+ The Digital Derive - Wii-mote
This project, currently getting off the ground, is called 'The Digital Derive' and it is a digitally-mediated evolution of the original derive of the Situationist International movement. It is being developed as a system for measuring and mapping the extent to which the city contains potential obstacles for pedestrians' freedom of movement. The methodology has been developed in collaboration with three other MSA students [Nasar Ishfaq, Tim Marjot and Graeme Mill] and a London-based interactive designer [Pablo de la Pena]. The initial feedback regarding the methodology has been very positive, although the application of the methodology, its translation into an experiment into an aspect of urban control, will require some refining. However, the system shall be developed over the weeks to come, with the experiment being tested in Manchester this week, and officially online in Huddersfield next week.

The following is an extract from our first presentation of the system, explaining the concept and methodology of the Digital Derive:

[U]RBAN [M]OVEMENT [A]ND [C]ONTROL_The Digital Derive


'An investigation into how urban control devices impact upon pedestrian movement within 'public' urban spaces.'

+ Historical Context_The Analogue Derive

The Situationist International, formed in 1957, developed criticisms of contemporary urbanism & postulated upon possible urban futures. They viewed the city as the principal location for the creation & maintenance of social interactions of domination, as spaces of alienation & control. For the S.I., the city was a highly contested territory, both politically & socially. They attempted to investigate the city via radical forms of geographical action & research, in an effort to instigate urban transformation. The S.I. viewed the city as a tool for asserting political oppression & control, & it worked towards the revolutionary aim of realigning urban society towards a participatory society.

The maps produced by the S.I. counter rigidly-functional urban plans, by suggesting alternate routes & passages through a fluid city. Derives, the name given to the process through which they wandered the city producing their maps, and often carried out during periods of extensive inebriation, were seen as more significant than the destination, & were seen as an alternative method to immerse oneself in the city & comprehend & synchronise oneself with its flows & rhythms. Debord’s maps embody a subversive attitude towards representations of the city, and they question notions of temporal & spatial orientation in their quest for future urban potentials.

+ Concept_The Digital Derive

The Urban Movement and Control system may be utilised within any urban space.  Using a defined geo-spatial boundary [250m² ], based upon a geographic grid reference system [based upon the Ordnance Survey National Grid Reference already in place], UMAC provides an objective, scientific, digital and non-place-specific means of investigating the influence of urban control devices upon pedestrians, via a mapping of their movement within public urban space. This is in complete contrast to the entirely subjective nature of the derives of the S.I., which were based upon notions of desire and individual decision making. UMAC is based upon a system of cybernetic direction determinants, consisting of a set of strict rules governing human movement – it is the logical digital evolution of the analogue psychogeographic theory.

+ The Digital Derive - process diagram [CTW 2010]

+ Process

Pedestrian movement is recorded and tracked simultaneously via three separate but connected devices. Firstly, the pedestrian’s location is tracked and recorded using a GPS-enabled iPhone, which recorded the geo-spatial location of the pedestrian for the duration of the experiment [the x- and y-axes]. Secondly, the acceleration of the pedestrian is measured using the accelerometer within the Wii-Mote device [the z-axis]. Both the iPhone and Wii-Mote are connected to a MacBook laptop, via Bluetooth, for the duration of the experiment, constantly streaming live data into a database. Thirdly, the entire experiment will be recorded using a video camera. This will enable a detailed cross-referencing between the movement data gathered and the nature of the physical space itself. The database, containing all the data pertaining to the pedestrian’s movement, can then be utilised to generate graphical representations of the information.

+ Cybernetic Rules

In order to ensure that the experiment is carried out in an objective and scientific manner, a set of arbitrary rules is required to eliminate the necessity for human cognition and decision-making. The essence of this experiment is to empower the space, and let it determine how the pedestrian navigates his/her environment. The rules are exclusively aimed at movement direction, and if a decision is required relating to a change of direction, a Random-Direction-Indicator system will provide the decision. The RDI is based upon a random output generator script, within Maya parametric modelling software. By removing human interference it is hoped that the experiment will provide ‘clean’ data, uncorrupted by the whims of human desire or resentment. The rule set is as follows:

01_You must stick to defined pedestrian paths.
02_You must always obey the Random-Direction-Indicator.
03_You cannot re-trace your footsteps.  If you are instructed to do so, re-consult the Random-Direction-Indicator.
04_Upon encountering a control mechanism you must pause for 30 seconds and relocate to the opposite edge of defined path/space and continue in the same direction.
05_Upon encountering a grid-boundary, you must stop, relocate to the opposite edge of defined path/space, turn around and continue.
06_Dead-ends must be treated as grid-boundary edges.
07_If there is no option to turn, move perpendicularly from the obstacle.

+ Urban Control Devices

CATEGORY 1_ Pedestrian/Vehicular Interface - [signage, markings]
CATEGORY 2_ Physical Mechanisms - [surface treatments, level changes]
CATEGORY 3_ Boundary Mechanisms - [signage, fencing, surveillance devices]

+ The Digital Derive - Wii-mote data capture
+ Data Capturing Equipment

_Smartphone [with GPS] - To provide locational data and map the route taken through each 250m² area
_Wii-Mote [with inbuilt accelerometer] - To provide data of acceleration and movement
_MacBook [with Bluetooth connectivity, DarwiinRemote software, Processing software and Random-Direction-Indicator scripting] - To record data directly from the accelerometer and host the Random-Direction-Indicator
_Video Camera - To record the physical experience and to allow for the effective comparison of data

+ The Digital Derive - GPS tracking test screenshot
+ Output

Having recorded the data from the GPS tracker and the accelerometer, computer software will then be utilised to collate the masses of numerical data, and effectively re-interpret them as simple graphs. These simplistic graphs will form the basis of more complex methods of representation and visualisation techniques. The analysis and representation of the data generated will provide a platform for the comparison of city spaces, in terms of the impact particular urban control devices have upon pedestrian movement, and will illustrate the extent of urban control within the prescribed zones.


+ Experiment Zones

Segments within Manchester city centre will be used as a test zones.  Chosen for their geographical proximity and programmatic nature, the segments chosen are within Manchester’s Spinningfields and Northern Quarter districts.  Although these segments are only 1km apart, they are programmatically very different. The defined boundaries for these two zones have been determined by the OS geographical grid reference system, and as such can be easily catalogues and cross-referenced with other forms of geographical data.

[Further updates shall be posted in due course as this project develops into a fully-fledged methodology for studying the impact urban control devices have upon physical mobility in the city.]