The Bartlett Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis


TOTeM: Tales Of Things and electronic Memory

The principal aim of the research project is to provide a platform to allow memories to be attached to objects that already exist in the world.

The project identifies a significant gap in the emerging aspect of the digital economy known as the 'internet of things', which as new objects are tagged there is a real danger that old ones will not be.

The TOTeM project is concerned with the memory and value of 'old' objects. It has been suggested that people surround themselves with between 1,000 and 5,000 objects. Of those thousands of objects many of them are probably not truly cared for and end up in rubbish bins or in storage. But for every owner, in almost every household there are a selection of objects that hold significant resonance, and will already connect them to an Internet of memory and meaning. These objects become essential coordinates across families and communities to support the telling of a stories and passing-on knowledge.

The TOTeM project is located within the emerging technical and cultural phenomenon known as 'The Internet of Things'. The term is attributed to the Auto-ID research group at MIT in 1999, and was explored in depth by the International Telecommunication Union who published a report bearing the same name at the United Nations net summit in 2005. The term, 'internet of things', refers to the technical and cultural shift that is anticipated as society moves to a ubiquitous form of computing in which every device is 'on', and every device is connected in some way to the internet. The specific reference to 'things' refers to the concept that every new object manufactured will also be able to part of this extended Internet, because they will have been tagged and indexed by the manufacturer during production. It is also envisaged that consumers will have the ability to 'read' the tags through the use of mobile 'readers' and use the information connected to the object, to inform their purchase, use and disposal of an object.


Andrew Hudson-Smith
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Ralph Barthel

Martin de Jode 

  • As part of TOTeM we have undertaken pilot studies in collaboration with Oxfam, deploying TOTeM’s digital memory technology in the second hand charity retail shops. A trial project, run at the Manchester branch of Oxfam, produced a 41% increase in turnover during the event. In a further collaboration we also deployed TOTeM technology at the Oxfam Curiosity Shop, a ‘pop up’ charity shop in Selfridges Department Store in association with Oxfam and The Circle with Annie Lennox.
  • The project is building a series of strategic partnerships within UCL with early groundwork and prototypes already developed. QRator is one such example, partnered with UCL Museums and Digital Humanities our technology, adapted for interactive digital signage, is allowing the public to have conversations based around Museum objects.
  • Tall Tales in association with The Urban Lab launches September 2011 allowing residents to share stories based on their residential location with tagging technology allowing ‘smart building communication’ or as WIRED termed it ‘chatitecture’
  • One of our team members contributes as Invited Expert to the development of a standardised digital object format in a W3C Incubator group.
  • Finally we have partnered Kolumbus to wire 4200 transport links in Norway to the Internet of Things via two way QRcodes, creating a social network within the concept of smart places.
  • WIRED magazine (December 2010 Issue) defined the technology as one of 25 ‘Big Ideas’ for 2011.
internet of things social networks