of the centre to go far beyond technology innovation and to suffuse the public imagination, providing new reasons to perceive and shape space. In so doing new opportunities for businesses and services will emerge too. To support these businesses and services we will train the next generation of interdisciplinary researches and this training will provide further impact on the research community as a whole.



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