Smart cities
Smart cities

Start this free course now. Just create an account and sign in. Enrol and complete the course for a free statement of participation or digital badge if available.

Free course

Smart cities

2.1 Cities Unlocked

People in the UK are living in cities that were first designed 300, 400 and 500 years ago. These cities were not designed for the needs of today’s citizens.

Download this video clip.Video player: ou_futurelearn_smartcities_vid_1026.mp4
Skip transcript


At Future Cities Catapult, we're working on a project called Cities Unlocked. We're doing so with Microsoft, and Guide Dogs for the Blind. Initially working with blind and partially sighted people, but the kind of innovation will help all of us navigate cities more effectively.
We live in the UK in cities that have been designed three, four, 500 years ago, and because of that, they've not been designed for the people within the city.
The journey actually begins at home. You're contemplating whether to go out today. Is it going to be a nightmare? Or is it going to be a great experience? 180,000 people in the UK today who choose not to go out because it's too fraught of risks, anxieties, and problems.
On leaving the home, the confidence in going over the threshold of your front door, and thinking about the challenges that are ahead of you when you can't see where the bus stop is. The challenges are endless when you have limited sight.
From our discussions with visually impaired people and blind people, it's a stressful experience. You have to negotiate a lot of difficulties in the city. The cities are rarely made to accommodate the needs of partially-sighted people.
I can be on a station concourse, or in an open space, if you like, and finding exactly where the point I want is to go to, that's what isn't quite possible yet.
The program started nearly three years ago with Microsoft, as Guide Dogs and Microsoft decided they could work together looking at user design and customer experience, and what that would actually mean in developing new technology for visually impaired people across the UK, and obviously that's been broadened out to the cityscape with Future Cities Catapult.
I think there's definitely something about this project which is seeing that Guide for the Blind working with someone like Microsoft who I think have a lot of big top-down kind of smart city ideology. I think seeing those two collaborate was quite exciting from a policy in the future point of view, but also from a design point of view in the sense that, actually, when you bring those together, I think you see what the touching points of technology and deliverability really are.
We need to take a user-centred approach to Future Cities, because we've seen how in the past not taking that approach has resulted in a lot of failure. Top down town planning of cities has resulted in cities not being used in the way people really want to use them.
So far today, everybody has really understood and embraced the vision of those with sight loss across the UK.
We are displaying sort of a simulation of what it is to be visually impaired and walk in the city. So what we're trying to do is offer the spectator both perspective taking opportunity. We are providing information for the designers of these policies.
It's really fantastic to be able to do a project like this in collaboration with all these other organisations and resourced in that way. People with sight loss generally rely on their memory a lot more to navigate. If something appears in the streetscape that wasn't there the day before, it can really disorient people. So on a top level this system adds a whole level of information. We've added tactile information to tell you where you're supposed to go. It's also got a digital layer, and you can know that the street works are there before you get there, or even before you leave the house.
We've drawn up a research programme where we did a horizon scan of all the emerging trains and the weak signals. Then we've gone and interviewed visually impaired and blind people, who have been key participants in creating scenarios for a more inclusive and an experientially rich city.
What I saw was a massive issue in pressing the button at the pedestrian control box. They needed to find a way of interacting with the pedestrian control box without having to get to the button. So what I did was I put everything onto a mobile phone. The phone presses the button for the end user, and all they have to do is put it into their pocket at the start of the journey, and it does it automatically.
In the future with technology, we can have cities where I can get around as easily as anyone else. And if technology can address that, that would be a result.
End transcript
Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).

A city like London can be challenging to negotiate for everyone. When you have limited sight the challenges are endless (Cities Unlocked, 2015):

The journey begins at home … You’re contemplating whether to go out today. Is it going to be a nightmare or is it going to be a great experience? [There are] 180,000 [people] in the UK today who choose not to go out because it is too fraught with risks, anxieties and problems.

The project Cities Unlocked [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] at the Future Cities Catapult in London is working with Microsoft and the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association to design innovative solutions that will help people who are blind and partially sighted as well as everyone else to navigate the city more enjoyably and effectively.


Take your learning further

Making the decision to study can be a big step, which is why you'll want a trusted University. The Open University has 50 years’ experience delivering flexible learning and 170,000 students are studying with us right now. Take a look at all Open University courses.

If you are new to University-level study, we offer two introductory routes to our qualifications. You could either choose to start with an Access module, or a module which allows you to count your previous learning towards an Open University qualification. Read our guide on Where to take your learning next for more information.

Not ready for formal University study? Then browse over 1000 free courses on OpenLearn and sign up to our newsletter to hear about new free courses as they are released.

Every year, thousands of students decide to study with The Open University. With over 120 qualifications, we’ve got the right course for you.

Request an Open University prospectus371