UCL News


'BioMaps' Track Urbanite Moods

22 August 2006

A research project using Global Positioning System (GPS) and lie detection technology is helping build maps that show how people feel as they navigate city streets.

The Bio Mapping project, led by artist and designer Christian Nold [UCL Bartlett School], not only puts municipal technologies in the hands of citizens, but could also stimulate community discussions about urban regeneration, crime, pollution and noise.

"As soon as you put surveillance technology into the hands of the individual to analyze their own body it ceases to be surveillance and becomes something different and useful for the user," said Nold. …

Nold thought it would be interesting for people to use security technologies - designed for monitoring - to instead interpret their own biometric data. …

Each participant is given a small lie-detector set, consisting of two finger cuffs worn like thimbles over the index and middle fingers. The cuffs are connected by a wire to a PDA-sized component carried in a shoulder bag.

The cuffs have sensors that measure changes in the skin's perspiration. Large changes show strong emotional arousal.

Each participant also carries a GPS device in the shoulder bag, which tracks movement through the city.

For about an hour, the person wanders through neighborhoods, taking any preferred route. …

The finished map shows the mountainous peaks and valleys representing the person's mood overlaid onto the city's grid. At each peak or valley, a small caption describes what the person was feeling.

"It's visualizing more directly what's happening in the mind and body and not just the surface," said Groes.

For now, Nold is gathering qualitative data that he hopes will generate discussion about crime or areas slated for renovation. …

Tracy Staedter, 'Discovery News'